Nights full of broken sleep. Coffee. Sore boobs. Half-finished sentences. Healing foods, supplements, and essential oils. Coffee. Newborn snuggles. Sibling snuggles. Coffee. Soaked nursing pads. Changing diapers. More coffee.
These are a few of the things that currently fill my days and nights. But, it was not so very long ago that my sweet Micah was on the inside, and pregnancy with its joys and challenges was one of my main focuses. And before my memories surrounding that season fade, I want to highlight a few of the things that supported my pregnancy goals and helped prepare me for my current postpartum journey. For ease of reading, I have broken up the following post into several categories that address questions that I am often asked by fellow pregnant mamas and doula clients: nutrition, exercise, clothing and gear, and community partners/practitioners.
First of all, I should clarify that I am NOT by any means qualified to give medical advice, so please consult your team of health practitioners on anything that you have questions about. However, I have done a good deal of research on the nutritional needs of pregnant women and now have had two pregnancies during which I personally experimented with foods, supplements, and eating habits. For those trying to conceive or currently pregnant, my favorite go-to book is “Real Food For Mother and Baby” by Nina Planck. Not only does Planck break down the nutritional requirements of perinatal women during all trimesters (including the fourth trimester), but she also delivers her information with a good deal of grace and personal anecdotes from her own motherhood journey.
But back to my favorite nutritional tips, I have learned that very little is in your control during pregnancy (welcome to parenthood). How sick are you going to be during first trimester? How much energy will you have? What does your home/work schedule look like? How often do you pee at night? Do you have pregnancy insomnia? When do you notice relaxin being released in your body and your joints becoming looser and less able to handle impact activities? All of these things impact your pregnancy and nutritional needs. So let me emphasize, there is not a one-diet-fits-all approach, and each pregnancy must be approached with grace for yourself and awe for what your body is doing: growing a baby.
But, there are some general principles that are helpful to keep in mind. First, according to many nutritionists including Planck, the three months PRIOR to conceiving can be some of the most important months nutritionally speaking. Before nausea and exhaustion set in, the three months prior to pregnancy prep your body with nutritional reserves for your growing fetus. If you need to detox, these are the months to do it. If you haven’t been taking a prenatal vitamin with folate, these are the months to begin. If you haven’t been eating a high-quality, high-fat diet, these are the months to intentionally add large amounts of healthy fats: grass-fed butter/dairy, eggs, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts/seeds. These are the NOT the months to fad-diet or allow your weight to yo-yo, as both of these things can be detrimental to fertility.
Once pregnant, listen to your body. Don’t panic if you can’t consume “the perfect diet” during the first trimester. If you are sick like I have been with both of my babies, then simply SURIVE. If you can eat normally, then do so. Otherwise, try to listen to your cravings and base your food choices off of the “healthiest version” of your cravings and aversions. For example, if you are craving salt, try to choose combinations like plantain chips dipped in hummus, coconut-oil based chips, celery with nut butters, etc. versus the traditional nutritionally-empty saltine cracker and canned chicken noodle soup. Bone broth is an excellent way to satisfy your salt cravings and receive an amazing boost of protein (I don’t like the taste, BUT the Epic brand has just come out with pre-made delicious bone broth. It is worth the price if you can’t get much else down!). If like me, the though of eating vegetables makes you want to barf, then try to sneak in fruits and veggies in other forms such as frozen smoothies. I have found that cold foods without smells are much more easily consumed. Keep snacks by your bed and strive to eat protein. Research has actually shown that protein can help calm nausea even though it is usually the last thing you want to eat. Almonds, specifically, have shown to be a snack that helps mamas in first trimester to feel better. Keep in mind, though, that your goal during these early weeks is simply to stay hydrated as best as you can and know that second trimester will be the time to replenish your body again.
For me, I begin to feel better around week 16 of pregnancy and usually feel that I can resume normal eating around week 20. Now the focus shifts to eating healthy fats, high-quality proteins, and high fiber foods including fruits and vegetables. Honestly, I think the healthy high-fat foods are what is most often missed in the traditional American pregnancy diet, especially with our focus on not gaining too much weight. Granted, pregnant women stereotypically consume plenty of ice cream, and I fall into that stereotypical category 😉 BUT, we miss the importance of eating fat during pregnancy. High-quality fats support the development of your baby’s brain, help your skin stretch with your growing belly and feed all systems of your body as it grows another human.
In addition to fats, fiber is my best friend. This should generally be understood to mean that constipation is one of my worst enemies in pregnancy. The extra progesterone and just the general state of your organs being moved around (I’m rather sure that my stomach was on the left side of my back) don’t promote seamless digestion. In addition to foods, I require supplements to keep things moving. Extra magnesium (which is also helpful for sleep), Comfortone (a supplement from Young Living), and even the occasional stool softener have helped me manage the pregnancy bloat. Staying hydrated is also crucial.
As far as supplements go, my favorite nutrient-dense food supplement that I recommend during pregnancy is Collagen Hydrolysate. It is a protein-rich powder that contains important amino acids for joint and muscle strength. It is also one of the few things proven to help reduce stretch marks. Not to mention, prior to pregnancy, it is one of my favorite foods to help gut healing. Since it is tasteless and colorless, I generally add it to tea, coffee and/or smoothies depending on what else I am consuming that day. Technically, it can even be added to plain water as well.
And, overall, let me just say: when pregnant, eat and eat a lot. It is hard to not worry about weight gain, but also learn to trust that your body knows what it is doing. With both my pregnancies, I ate constantly, but with my daughter I only gained about 15-20 pounds, but with my son I gained 35-4o pounds. It is what it is. And, though I am not at my pre-pregnancy weight at this time, I actually feel stronger and healthier after this second pregnancy than after my first.
And, in an effort to be fully transparent, I probably ate my weight in bowls of cereal at all hours of the day and night. 🙂
For a list of essential oils that I love (specifically in the weeks leading up to labor), I have written a blog post completely devoted to that topic. You can read about my personal use here: Essential Oils for Birth.
I probably get the most questions about my exercise during pregnancy. It is no secret that I love to exercise and have historically erred on the side of too much/too intense exercise for my life season. BUT, this pregnancy, I resolved to be gentle with my body, maintain my strength, but not push too hard and damage my joints/abdominals. I also sought out expert advice this time around, as I had a three-finger abdominal separation after Abby that took me nearly two years to heal. It doesn’t help that my favorite form of exercise is running – a very high impact practice that can be quite jarring and potentially detrimental to the pelvic floor and core during pregnancy. When it was all said and done, I exercised almost every day in second and third trimesters, but was much more intentional to honor my body’s needs and modify my activities to nurture myself.
Without a gym membership, all of my workouts were accomplished either outdoors or in my basement. I own a set of resistance bands and 3 and 5 pound hand weights. Supportive tennis shoes are also a must for any jogging. I also can’t say enough about the belly splint I wore that was made specifically by a pre- and postnatal trainer and mom for other exercise-enthusiast moms. Known as the Maternity FITsplint, the band supports the core muscles.
I worked with two trainers specifically this pregnancy (both local to Colorado, but both schedule Skype/online consults/training as well). First, I had an initial consultation with Brooke of The Bloom Method when I was about 14 weeks pregnant. As her website explains, Brooke has designed an innovative program with “cutting-edge core techniques [that] use diaphragmatic breath and deep core engagement to keep the abdominal muscles strong as the belly grows throughout pregnancy.” After this initial consultation, I faithfully completed between 5-20 minutes of deep core engagement exercises everyday for the rest of pregnancy. I also had several subsequent training sessions with Brooke and worked on incorporating core engagement with functional movements during intense circuit training sessions. The difference in my core strength just five weeks postpartum is remarkable when compared to my postpartum journey after Abby was born. I weigh more this time around (just to point out that it is NOT about strict weight standards), but only have about a single finger separation in my abdominals at this point and am feeling my muscles re-close as the days go by.
I also worked with Beth Reese Jones of Beth Jones Coaching. I knew Beth from my time in as a full-time doula and reached out to her before I got pregnant and during pregnancy for training programs designed specifically for the season of preparation/restoration that I was in. During pregnancy, I was often working 10-hour days as the center manager of Baby+Co birth center and needed fast, but safe workouts for my 4:15 am wake-up time. Given those constraints, Beth created 20-minute workouts that helped me stick to my daily exercise goal. She now has an online training program called Mama Sport that I recommend.
Additionally, I used the wonderful and FREE world of prenatal workout videos on YouTube to mix up my routine, as well as a couple of prenatal barre exercise DVDs. Among my favorite YouTube videos are the prenatal series of workouts by BodyFit by Amy and the prenatal series of workouts by Glow Body PT. After exploring many, many exercise DVDs, I found several by Suzanne Bowen that I love including “Slim & Toned” and “Long & Lean” and a series of prenatal videos by Tracy Anderson called “The Pregnancy Project.” I highly recommend purchasing these DVD series if you enjoyed barre workouts pre-pregnancy and desire to continue those routines.
~~~Clothing & Gear~~~
As far as maternity clothes go, I despise most of them. They are over-priced, don’t last long, and are often unflattering. The one exception to my rule is maternity leggings, which I adore, but I always buy several sizes “too big,” as the last thing I want to be while pregnant is uncomfortable and squished. Target carries a great line of leggings and tanks, but I buy the large size even with my small frame. Once again, a tight waist band drives me crazy and just adds insult to injury.
My maternity “uniform” consists of leggings, tanks, and then a kimono/cardigan/flowy top to complete the ensemble. Every so often, I find a comfortable maternity piece that I add, but overall, I don’t expect much from most maternity lines.
Round ligament pain struck early and often this pregnancy, and I found that I wanted additional support earlier on. For this purpose, the Blanqi support tanks are great – if a bit overpriced. I only bought one and wore it on days when I needed a slimming look under a dress or on days when I was going to be on my feet for long periods of time. As an added bonus, its length and compression also help to hold up pants/leggings under a growing belly.
As far as pregnancy gear goes, I borrowed a large maternity body pillow during my third trimester and used it periodically. However, for most of my pregnancy I loved the Bellifly Pillow, as it doesn’t take up the entire bed and can support various sleeping/sitting/nursing positions without much moving of pillows/blankets, etc.
Everyone finds their favorite belly cream, but mine was definitely Burt’s Bees Mama Belly Butter. It smells wonderful, is thick enough to provide long-lasting moisture, but doesn’t stay greasy on the skin. I also made a homemade shea butter blend with Young Living essential oils for thicker, evening applications. “Gentle Baby” is a wonderful YL blend for pregnancy skin, and one of my favorites in body butter creations – pregnant or not.
~~~Community Partners & Practitioners~~~
IVF injections. Sterile procedure rooms. More blood tests than I can count. This is how my pregnancies begin. It is a gift – modern medical technology. But, it also leaves a lot of the intimacy out of conception. When the months came for me to begin the IVF medications this year, I sought the prayers and hugs of a small group of friends, and I began a journey to make this a “conscious conception.” I wanted to nurture myself and seek the expertise and support of amazing local community practitioners in my infertility struggle and ensuing pregnancy.
Amy Colo, a retired midwife, is an incredible Mayan abdominal massage therapist. She helped me prepare my body for pregnancy and then nurtured it throughout the duration of Micah’s growth. (She was also incredibly influential in my postpartum healing…more on that in a future post.) I highly recommend her for infertility, women’s self-care, and perinatal massage. Her website is http://amycolo.com/maya-abdominal-massage/.
On a similar note, the practitioners at Alpenglow Acupuncture were incredible supports during my third trimester when circulation issues and prodromal labor nearly got the best of me. I highly recommend them! Their website is http://www.alpenglowacu.com/.
Karina Constantino of Dynamic Doulas was my amazing doula and supported my birth experience both at the birth center and during our transfer to the hospital. She helped me emotional prepare for the postpartum time and held the space for David and I to labor during the long night of Micah’s birth. She has worked with both low and high risk families, and is absolutely amazing. Her website is http://www.dynamicdoulas.com/.
Rachael Hope has been my photographer since David and I moved to Colorado as newlyweds in 2008. She is a family, lifestyle and birth photographer. I don’t have words to describe her talent, but all I can write is that she captures magic. She is sensitive, compassionate and understands the needs of mamas. I have been honored to be her friend and walk with her through the birth of her three babies. Her website is http://www.havenlifeandphoto.com/.
And, this list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the midwives at Baby and Company birth center. I realize my recommendation could appear biased as the center manager, but truly I had always dreamed of delivering at Baby+Co since they opened in May 2015. If you are pregnant or in need of well woman care, then please consider them. Amazing, compassionate, holistic care! I should also note that the midwives at Avista Women’s Care did an incredible job caring for me during the beginning of my pregnancy, and I highly recommend them for natural hospital birth 🙂
Thank you again to my family and friends who prayed for our family, kept me sane during pregnancy, and have gone above and beyond to love on our family of four since Micah arrived. I am speechless and blessed to be part of this village. Hugs. XOXO