The Childbearing Year
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A Doula’s Top 3 Tips For a Healthy Pregnancy

top 3 tips pregnancyI’m putting on my birth doula hat today to share my favorite ways to stay healthy (and sane) during pregnancy.

It was incredibly surprising to me that even though I LOVE herbs and have made so many pregnancy-related teas and formulas over the years, I wasn’t really into taking herbs when I myself was pregnant.

I felt that creating a healthy foundation was more important, so that I wasn’t in need of taking herbs for medicine. I certainly enjoyed lots of beverage teas, though, to stay hydrated and for the pure fun of it!

Tip #1 – Find the Peace Within: Deep Breathing

The first and foundational tool for a healthy pregnancy is so basic it gets forgotten: deep breathing. It’s free and ridiculously easy, but don’t underestimate its strength at completely transforming any and all discomfort (and that’s NOT an exaggeration!).

Taking time to breath is the antithesis of stress, something which is worth keeping to a minimum during pregnancy. A yoga teacher told me years ago that as long as you are in the middle of a diaphragmatic breath, your body can’t feel stress at the same time.

Prior to becoming pregnant, I read an inspiring book called Trust Your Gut. At the time I was researching resources for people I worked with who had irritable bowel syndrome. The book uses an a mind-body approach to reduce stress and symptoms associated with IBS. As I read through the book, I practiced one of the breathing techniques myself and found it really relaxing and grounding. I applied the breathing technique to calm my nauseous belly. It was incredibly effective.

The breathing technique is so simple: breathe in for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. I aimed for between 10 breaths to 10 minuets of breathing daily as needed.

I would lay in bed with a hand on my belly and one on my chest and focus on one breath at a time, softening the tension in my belly until it would relax completely. When my nausea was at its worst holding a few acupressure points added an extra bit of comfort.

When to use breathing?
This is simple: everyday! all day long!

After the first few weeks of belly aches subsided, I continued using the deep breathing as a powerful calming tool. Women find themselves short of breath from time to time throughout pregnant, often during a growth spurt or as the blood volume expands starting around week 28. I remember being out of breath walking down hill! Deep breaths fell utterly delicious when oxygen needs are high. Deep breathing is also great for any and all physical and emotional challenges because it’s so relaxing.

The great thing about deep breathing is that it is a tool that keeps on giving. Use it during labor, newly postpartum and during all the ups and downs of motherhood. I found it useful during nursing. I imagined that my son would feel the slow, regular breathing and heart rate as his head was against my chest and feel safe and secure. He had experienced this breath while in the womb; I wondered if he would recognize its rhythm?

Ayla pregnant belly side with plantTip #2 – Mother Nourish Thyself: Eat Good Food (Whatever that means to you)

Most all newly pregnant women will have some sort of sensitive stomach, nausea or digestive upset. This is the perfect time to listen to your body and look at your diet. It’s worth the effort to maximize nutrition when your body is minimizing that which you can eat and not feel queasy.

I have to say that there is no one way to eat, there is no one diet that is THE pregnancy diet. The important tip here is to find what works for you. Most people have some idea which foods make them feel blah and which make them feel radiant. Make a list of the foods you eat, putting them into categories. Eat more from the “radiant” side and less from the “blah”.

I often say “everything in moderate, including moderation”. It’s not about being perfect, and certainly not about shaming yourself if you eat all your blah foods all week long. If you are going to eat a whole batch of cookies, love it! Enjoy the heck out of it. On the flip side, don’t make yourself eat buckets of kale that you despise. Find healthy picks which you love, whatever that is.

When I was 12 weeks pregnant I attended a botanical medicine conference and was inspired by one of the lecturers to cut out some foods that I suspected where causing me some fatigue and joint pain. I aimed for 6 weeks of a mostly plant-based, high quality protein and fats diet.  By 3 weeks it was evident that it was doing me good; my hip pain decreased, I slept better and my energy was steady. I didn’t eat that well for my whole pregnancy, but that one stretch gave me the wherewithal to find new staples, new recipes, new comfort foods and lessen my reliance on quick nutrient-poor foods.

Making a human takes a lot of energy and nutrient building blocks! I find that good nutrition is actually less about the baby and more about the mom. Your body will take whatever nutrients it needs to grow that incredible little one in your womb; it will take it from your bones if it needs to.

The nourishing is for YOU, to give you the strength and nourishment to replenish what you’ve lost and bulk up those stores for postpartum. A little nourishing of the mother goes a long way.

Ayla pregnant belly frontTip #3 – Bathe in the sacred waters: Hydrotherapy

Oh man, the summer I was pregnant was a scorcher! Our apartment was regularly 88 degrees inside – and that was at 8pm. The hot weather led me to (re)discover the art of bathing, and it was an absolute lifesaver.

I want to change the perception of baths. Baths have the reputation of being relaxing, luxurious and best enjoyed for an hour (hopefully with a drink of choice and a good book in hand). That’s nice and all, but the reality is that most people don’t take the time to draw up a bath like that.

Baths can be just as wickedly powerful as any pill, tincture, or acupuncture needle. And you don’t even have to add herbs to it (although that is nice).

What sort of things are baths good for during pregnancy?

  • feeling overheated – take  lukewarm or cool bath
  • feeling cold – warm water, of course
  • aches & pains of any kind – epsom salts are a good addition for this one
  • stress & anxiety – feel the water rinse away emotional woes and emerge a new being
  • “pregnancy swamp crotch” and hemorrhoids – all that weight putting pressure on your pelvic floor can stress the local tissues
  • edema and aching feet – bath salts are good for this, too
  • insomnia – relax in a bath under the moon light, humming lullabies to the baby in your womb
  • just for the fun of it – enjoy your precious “me time”, because there is no such thing after baby

Baths need not be an all or nothing affair. They can be just a few inches of water for a few minuets and be completely effective.

I was under the impression that I couldn’t immerse myself in hot water because it would “cook” the baby. Luckily my midwives dispelled that myth for me early on. They said even hot springs were fine. (Of course, do not be in such hot water for expended times that your body temperature raises. Moderation is key.)


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