Having a baby is one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, but it can also be one of the most physically demanding. From the moment you find out you’re expecting until the final weeks before delivery, your body goes through huge hormonal changes to accommodate your growing baby. And, no matter how much you think you’ve planned for the arrival of your little one, there’s no way to predict how your body will cope with the demands that pregnancy places on you.
To help your nine months go as smoothly as they can, we asked pregnancy expert Emma Lees Laing, manager of UK birthing charity Tommy’s Pregnancy Line, to share her tips for a perfect pregnancy (or as near as possible).
Stop morning sickness
We hate to break it to you, but morning sickness isn’t always confined to the morning, and it doesn’t necessarily disappear after three months. Many moms-to-be find themselves rushing to the nearest loo, whether it’s morning, noon or night.
Studies show that eight out of 10 women experience queasiness during pregnancy, which is caused by your body responding to increased levels of the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Scientists are still baffled as to why some women experience morning sickness while others have no symptoms.
“There’s no cure, but eating six small meals a day rather than three main meals may be more manageable, and can help to maintain your blood sugar levels,” Emma advises. “Resting can help to alleviate the symptoms, and travel wristbands may also help certain moms-to-be.”
Some women swear that drinking ginger or peppermint tea curbs the symptoms, while it’s thought that vitamin B6 helps the body to metabolise certain amino acids that can reduce nausea.
However, “If your nausea is accompanied by severe vomiting, to the extent that you can’t even keep fluid down, contact your doctor or midwife as soon as you can,” adds Emma.
Pregnancy can put a lot of pressure on your entire body, and feelings of fatigue are extremely common, especially in the first trimester. “During your first trimester, your heart rate goes up because the volume of blood being pumped through your heart increases. This can make you feel far more tired than usual,” says Emma. Your baby will be using all your energy to grow, and by week 12, your little one will measure around 8cm and weigh about 28g. This, understandably, is the main reason for feeling lethargic.
It’s essential to keep your stress levels low. Daily catnaps, a nutritious diet and gentle exercise like pregnancy yoga or Pilates can all help you beat exhaustion. “It’s important to set aside plenty of ‘you time’ and, above all, don’t panic. Your energy will return as you progress through your pregnancy, usually from about the 12-week mark onwards,” Emma says.
Beat bowel problems
Slow bowels can affect around 40% of moms-to-be. This is because your growing uterus puts pressure on your rectum, while pregnancy hormones can slow down digestion by channelling resources to your baby. “Some women are also advised to take iron supplements, because more blood is needed to supply the placenta during pregnancy, which can result in an iron deficiency. However, taking iron supplements can make constipation worse,” says Emma.
A fibre-rich diet is the key to easing constipation during pregnancy. Eating lots of legumes (beans and lentils), and packing your plate with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, oats, nuts and seeds will help to boost your bowel movements. “Drinking plenty of liquids – around six to eight glasses a day – and plenty of gentle exercise will also help to keep things moving,” says Emma. If you become very constipated, ask your GP which medication is suitable for pregnancy.
An influx of the hormone, oestrogen, can often trigger headaches in early pregnancy and, if you’re already susceptible to headaches, you may find they get worse during the early weeks.
“Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and eat small, regular meals. Take time out to relax when you can, as stress and tiredness will only make a pounding head worse,” cautions Emma.
Be sure to drink six to eight glasses of water per day to avoid dehydration, get lots of fresh air, and cut down on your caffeine intake. Applying lavender essential oils on the forehead has also been shown to ease symptoms.
Indigestion, bloating and heartburn are just a few of the post-eating issues that pregnancy causes. Indigestion is caused by the hormone relaxin, which is released during pregnancy to accommodate the growing baby in your body,” Emma explains. “The problem lies in the fact that relaxin can make the muscle at the top of your stomach become more relaxed as well. This muscle usually prevents stomach acid from leaking out, but when it’s relaxed, women find that they begin to suffer with digestive issues.”
Tweaking your diet can help you avoid painful flare-ups. Culprit foods include anything rich, spicy, fatty or processed, so stick to healthy whole foods. “Avoid heartburn by eating small quantities of food at regular intervals throughout the day. Try to eat your evening meal at least two hours before going to bed; and before you take any medication. Remember to make sure that any medication you take is suitable and safe to take during pregnancy,” says Emma.
*Originally published in February 2012
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