This article first appeared in The Nurture Parenting magazine in May 2020.
The process of becoming a mother.
Pregnancy and giving birth is a rite of passage, transforming a women’s identity into a mother, and forever changing the way life is both lived and perceived. It is one of the most significant physical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience.
In today’s fast-paced society, we are often so busy that we don’t take the time to slow down, enjoy and honour the experience, giving ourselves the self-care that we truly need and deserve.
Particularly if this is the first pregnancy, we often don’t fully appreciate the change that is about to come into our lives once the baby is born. And ironically with second or third pregnancies (when we would really appreciate the time for self-care) it’s much harder to find the time.
Advertisers urge us to prepare for the birth of our babies by purchasing material objects like prams, cots and clothes. But the real preparation should be taking place on a mental, emotional and physical level. After all, when you’re pregnant your baby relies on you for everything and feels everything that you feel – so it’s not ideal for either of you if you’re eating poorly, not resting or exercising, or putting yourself under a lot of stress. Pregnancy is the ultimate time to put on your own oxygen mask first!
So here’s some self-care ideas for Mums-to-be….
1. Keep moving – but slow down
It’s important to stay active and healthy during pregnancy but exercise needs to be safe and appropriate. Pregnancy is generally considered a time for maintenance, rather than progression of your fitness levels. Try a pregnancy yoga class, walking or swimming. Yoga in particular is highly effective in endorphin production, which lifts your mood and makes you feel great. Choose a pregnancy-specific class with an experienced teacher to ensure you and your baby are kept safe. Download a free copy of The Pregnancy Yoga Handbook to get started.
Try this … Commit to a regular activity and schedule it in to make sure it happens. Sign up with a pregnant friend for accountability. If you don’t feel like going, then trick yourself into it by taking it one step at a time….thinking “OK, I’ll just get changed into my exercise gear and then decide” – chances are when you get into your clothes you’ll feel more like it.
Subscribe to Australia’s largest library of on-demand pregnancy yoga classes for just $25 per month
2. Minimise and find ways to manage stress.
Research shows that chronic stress can cause inflammation and long term damage to your body. While a certain level of stress is normal, good self-care will keep it manageable.
Try to identify the triggers for your stress. Can the things that cause your stress levels to rise be minimised or removed from your life? For instance, if your stress is work related, perhaps you can request to work part-time.
When you’re pregnant, tired and hormonal, even minor everyday things can cause you to feel stressed. Can you change your attitude towards these things? For example, instead of being annoyed that you have to wait for your appointment, use it as an opportunity to focus on your breath.
By becoming more aware of your triggers and your physical and emotional reactions to them, you can prevent stress from escalating via relaxation and breathing techniques.
Try this … Take a few deep breaths, sighing away the exhalation. Then close your eyes and scan your awareness down your body, starting at your forehead and ending at your toes, consciously relaxing each part as you go.
3. Healthy eating
With morning sickness, indigestion and food aversions, sometimes it’s hard to eat at all, let alone eat the ‘perfect diet’. But eating well is a big part of self-care. Eating little and often will help. Try to eat whole foods and avoid anything that is processed. Think fresh fruit and vegetables in a rainbow of colours; a variety of grains like oats, quinoa, brown rice and whole wheat; lean meats and fish; seeds and nuts.
Low iron levels are common during pregnancy because your body is making lots of extra blood. Give your body a boost with iron-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables like spinach; seeds and nuts like pepitas, almonds and cashews; legumes like lentils and kidney beans; dried apricots – and my favourite – dark chocolate!
Try this … Instead of reaching for a sugary snack when the mid-afternoon slump hits, make yourself a green smoothie. Blend a handful of spinach, orange, banana, blueberries, almonds and chia seeds with almond milk or coconut water. It’s a great way to sneak in those greens and you’ll get an instant energy boost!
3. Meditation and Mindfulness.
Devoting just five minutes every morning to meditate can set a positive course for your entire day. Meditation can refill your cup like no other self-care activity – giving you inner peace, energy to enjoy your day and spreading that positive energy to other people. Meditation and mindfulness practices can easily be built into your day – from eating mindfully to a walking meditation.
Try this … Sitting comfortably, turn your attention to your breath. As you exhale, imagine you are breathing out thick, black smoke, the essence of all your negativity, tiredness, anxiety and pain. As you inhale, imagine you are breathing in pure white light, the essence of positive energy, happiness and inspiration. Feel your mind becoming more peaceful and your body becoming lighter.
With a baby squishing up all your internal organs, it’s fairly common to fall into the habit of taking shallow breaths or chest breathing. Taking some time to consciously breathe deeply can counter the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, helping us feel more present and calm.
Try this … Sit upright, either sitting cross legged on a cushion or on a chair. Place your hands on your belly and send some deep breaths and fresh oxygen down to your baby, feeling your belly filling up with air like a balloon. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, keeping the breath calm and comfortable. Make the exhalation longer than the inhalation by counting to 3 as you breathe in and 4 as you breathe out.
What better time to treat yourself to a massage than when you’re pregnant? Massage will help to ease the aches and pains that your pregnant body experiences, and help you to relax.
Try this ... If you have a toddler or pre-schooler at home and find it hard to get time for a ‘proper’ massage, improvise by getting them involved! Put towels down on the bed and lie on your left side. Get them to ‘massage’ you with some oil or body lotion. It’s fun and relaxing, something you can both enjoy – plus you get to lie down for half an hour!
7. Positive thinking and reflection
Treat yourself to some pregnancy affirmation cards for inspiration and positivity. You may find they bring a new-found respect for your body.
Journaling is a lovely way to reflect on your transformation into a mother and create emotional space. When you are inviting new things into your life (like a baby!) you need to make space for them emotionally as well as physically.
Try this … Take ten minutes at lunchtime or before bed to reflect on all the things you are grateful for.
8. Take time out of your routine
Slow down and connect with yourself and your body by doing something you love. Build mini-breaks into your week – take a bath, go to a yoga class, or walk by the beach. For a longer break, consider attending a Pregnancy Day Retreat which is a beautiful way to spend the day focusing on just you and your baby and truly honouring your pregnancy.
Try this … Make a cup of tea and sit quietly to drink it. Notice the colour of the tea, the temperature, the steam rising from it. Allow yourself to feel open and relaxed. Take small sips and really relish the act of mindfully drinking your tea. Turn this into a morning ritual to start your day before the family gets up.
9. Rest, rest and more rest
Growing a human being is hard work!! Don’t underestimate how tiring it is. Pregnancy insomnia and aching hips might also be keeping you from sleeping well. There’s no need to ‘push through’ to prove that you can still keep up or be the same as you were pre-pregnancy. Give yourself permission to slow down and rest or sleep whenever you need to. Afternoon naps are a beautiful treat!
Try this … If you struggle to sleep or only have a short time to relax, try Yoga Nidra. This is a deep form of guided relaxation, whereby the body is completely at ease and only the sub-conscious remains active. It’s known as ‘yogic sleep’ and 30 minutes is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep! You’ll find several Pregnancy Yoga Nidra options available on You Tube or download the 20 minute Mother Nurture Yoga guided meditation below.
10. Don’t let people ‘should’ all over you
People will freely offer you all sorts of advice during your pregnancy. They’ll tell you what you ‘must’ buy, what you ‘should’ eat and how and where you ‘should’ give birth.
Try this … Avoid confusion and guilt by filtering what you want to take on board and letting the rest of the advice wash over you.