When you are pregnant for the first time, you go through the biggest life changes you’ll probably ever experience. One of those is the way your body changes. Whether your dress size alters or not, I think most will agree, especially if you have your first baby when you are 30 years+ and you go on to have more than one child, the impact will change certain parts of your body forever.
For some women this can be stressful. However, with the right preparation and knowledge, you can minimise many of these affects and feel great about yourself.
Everyone talks about how important it is to make sure you eat the right things to give your growing foetus all the nutrition he needs, at his different stages of development. I couldn’t agree more. It is vital that you eat plenty of food full of vitamins and minerals, with the right sort of natural fats and sugars. See footnote 1 in STEP EIGHT. However, in my opinion, more emphasis should be on how important it is to look after yourself.
For some reason in our society, when it comes to women who are pregnant they can do no wrong (especially when it comes to eating the wrong foods or lack of exercise). As long as baby is getting goodness in some form, it doesn’t seem to matter how much you eat or how little exercise you do. All is forgiven because you are carrying a baby. I’m here to say, not only does a very healthy way of life benefit your baby, but it also benefits you and can considerably reduce your recovery time after the birth.
Aerobic exercise is extremely important during pregnancy. Not only do you feel good, but you pump lots more oxygen through your body and into your baby via the umbilical cord. Oxygen is key for brain growth, and a flow of oxygen is an extremely positive thing for brain development. As baby grows and the bump gets larger women tend to do less exercise. It is so important that you try to walk around as much as possible and keep yourself physically motivated. Maintain a good level of fitness and agility, and it will be much easier to physically ‘get back’ when you have had your baby.
Many people take up pregnancy yoga. I loved it and my wonderful teacher, Lolly Stirk was key to my preparation. Yogic breathing got me through labour, and I really enjoyed being flexible.
However, after the birth of my first son because I was too flexible and I suffered from dislocations, I couldn’t do yoga any more. By the ninth month of my second pregnancy, I was wearing a girdle to stop my hips dislocating. Not very pleasant. For anyone who does not suffer in this way, yoga is fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough. What is important to remember is that your pregnant body may not benefit from your pre-pregnancy fitness regime in the same way, and seeking advice as to what is best for you can really help.
Be careful not to take too much advise from your neighbour, either. She may look amazing and still be rigorously exercising every day, but what is ideal for her may not be for you! Some women love running, for example, and run for months into their pregnancy. Others (myself included) couldn’t run after I was 3 months gone. We’re all different and you must listen to your body.
You might find it useful to find someone who can tailor a health and exercise programme to your needs. Someone who has experience with pregnant women and has knowledge in many areas of exercise and general well-being. After my second pregnancy I discovered CO Fitness – I wish I had discovered them before! It’s about finding someone who listens to you and helps achieve your goals, no matter how big or small.
When you are pregnant, you are your growing baby’s entire source of nutrition. Anything you put into your mouth or breath through your nose, or put on your skin (your skin being the body’s largest organ) will filter through to your baby. All the blood in your body goes through the placenta every 20 minutes. So anything in your blood, affects your foetus, quickly. Also, baby is constantly growing, which is why he needs a constant source of food. However, it is a fallacy that you need to ‘eat for two’. Your baby does not need a higher volume of food. He needs a higher volume of nutrition. Most people find themselves hungry more often, rather than needing to eat larger portions. The foetus pushing all your organs up into your rib cage, squashing your stomach, so that it’s capacity is less. If you get into the habit of larger meals, of course, your stomach will do its best to accommodate, but don’t kid yourself that it is all for the baby!
Something you commonly hear at girls’ lunch parties when pudding is offered, is “Go on, you’re eating for two!” That chocolate gateau looks very tempting and tastes absolutely delicious, but do you think all that refined sugar is filling your baby with rich nutrition? Well, you can think whatever you like, but I’m here to tell you that the biggest thing it is doing is adding inches to your thighs which you’ll have to work really hard to get rid of afterwards. Now, you may not care a hoot about your waste line, and good for you. I envy you! If you are like me and just don’t feel that great about yourself if you go up a dress size, then I would advise you to really take care with your calorie intake.
Self-identity and self-esteem are two things which can take a massive hit after a couple of months of having your baby. I have spoken about this in previous blogs, so I won’t repeat here. However, I feel passionately about telling women how difficult it can be to lose weight after you have given birth and it’s much easier to try to resist the chocolate or puddings while you are pregnant.
People will tell you, “Don’t worry, it’ll drop off when you’re breast-feeding.” Well, I don’t anyone who lost weight while breast-feeding. It’s when most women are absolutely starving all the time and nothing accept stodgy, sugar rich food seems to do the trick. I put on a stone while breast-feeding both of my boys, having hardly put on anything during pregnancy. I’m someone who listens to my body. I knew during pregnancy my baby wanted loads of fresh fruit, vegetables, fresh fish and meat, and loads of healthy carbs, like rice. The puddings just sat like a lump in my stomach, didn’t give me anything but very short-term energy, and made me feel sleepy and sluggish fifteen minutes later. I thought, if they are making me feel like this, they can’t be great for my baby either. Once I was breast-feeding however, the amount of calories I was burning up producing milk, meant I couldn’t get enough sugar. I spent a fortune on ‘healthy’ sweet things, but still, you can’t get away with cake every day at my age, without feeling it on your hips! I had starters at every meal and snacks in between as well. Within 24 hours of my milk drying up, however, my appetite halved, just like that. I stopped eating as much, cut out a lot of the sugar, and as I had a bit more freedom from baby because he wasn’t tied to the boob any more, I was able to resume my daily two hour walks with the dog. The combination of which meant over the next four months, the weight slowly dropped off.
All of this, of course, takes a certain amount of control. And sometimes that can be really hard, especially if you are very tired due to disturbed sleep. Again, this is why I highly recommend seeking advice from someone who can put you on the right track and support you, just for a few weeks, until you start feeling great again.
When it comes to how you are affected physically, everyone is different and it is totally unpredictable. There are many little side affects, too many to mention here, but if you are reading this with stories about any experiences that you would like to share, please do, to help other mums out there. Here are a few of the big ones:
- Stretch marks, weirdly, seem to be hereditary, so if your mum or sister got them, take extra special care. There are some amazing products on the market and I’d stick to natural oils. If you want to go for something other than normal virgin olive oil (which I used throughout both my pregnancies – the good quality stuff you’d put on your salads), then try Bio Care. It has PurCellin Oil in it and I think it’s wonderful. You can’t moisturise enough in my opinion, although some people don’t like using it at night because apparently it blocks your pores. It’s a personal choice which I’ll leave to you. Whatever you do, though, don’t leave it until you can see massive stretch marks. Keep yourself really moisturised during pregnancy. The older you are the more important this is, due to a reduction in the elasticity in the skin, particularly around the belly and top of the legs.
- Scar tissue is another thing that can be quite prominent if you have a caesarean-section. I have friends who have had all their children by caesarean and have bad scar tissue which can be very uncomfortable. I have no personal experience here, but there are many testimonials on line and ask friends and practitioners for advice if you are planning a caesarean or if you have just had one.
- Down below is obviously extremely stretched. I highly recommend perineum massage as a preparation. It’s a natural way to give the vagina more ability to stretch without tearing, so there is likely to be less damage and of course less discomfort. After birth, do not underestimate how important your pelvic floor muscle exercises are. The best tip someone gave me, was to do them whenever I thought about them, whether I was standing in a queue at the bank, driving somewhere, or watching TV. You don’t need to set aside a special 5 minutes every day. If you don’t do them, you might be surprised at what happens the next time you go on a trampoline! And it definitely benefits your sex life!
So, in summary, look after yourself! Once you are a mum, or even as early as when you are pregnant, you might become extremely selfless, which happens a lot. Of course this is Nature’s way, but if you don’t feel good about yourself it’s hard to feel utterly content inside. The happier and healthier you are and feel, the happier your family will be.