An amazing, healthy pregnancy means a good birth and a healthy baby - and that's a beautiful thing.
Knowing exactly what to do when you've got those pregnancy aches and pains... and knowing what you need to be doing for your baby so you're both doing fabulously - that's peace of mind for any mama-to-be.
In fact, taking care of yourself and enjoying your pregnancy is one of the best ways you can show love to your baby in a real, incredibly important way.
And if you've got older kids or a spouse, taking care of you is an incredible act of love for them, too 🙂
It's awesome that you're taking the time nourish your body and your baby, and to learn about the steps you can take to having a healthy pregnancy - from eating, to exercise, to stress relief and self-care (and everything in between).
How to Set Yourself Up for a Healthy Pregnancy
This post is giving you a (pretty big) peak into exactly how I set myself up for a healthy baby and a great birth throughout my pregnancies.
Keep in mind that I do this for my baby and my for my family and my goals are:
My approach to pregnancy starts with what I eat, because that's what's going to grow my baby and what's going to keep my body strong enough to carry him or her to term. But food and pregnancy aren't always the easiest combination, so I try to make sure it's nourishing AND delicious (and sometimes it just needs to be nourishing AND easy).
Then I take the steps I need beyond food - exercise, stress management, etc. I like having a blueprint to follow, but I like having freedom too. So I've come to understand that there IS a blueprint to a healthy pregnancy, but inside of that blueprint, there's a lot of room to do what works best for you 🙂
Mindlessly checking off specific foods and forcing myself to exercise according to a strict regime doesn't appeal to me at all! I might make it 2-3 days before I've missed a workout session and forgot to eat a particular food. I need something that tastes good - and the exercise and so forth need to be enjoyable.
So I strategize by making sure that what I'm doing is fitting into the guidelines for a healthy pregnancy - but still giving my body and my baby what they need. Remember that you can make this plan your own, just like I do. Let's jump in!
(NOTE: Trying to balance your pregnancy, life, and getting ready for baby? Use my checklist pack stay healthy (naturally), organized, and confident throughout your pregnancy! Get them here.)
1. Eat Good Food. Eat Enough Good Food. Salt it to Taste!
You know that you need to eat well during pregnancy, but you might not know exactly what that means. I get asked a lot because mamas-to-be are confused. It is confusing when you're hearing a lot of different advice.
I know that the pregnancy diet I follow has gotten me 8 healthy babies (and 8 safe births). 8 out of 8 is pretty good.
Let me take a minute here to talk about "evidence-based." I'm all for evidence when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth, and baby. Really, I am. But I also want to say that with the caveat that we'll never have true "evidence-based" for many things birth n' baby.
See, some studies - like diet studies - are just plain unethical. Who is going to take the chance of depriving one mom and baby just to study which foods are superior? Nobody. Sadly what that actually means is that most moms and babies suffer because the nutrition advice they get sucks.
Other studies cannot be truly "evidence-based" because they're inherently biased - they never study a "normal" situation. Pregnancy and birth are "messed with" from the minute a woman walks through the door. We need healthy, well-nourished mamas and babies who go through natural pregnancy and birth to be our gold standard... and that's NOT the gold standard. So evidence can help us a lot and take us pretty far... but it's not the end-all-be-all in pregnancy and birth birth (maybe one day we'll wake up and realize that women have had a lot of wisdom to handle this - and have for ages).
We're fortunate that some avid researchers, like Lily Nichols are pouring through the research that is out there and giving us good information for our babies - but please remember that most pregnancy diet advice is based on mamas who are not well-nourished, not on women and babies who have received the optimal nourishment and advice they should be receiving.
Okay... back to our topic - so I have had 7 really healthy babies and 7 really great births, and 7 mostly good pregnancies (I learned a lot from the first 20 weeks of one that was kinda rough up to 20 weeks). And I've helped a lot of other mamas now, too, and have seen what women who have healthy pregnancies and babies do.
The first thing they do is eat well - and eat enough. That's the opposite of what most of you are hearing. You're hearing to watch calories and to only eat "300 extra" and all that nonsense. "300 extra" only works if you were eating exactly the right amount before pregnancy. And who really wants to count calories every day... especially during pregnancy?
Good pregnancy diet is about eating nourishing foods and eating enough of them.
Your blood supply needs to expand a lot (about 60%) during pregnancy to nourish your baby, the placenta, and your body (plus take care of wastes).
It can expand when you get enough protein and salt to taste.
But if you don't get enough calories, your body uses protein for energy. That means your blood supply and your baby's body don't have enough protein.
So protein is important, but it's not the only thing. Eat protein, eat enough other foods, and salt to taste 😀
Here's more info on good pregnancy diet (links to more info you can find here on NBBC):
My Favorite Pregnancy Smoothie
(this smoothie is great for the 1st trimester when you want to keep morning sickness at bay by getting lots of probiotic "good guys" in your diet - and I would keep drinking it right up til baby day!)
Blend everything up and you're ready to go! You can add more of this to double it for two people. And feel free to add additional fruits, greens, etc. to make it the way you like it. Sometimes I like to add a pinch of stevia powder (especially if the kefir is really tart). That sweetens it up just a little 🙂
I fully believe this smoothie is why I had no morning sickness with Sadie after having horrible morning sickness with all the others!! Check out the morning sickness podcast I linked to above 🙂
Sometimes mamas think they need to eat tons around the clock. It is good to "graze" but you don't have to eat tons of food at every sitting. Think more small meals and regular snacks. Snacks can be simple and tasty. Here are some ideas:
Have some protein with every meal, salt to taste, and drink to thirst and you'll be doing well.
Remember, a good pregnancy diet is eating enough nourishing foods - you don't have to rigidly stick to specific foods. Find the foods that provide the nutrients you need... and the taste you love!
2. Get Up and Move With Your Baby Every Day
This is actually pretty easy. Just get up and go for a walk 😉 I get asked what to do about pregnancy exercise a lot. Many moms think they need a specialized routine.
I don't want to minimize the importance of exercise in your pregnancy. I think it's really good for you. But it's not to control weight and it doesn't need to be a chore or a taskmaster.
Exercise during pregnancy helps in multiple ways:
Okay, so what's step one to developing a pregnancy exercise routine?
Take a daily walk. You help your baby a lot when you walk every day. I recommend you walk bare-footed or in flat-soled shoes (or boots) if at all possible. That's important because it creates proper alignment in your spine, and that helps baby line up.
Walking gets your blood and lymph fluid circulating (lymph is especially important to your immune system). It improves respiration (breathing). It really does help your body - and it helps baby.
Sometimes mamas have a hard time walking because of pregnancy aches and pains. Get a good pregnancy support belt (or even a full support garment - I use one!) so you feel comfortable taking a walk. Start slowly and walk as long as you can. Use a walking stick if you need. I also found that sitting on a birth ball (that's a glorified name for an exercise ball!) really helped release stiffness and relieve pain. Sit on one first thing in the morning, before you want to walk. You can build up the length of your walks over the next few weeks.
You're walking every day. Great!
What do you do next? What if you want more in your routine? What if you have a pre-pregnancy routine you love? And should you add more?
I do think it's a good idea to get some extra movement in your week, but again, it should be enjoyable - not slave labor!! I like prenatal yoga and prenatal belly dance. They help me focus on stretching and breathing (very helpful during birthing), and they give me time to focus on my baby. Belly dance also gets me moving a bit and I love that!
But you don't have to do those things. Pick something that you enjoy. Not sure? Read online reviews of pregnancy exercise videos to see if you can find something that will fit your life. Or take a couple of trial classes to see if you like the atmosphere.
You should find at least one routine that lets you pay attention to breathing and stretching. That helps you understand your own body more, which again is helpful during your birthing time 😀
You can also adapt a routine you were enjoying before pregnancy. In your first trimester you can keep things much the same, but you'll want to slow down a bit as you get further along. Sure professional athletes sometimes keep up their pre-pregnancy routines, but it's not ideal for them - or for you.
A good guideline for pregnancy is to maintain - maintain your weight, your reps, your miles, your speed, etc... but now is not the time to make gains.
Now is the time to build a baby - and that's awesome. As strong women, we should feel confident defining success on our terms, and I think that growing a super-healthy baby is an awesome goal!
If you do a lot of bouncing (such as tennis) or heavy lifting, scale down late in pregnancy when your joints are very relaxed to prepare for birthing. You can get going again with baby watching from the sidelines 🙂
Okay - so we'll sum exercise up like this:
Walk most days. Find something physical that works for you 2-3 days a week. Enjoy it! Pay attention to how your body feels - it's good to notice and helps you prepare to birth your baby.
You rock, mama!
Here's more information on prenatal exercise:
(NOTE: Trying to balance your pregnancy, life, and getting ready for baby? Use my checklist pack stay healthy (naturally), organized, and confident throughout your pregnancy! Get them here.)
3. Set Aside Time to Enjoy Your Pregnancy
I emphasized in the diet and exercise sections that enjoyment is important. You should enjoy your food and I really think that an exercise routine you dread has NO place in your life.
In fact, you really need to enjoy your pregnancy. Hormone levels change during pregnancy. A lot. It's a good thing 🙂
One of the hormone levels that really starts to rise during pregnancy is oxytocin. I've written a lot about why oxytocin is so important here: Will the Real Oxytocin Please Stand Up
Research shows that oxytocin, "the love hormone," is essential to bonding and connection throughout our lives. It also gives a lot of signals to your body during and after birth - it helps establish a strong labor pattern, and after your baby is born it helps your uterus firm up to prevent excessive bleeding. And oxytocin continues to skyrocket (it will be at a lifetime high) as you and your baby get to know each other, bond, and get started with breastfeeding.
Bottom line: it's important.
Research also shows that the moms (and babies) benefit the most not from the overall level of oxytocin at the end of a pregnancy, but the amount of increase.
In other words, boosting oxytocin as much as possible throughout pregnancy is a great idea because that's what going to be best for you and your baby.
Oxytocin is the hormone of calm, connection, love, enjoyment.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
You need to enjoy your pregnancy!!!
So how do you do that?
First, get a handle on life 😉 I take a little bit of time every night (usually 10-20 minutes) to think about tomorrow. Here are some things I do:
These steps only take a little time and they really help me get the next day started right (especially knowing what we're going to eat at each meal!!!).
I've also found that trying to keep mess corralled makes a big difference in my stress level - I don't let kids play all over the house, leaving a tornado of destruction in their wake :p
We stay in a general family area, and I try to have regular cleanup times throughout the day so the level off "stuff" never gets overwhelming.
At this point, the two biggest stressors for me are: A. a messy house and B. "Work" issues.
The best advice I've got for you mamas who also have "work" issues is to be proactive about a few things:
A. When you leave the office, leave the work if at all possible (if you have a home office, like me, plan a time that marks a clear end to the workday)
B. D-E-L-E-G-A-T-E: Delegation is one of the hardest things for me to do and I think it's partially a woman thing... we feel like we need to take care of everything. It's okay to let something go, though - let staff or coworkers help you with some of it!
C. Focus on the One Thing: What's the most important thing for you to do at work today? The ONE thing that will move your project forward, contribute to the bottom line, or your career? Focus on that. Check out Gary Keller's book The ONE Thing for why this is so incredibly effective.
You've already heard me share some strategies for managing at home...
I frequently discuss practical strategies for managing your home on the podcast. Here are a few episodes to help you get started:
So why so much time on this? Part of relaxing and enjoying pregnancy is managing stress. I hope I've touched on some stress points and some solutions for those.
How to Increase Your Relaxation and Enjoy Your Pregnancy More
Lets talk about the flip side now 🙂 How do we increase relaxation and enjoyment?
You should make a point to find times to relax and do something enjoyable. Listening to relaxing music is an easy example. Some people find spending time with pets to be really relaxing.
I find playing a video game with Scott to be pretty enjoyable and it's something to look forward to at the end of a long day (or sometimes not until the end of a long week).
We also take Saturday off completely every week and I really look forward to that - it's a time to relax, to read good fiction, play with the kids, take a family walk, do a Bible study I haven't had time for, etc.
What relaxes you is probably going to look different than what relaxes me, and that's OK. Just find time for what works for you 🙂
I also recommend you work in some baby bonding... that really boosts the oxytocin levels:
Some mamas have a harder time bonding prenatally because they don't feel as comfortable singing to or talking to their baby. That's okay - practical preparation (like choosing baby gear and clothing) helps boost oxytocin levels too. And everything you do to prepare for your baby and care for yourself during pregnancy is a way of saying "I love you" to your baby.
A Word About Pain and Feeling Crummy
Sometimes you feel crummy during pregnancy - or you're in pain. That makes it hard to relax and enjoy yourself!
If you're feeling discomfort from morning sickness, or if you have pelvic pain, backaches, etc. I would start by looking into natural ways to address those problems. Pregnancy discomforts are literally a pain, but can almost always be relieved so you can get back to enjoying yourself and this experience with your baby!
4. Remember That Prenatal Care Starts With You
Okay gals, I have never really won awards for being politically correct and a few times I've been told I'm pretty blunt. So I don't know that I can say this very delicately...
YOU are responsible for your health and your baby's health during pregnancy.
That doesn't mean that you don't see a midwife or doctor, and it doesn't mean that they shouldn't be giving your guidance. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't look to anyone for advise on your pregnancy. I hope you DO listen to trusted advisers (and I hope I can be one of them).
But what it does mean is you're person living your life every day, and ultimately, your choices are what's nourishing you (and your baby).
I tell moms-to-be in my MamaBaby Birthing classes and my Great Pregnancy classes that they should act like they're doing "unassisted prenatal care" - and seeing their care provider every once in awhile.
Why? It's because in the grand scheme of your pregnancy, you're going to be taking care of you a lot more days than anyone else is.
Of course you're already doing a lot - that's WHY you want to make sure you're eating well, exercising the right way, and handling stress responsibly. It's WHY you're researching your birth choices and carefully considering your care provider. That's a good thing.
I just want to point out that you can be a lot more confident and empowered about your pregnancy when you realize that You're In Charge. You call the shots 🙂
Work with your care provider like you are on the same team - not like he or she is the parent and you're the child... not even like he or she is the doctor and you're the patient. This is a partnership because pregnancy is a healthy, normal part of life.
Your body is well-adapted to take care of it.
I found it incredibly empowering to really take the reigns of my prenatal care when I was pregnant with Sadie. You can listen to more about my choices in this podcast: Taking Prenatal Care Into My Own Hands
One of the biggest things that made a difference was asking my midwife to help me feel my baby - just being aware of what my hands were feeling on my belly and matching that up with the kicks and flutters I felt inside transformed pregnancy for me. I was a strong, knowledgeable woman, and I understand what was happening with my body and my baby.
That's valuable for any woman and pregnancy is an awesome time to step into that power and take it with you as you go forward into motherhood.
Want even more on how your baby grows and how you can take care of yourself during pregnancy?
Here are a couple of resources to show you that you can even be proactive about complications during pregnancy:
5. A Snapshot of a Healthy Pregnancy
So what does it look like to relax and enjoy your pregnancy? I thought I'd give you a peek into a couple of days of my pregnancy with Sadie - what I ate and how I took care of myself.
Wake Up: I'm finally able to start getting up a little before the kids as the first-trimester fatigue fades, so I get up a little before them and have some time to myself to putter and read. We go out and milk the goats, then I walk with Altana, our dog.
Breakfast: Protein pancakes I made in a big batch last weekend. I re-heat 3 and eat them spread with a little peanut butter and a glass of probiotic smoothie I made for Scott and myself
Morning: We go through homeschool lessons for each child. I ask Cassidy to wait until Scott gets home to help with math because both of us are getting frustrated! I sneak a little bit of time before lunch to try in find the baby with a fetoscope and think I hear a little "thumpa, thumpa, thumpa" in there 😉
Morning Snack: A quick string cheese and 1 cup of milk
Lunch: I can no longer stomach the thought of rice, but it's easy so the kids have that. I have some sauteed green pepper and onion with cooked chicken breast strips. I top that off with a little salsa.
After Lunch: I set the older kids up with schoolwork and help the younger ones settle for a nap / quiet reading. It's time for me to do my weekly MamaBaby Birthing Q&A call, and that takes about 1.5 hours.
Afternoon Snack: Another cup of milk and several handfuls of trail mix. I pick a few extra chocolate chunks out of the bag.
Late Afternoon: I get frustrated because the house is a mess and I'm tired because I don't have a chance to nap on Wednesday afternoons, but we get through the afternoon.
Supper: We have an easy stir-fry, which is something that always tastes good to me, thank goodness!
Evening: We do evening milking, take a quick walk with Altana, and get the kids to bed (late, of course), and now I can finally relax for a few minutes. I have a cup of milk and a spoonful of peanut butter which is though probably not the best snack ever! Now it's bedtime!
Wake Up: I sleep a little longer this morning because Wednesdays are exhausting, so I feel flustered trying to get things going without much time to wake up myself. Milking time is nice because it's calm and quiet. Today the calm and quiet goes by too quickly! I get a few more minutes when I walk with our dog Altana.
Breakfast: I'm out of protein pancakes and resign myself to eggs, which are know are good for baby but are not my favorite. The smoothie makes up for it though - it's delicious!
Morning: It's Thursday! Scott's mom has been coming over every Thursday for several weeks now. I finally gave in to Scott's insistence and let him ask her to help out. She watches the kids while I get some extra sleep. I'm so thankful! I spend quite a bit of time "chasing" the baby around in my belly, trying to find the heartbeat with my fetoscope. I love finding it!! I've started to feel little flutters, too 🙂 I also do my prenatal yoga routine, then settle down to nap. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping, so I take a dose of Trilight Health's pregnancy-safe Snooze EZ tincture. It really does help me drift off this morning.
Morning Snack: I wake up in time to have some water and some trail mix, which I brought back to the bedroom with me before my nap. After the snack I head out front and chat with Scott's mom some.
Lunch: We have quick homemade cheeseburgers and salad. It's good, it's easy, and it's lower in carbs. I've gained weight a little faster than I'd really like to in my last couple of pregnancies, so I'm trying to following a nourishing, lower carb diet. I do have a glass of milk though... I'm finding it hard to give that up!!
After Lunch: I don't feel too much like napping since I had a morning nap. I lie down and listen to a 30 minute pregnancy relaxation track, then I work on the rough draft of an article for my website. I try and ignore my overflowing email inbox because it's stressful.
Afternoon Snack: I have a few slices of cheese with veggie sticks. The kids are a carrot kick, so they have carrots and I find bits of discarded carrot everywhere. I find this to be an ideal time to practice my breathing skills. Scott gets home early, so we take a walk around the property while the kids clean up. We get back to the house where I have the kids actually clean up, then I outline next week's podcast episode. I take a couple of minutes to answer emails, but still feel chronically behind.
Supper: Tonight we have stir-fried cabbage with ground beef and a tomato sauce (I'm really not sure what to call it, but I love it when I'm pregnant). The kids have rice along with theirs.
Late Evening: After supper we milk the goats and manage to get the kids to bed almost on time. We have a blissful couple of hours of quiet, and Scott gets me to watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Voyager on Netflix. I read the latest in birth and baby news while we watch, then work on my list of what I need to round up for the new baby. It will be awhile before I actually start gathering things up, but I like working on the list now 🙂 I eat a couple of string cheeses before bed.
Every day varies during pregnancy, and it's important to listen to your body and try and make time to take it easy - and to eat and drink as much as your baby needs! You'll notice that I worked walking and even a prenatal yoga session into the days, but it wasn't anything fancy!
You can do the same thing... take the time to take care of yourself! It is the highest act of love you can perform for your unborn baby!
If you want to understand more about having a healthy pregnancy and how you can take great care of yourself and your baby, plus get meal plans, exercise advice, and personal support from me, get Great Pregnancy. If you want to know how to prepare for a safe, natural birth, check out MamaBaby Birthing.
Each one has easy-to-follow lessons, but they have their own unique focuses and resources 😀
(NOTE: Want a Perfect Birth Plan Template? Use this template and step-by-step videos to write a birth plan that gets your birth team on your side for a beautiful birth experience! Get the birth plan kit here.)