Our “go go go” culture makes many pregnant women think they need to push self care aside in favor of checking off preparing-for-baby to-dos. The creation of the baby registry, setting up the nursery, getting ready to take a break from work, and all the other tasks we cram into the nine months between conception and birth, make us slack about self-care. And sure, most women are on top of healthy eating, getting some exercise, and attending prenatal appointments, but the self care usually stops there. A few reasons for this are that women think they don’t have time for this enhanced care, believe it’s too indulgent, or are simply unsure what type of self-care would be beneficial.
The thing is, self-care during pregnancy is far from a waste of time, or indulgent – it’s one of the best ways to connect with your baby and body, and prepare for the wild ride of childbirth and motherhood. It also makes pregnancy much more enjoyable. If you’re wondering what your self-care should consist of, the answer is “any healthy activity that makes you feel good.” Here are some ideas to get you started.
Surrounding yourself with support.
The people we surround ourselves with during pregnancy hugely impact our experience. So, ensuring you only spend time with people who make you feel safe and supported is crucial. The first step in this process is distancing yourself from the toxic people in your life. The people who make you feel less than. While this can be tricky, it will transform your pregnancy, because being around “emotional vampires” is exhausting and disempowering.
Next, invite authentic cheerleaders into your journey. This can look like finding a medical care provider you implicitly trust, hiring a doula, and spending more time with your favorite friends and family members. In addition, investing in your romantic relationship (if you’re in one), will help ensure you have a solid connection with your prime companion as you enter motherhood.
Getting to know your kindest self.
The physical and emotional changes of pregnancy can be a perfect recipe for negative self-talk. If you find yourself judging widening hips, stretch marks, emotional meltdowns, or any other circumstance you might label as “bad,” cut yourself major slack. Tap into that tender space within that reminds you that you’re going through a really big shift. That you’re beautiful. That your mood swings are super normal. That you can birth your baby. That you will be an amazing mother.
Get to know this kind self by writing at least ten things you love about yourself. Then, stand in front of a mirror and read them out loud. When you feel yourself slipping back into negative self-talk, repeat this activity.
Discovering and dissolving your fears.
Often, when you conceive a baby, you also conceive a heap of new fears.
These fears often revolve around childbirth, finances, relationships, career, body image, and so much more. Some women are inclined to push these fears aside – and I get that. It can feel like too much to acknowledge, and work through, these fears when we’re busy growing new humans. But, ignoring those fears could result in anxiety, depression, or unpleasant physical symptoms. Luckily, there are fairly simple ways to start working through them. Here’s one of them.
- Sit in a private, quiet room and get comfortable. Then, spend a few minutes meditating on the many elements of your life (e.g., friends, family, childbirth, career, body, home, incoming motherhood, etc.) and any fears hanging on to them.
- Now, write out the fears that came up during the meditation.
- Choose the fear that’s causing you the most stress and move through the following steps.
- Set a timer for 90-seconds, close your eyes, envision the fear (let it come up big!) and allow the emotions and accompanying physical sensations to flow through you, letting go of resistance and judgment towards the fear. Hold the intention that the feelings attached to the fear will flush out of you by the time your alarm goes off. (Studies have shown that it takes any emotion 90-seconds to flow through you, if you don’t resist it.)
- Now that you’ve released the feelings attached to the fear, examine it objectively and decide whether it is:
- Outside your control, and can be dissolved by doing the 90-second-release exercise whenever it’s triggered.
- An issue you need to educate yourself on. Knowledge can push away fear of the unknown, and invite in assurance.
- A concern you should talk through with another individual, as honest communication can cultivate harmony and connection.
- Do the work mama. You deserve to be free of those fears.
Pouring it out on the page.
Pregnancy, and impending motherhood, infuse change into almost every area of your life. This change can feel confusing and overwhelming. To help you process the shifts, and find ways to adapt to them, practice free-flow journaling. Set a timer for 30-minutes and just start writing. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or penmanship. Just write. And if you’re writing “I don’t know what to write,” for the first few minutes, fear not, the words will come. This practice helped me realize, and overcome, many of my concerns about childbirth and motherhood, and eased my anxiety.
I once had a therapist that told me to drink water every time I felt stressed. She told me to envision the water washing away my stressors and fears. It works like a charm. This simple practice of drinking water is especially important during pregnancy, as you're about 76 percent water, and a baby at birth is around 94 percent water. Having a metal, reusable water bottle as your constant companion can not only help you wash away stress, but also helps prevent pregnancy complications like neural tube defects, low amniotic fluid levels, and premature labor. Staying hydrated also promotes healthy cells, organs and tissues, and staves off nausea, headaches, cramps, edema and dizziness. To receive these benefits, drink a minimum of 100-ounces each day — twelve to thirteen eight-ounce cups.
In addition to putting water in your body, put it around your body. Soaking in a warm bath allows your muscles and mind to relax, and gives you an opportunity to bond with baby, by connecting you to the weightless world they’re floating in. It can also feel amazing to find a pool, or safe body of water, to swim in, as swimming enhances the strength and pliability of birthing muscles.
Practicing poetic eating.
In my book, Feng Shui Mommy: Creating Balance and Harmony for Blissful Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood, I write about the concept of poetic eating. This consists of modifying your understanding of food from something that needs to be consumed so you can move on to the next task, to morsels of poetry you have the honor of observing and relishing. To do this, allow words of appreciation to drift through you as your taste buds interact with each bite.
For example, “This mango is smooth in my mouth and the chili powder I sprinkled on it creates a nice contrast of spicy and sweet. As the nutrients in the fruit soaks into my cells and baby, a fresh sense of health awakens in my body.”
This practice also encourages you to slow down as you eat, giving you time to register satiation before you overeat and trigger heartburn.
Sleeping.For many pregnant women, sleep is one of the yummiest experiences, especially during the first trimester when fatigue is at its most intense. But because of our busy schedules, most of us push past fatigue in favor of getting stuff done. So I propose you make sleep one of your most important to-dos. When you feel the urge to catch some zzzs, but the “just keep going” side of you resists, remind yourself that a lack of sleep can lead to depression, memory problems, and health issues for baby. All valid reasons to put away that to-do list and get under the covers.
Saying yes to bodywork.Massage, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, and chiropractic work can all transform your pregnancy by resolving chronic mental and physical discomforts. Even if you don’t have any discomforts, bodywork can seriously elevate your sense of wellness. Talk with your care provider about the bodywork that would be most effective, and safe, for the type of support you need.
Many of the self-care practices I’ve listed will give you ample material to bring to a therapist (here’s looking at you journal.) Receiving this type of professional support helps you to glean quality guidance for the specific journey you’re on, and gives you a safe space to allow everything that pregnancy is bringing up to pour out. In addition, finding a good therapist when you’re pregnant ensures you have go-to support if you experience postpartum blues or depression. While many assume therapy is a costly endeavor, using online resources like Psychology Today can help you find MFTs (Marriage and Family Therapists) or psychologists in your area that take your insurance. And, many offer a sliding scale.
I hope this list fills your journey through pregnancy with enhanced calm, confidence, and overall wellness. And remember that this is just a start - if there are activities that make you feel alive, or drain your stress, partake in them as often as possible. You deserve it.