Prescription for a Healthy Pregnancy
Is there a proven prescription for a healthy baby? The answer is yes.
Though I can't promise 100% perfect pregnancy, birth, and baby (life never comes with a guarantee, nor does any “prescription” guarantee perfect results), taking care of a few basics can go a long way to ensuring a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy.
As we discussed last week in Does Prenatal Care Really Save Lives?, it's not the simple act of making each of your prenatal appointments that really keeps you and your baby healthy. Though that is helpful – it means an experienced care provider can help you understand pregnancy, answer questions, and spot “warning signs” early enough to correct – it's not what truly keeps baby healthy on a day-to-day basis.
Read on to find out what does.
Take These Every Day
So you want to have a healthy baby? What do you do every day? You:
That really sums up a lot of what we do. I know you probably also check Facebook or your email every day, but in general those don't have much impact on your pregnancy (though you can like NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com on Facebook and that may help!) But what you eat, your quality of rest and relaxation, and how you move your body can have a big impact on pregnancy. We'll talk about those, and we'll also cover how what goes on in your head – and what you put into it – can help you and baby.
What You Eat
When I ask for top questions on pregnancy, the top one is always “what should I eat?” Always. And I've been running this website for a decade now, so I've seen a lot of questions 😉 I talk about food a lot on my site because it's a great way to help your baby stay healthy.
One of the reasons food is a big question probably has to do with our modern problem/obsession with weight. Moms don't want to gain too much. Doctors are telling them not to gain too much. And there's a lot of food guilt out there. Some women take pregnancy and look at it as a time to indulge and not pay attention to what they eat. A break from the normal stress of trying to keep the weight off. Other women feel huge amounts of anxiety whenever they step on the scale.
The focus of your daily pregnancy diet should not be how much weight you're gaining, however. That's a really poor indicator of prenatal diet! Most doctor's offices only weigh you – they never ask you what you're eating. That's ridiculous because a mom who gains 25lbs from nutrient-dense foods and a mom who gains 25lbs from eating candy and cake every day are not having the same pregnancy experience. Most importantly, their babies are not getting the same nutrients.
I do believe that women can sensibly evaluate weight gain during pregnancy, but I also feel that weight monitoring is in and of itself not particularly helpful. It doesn't tell a practitioner much about how a woman is doing and it causes anxiety for mothers.
Look instead at what you eat every day. Eat nutrient dense foods. Eat enough nutrient-dense foods. Salt to taste. Drink water and nourishing beverages. I cover good diet in detail in this page on pregnancy diet. You can still indulge in treats and tasty things, just do so after you've eaten good foods, and save those treats as “some of the time” foods.(NOTE: Want Real Mom Tested Techniques for Handling Labor Pain? Use these 11 proven natural childbirth techniques to handle labor and keep things moving right along. Get them here.)
It's true that food is the #1 question I get… and exercise is the #2 question!! The truth is, healthy pregnancy doesn't really require an exercise “routine” – it's far better to include movement in your life in a purposeful way. Getting up and getting moving some during your day has instant health benefits, and balances out the time you spend sitting.
Simple walking is actually one of the best things you can do. It's a gentle way to exercise, which is important during pregnancy (especially if you haven't done much beforehand). Plus, if you take some time to understand natural, optimal pregnancy posture, you're actually helping line your baby up in a good position for birthing while you walk! It used to be women's wisdom that walk was the best way to prepare for birth, and it's time we brought that wisdom back 🙂
Squatting is another good activity to prepare for birth. Start small, just by squatting down here and there to pick something up. But work squatting into your life in other ways – setting a stool (or stools) under your feet as you potty, to elevate your knees and bring you into more of a “squat” position. Sit in a squat for a few minutes while you play with your toddler, or just doing a few squats here and there throughout the day (such as after you go to the bathroom). These add up and again, they help line baby up. Plus they tone the thighs and glutes, which most of us appreciate 😉
Of course, you can do a lot more than just these simple exercises throughout your pregnancy – I have a full pregnancy exercise primer and some examples of great pregnancy exercise for you to read through.
Rest and Relaxation
You also sleep every day. Getting good quality sleep important (and sometimes elusive) during pregnancy, but I'll actually go a little beyond sleep here. You need rest and relaxation – the ability to let go of stress, enjoy your life, and feel secure. That's a lot to cover in a few short paragraphs… I could write volumes about each of those things. These are the things that are actually the hardest for me to find balance with in my own pregnancies. Life can get stressful, and we often skip on the rest that we need.
My first suggestion is to find support. It's ideal if that support can be in your own home. Sometimes you really just need to be bold enough to ask for it (and accept it, guilt-free). Sometimes you need to insist on it. And sometimes you can't really change much at home. This is is when it's beneficial to find outside support.
Even if this doesn't mean easing your duties at home, it may help you cope with what's happening at home, work, etc. Friends and family are good first people to go to to give you support and encouragement (even if it's just verbal support). If you don't have that system in place, your midwife, doctor, or community health visitors can be really helpful. Ask questions about your pregnancy and baby. And ask for referrals to community resources if you need them. Another source of support is online. I don't think online support really matches having someone there for you in person, but it has the advantage of being relatively easy to find a “tribe” – there are many online forums that host “due date clubs” where you can chat with other moms who are due around the same time as you. These groups often become tight-knit and you'll be able to follow friends and their babies for years.
It's also good to build stress-relief routines into your day. Balance out the inevitable stresses of life by taking time to relax and do things you enjoy: reading, watching funny movies, listening to good musics, etc. Playing with pets and spending time with loved ones is also very relaxing. Pregnant mamas often enjoy thinking and dreaming about baby, planning what you'd like to get for baby, imagining nursing and baby care, etc. It's also a nice way to bond with your baby prenatally. All of these activities boost oxytocin levels, which is highly beneficial to you and your baby. Read more in Will the Real Oxytocin Please Stand Up.
You spend every day thinking: about your day, your life, your baby. I touched on oxytocin above, giving suggestions for how you can think about things that boost oxytocin. But a really important part of pregnancy is discovering all you can about pregnancy and childbirth.
Women need to know what's happening to their bodies during pregnancy, and what happens during birth. This empowers you to work with your baby, because the two of you are in this experience together. Modern obstetrics (the “pregnancy and birth” branch of medicine) often pits mother and baby against each other (as if one is dangerous to the other). The truth is that mama and baby work together throughout pregnancy! Obviously pregnancy benefits your baby. And research is increasingly showing the lifelong health benefits that babies leave as a legacy for their mothers. It's good to know this is a partnership.
Understanding what I discussed above: diet, exercise and movement, rest and relaxation – is incredibly beneficial to pregnancy. Your body changes in many ways and good nutrition, exercise, and rest support that.
It doesn't stop there, however. Many mamas plan natural births, but don't understand much about giving birth. Or you have a token understanding of the “stages of labor” and not much else. There is value in understanding that textbook information, but it's also good to understand that labor is unique to every mama and baby. Understanding birthing and how to work with your baby through the possible variations your birthing time may take is really important. Most of us just don't know that without during a little exploration and discovery during pregnancy 😉
You don't have to be a bookworm, or try to digest crazy scientific studies, but be open to exploring; and choose a care provider that emphasizes education. And take things into your own hand – read books and take classes on healthy pregnancy and natural childbirth. It's an investment that will pay off majorly. Your baby only has one birthday 🙂
A Proven Prescription
The steps I detailed above may seem pretty simplistic. That's one reason I emphasized education (and linked to several resources) – you do need to have an understanding of pregnancy and birth and that takes a little more than this article. But at its core, healthy pregnancy is built on these simple steps.
It is the choices you make every day. That doesn't mean you'll never have a treat or spend a lazy day doing pretty much nothing 😉 But it does empower you with the tools you need to not only have a healthy pregnancy, but enjoy yourself and prepare for a smooth and natural birth. You're pregnant for around 280 days, and you're in charge during every single one of those. Make the most of them, and enjoy the journey 😉(NOTE: Want Real Mom Tested Techniques for Handling Labor Pain? Use these 11 proven natural childbirth techniques to handle labor and keep things moving right along. Get them here.)