My first pregnancy was a wonderful, emotional, exciting, and anxiety ridden time. I had to break this post up because it turned out to be a lottt longer than I anticipated. I’m also going to write other posts about troubleshooting with breastfeeding as well as postpartum care. Hope the information below will be helpful in some way!
1) Support your back
I have a herniated disc so a back band was one of the first things I got myself early on. However, I believe it would be useful for anyone that’s pregnant. Center of gravity will be naturally thrown off and if you have bad posture prior to pregnancy like I did, you’ll need all the support you can get. I wore the band everywhere and the only times it got to be a bother was during long walks with my husband because I’d overheat. It took me a few tries to get the positioning of the belt just right but when it is worn correctly, you’ll almost forget that you’re wearing it. Lastly, it felt good to have my growing belly supported and gently lifted rather than hanging freely.
I was really paranoid about winding up with diastasis recti which is when your ab muscles stretch to the point of separating. It can be alleviated with proper, specific exercises if it’s a mild case but if it’s beyond that it requires physical therapy or surgery. I figured I was pretty much doomed because at that point I had stopped exercising with any consistency. However, as the pregnancy progressed and at the urging of my OBGYN and doula, I did try to go outside for a walk each day/every other day for anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. About every other weekend, I’d go out with my husband for 30 to 40 minute walks.
I regularly sat on a stability/workout ball to help strengthen my core and stabilize my pelvis. The stability ball can also be used as a birthing ball. Basically you sit on it and move your hips in a way that feels good to you– rolling them back and forth, side to side, in circles– to help relax, manage pain, and encourage the baby to drop which may induce labor.
There are so many pregnancy friendly workouts to choose from but I want to give a shout out to Ballet Beautiful. BB has made such an impact on my life that it needs its own post. If you’re looking for a no/low impact workout that is challenging and effective, check it out. You don’t need to have dance experience to benefit. I haven’t been able to find the Reebok thumblock wrist weights available anymore, so I linked a different pair. These ankle/wrist weights can be used to make Ballet Beautiful exercises a bit more challenging. Even though they’re light, they’ll still give you tone.
If workout videos or classes are not your thing, just find whatever motivates you to consistently move. That could be walking, jogging, hiking.. No matter what you choose, just be careful not to overexert yourself.
While the activities I did were better than doing nothing at all, I would say it’s the bare-minimum. Next go round, I won’t be doing the same. Exercise can help you offset excess weight gain during pregnancy which may be difficult to lose. Also, exercise can help with stamina during labor. I gained somewhere from 60 to 70 lbs during my pregnancy and while the majority of it melted off a couple months postpartum, that last 10 – 15 lbs from prebaby weight stuck around.
I can’t stress enough the importance of doing kegel exercises in preparation for and after childbirth. These strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Doing so can help prevent incontinence and may also help during the pushing stage. Begin by contracting the muscles that you use when urinating as if you’re stopping the flow. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Concentrate on isolating these muscles. A good starting point would be 5 second intervals of tightening and then relaxing for 5 seconds. Repeat. I aimed to do 100 kegels a day.
4) Perineal massage
The idea of tearing or having to get an episiotomy (a surgical incision made between the vagina and anus) terrified me. I found out about perineal massage from a family friend after expressing this fear and other pregnancy and labor related concerns. I’d say this was as imperative as kegels though not as frequent. I tried for about every 2 to 3 days.
The purpose of perineal massage is to train the skin to stretch, increasing its elasticity so that during childbirth there’s less chance of tearing. The link provided is the exact set of instructions I followed. In my experience, I pushed for about 3 hours and did tear but superficially. Only got a few stitches. I used organic coconut oil for the massage because it’s safe and won’t mess with your flora.
5) Aches and pains
A chiropractor and/or massage therapist that’s experienced in prenatal care
I frequently experienced aches in the hips and legs. During pregnancy, a hormone (ironically called relaxin) causes ligaments to relax in preparation for childbirth. The worst pains I experienced were at night when I’d involuntarily stretch out my legs while sleeping. It’d hurt so bad that it always woke me up. Also, I couldn’t stay rolled over on one side too long which lead to lots of tossing and turning at night.
After researching natural remedies, I stumbled across magnesium oil and decided to give it a shot. It is most effective when applied transdermally so I’d put it on my legs before bed which prevented the wake-up-in-shock-from-muscle-cramp pain. It can also aid in digestion when applied to the belly area and can help ease morning sickness. Despite its name, the consistency of magnesium oil is like water so be careful when dispersing. If you have dry skin, don’t apply the magnesium oil straight unless you moisturize your skin first or dilute the magnesium oil with water or a carrier oil. I learned that dry skin + undiluted magnesium oil = itchyyy.
If you develop hemorrhoids during pregnancy or postpartum, Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm will provide a cooling relief. This is also good for any swelling. I’ve read that some people put it in the fridge to enhance the cooling sensation.
Sleeping on your back will become impossible. Whenever I did, it felt difficult to breathe and like a lot of weight was pressing down on my stomach. Really not conducive to a restful night’s sleep! For support pillows, there are a whole host of types on the market in terms of shape (U-shape, C-shape, full length, etc.) and firmness. I got the Yogibo at a mall after noticing a sale on everything in store and subsequently trying out and liking their products. Since their pillows are filled with beads, they’re flexible and can be shaped however one wants. While the full body roll supports the belly, I also slept with the mini roll between my knees to keep my hips aligned and help with back pain. Support pillows make a huge difference for quality of sleep during pregnancy. Seek out what will address your specific concerns and and most importantly what feels good to you.
I was hesitant to see a chiropractor during my pregnancy because I wasn’t seeing any particular professional at that time and the idea of getting my back adjusted with my baby inside me scared me. When I got around to researching the safety and benefits of chiropractic care during pregnancy, I felt it was too late for me so I didn’t bother. I believe that my herniated disc and not getting any chiropractic care for 9 months could very well have contributed to the intense back labor I experienced. The medical staff thought it was because Catherine was in posterior position (face up) but they found out she wasn’t. Looking back, I wonder if I could have benefitted from having my pelvis and spine aligned.. If your baby is in breech position (feet first), chiropractic care can aid in flipping the baby. As for pregnancy massage, if you’re suffering from chronic knots, the therapeutic/trigger point therapy kind is great for managing pain.
Lastly, the Squatty Potty is an excellent tool in helping you to void your bowels more completely and efficiently. This means less straining when doing your business. That can help you avoid getting hemorrhoids which are not fun.