Modern expectant moms (especially first-time moms) hear a gamut of unsolicited advice during their pregnancy term. “You need to take care of yourself,” strangely seems to be one of the more annoying pieces of noise.
It makes sense. But with a 9-month (or sooner) deadline, how can one balance preparing for baby AND fulfilling professional and personal commitments AND taking care of yourself? Let’s also not forget finding time to read the baby books, going to all of the appointments, and having people touch your belly all the time…
From an OT perspective, self-care is a part of daily living that includes meaningful and intentional actions to address one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. These activities can range anywhere from personal hygiene to health management, sleep, and social participation.
Self-care is important regardless of whether or not you are expecting. It reduces stress and anxiety, boosts energy and promotes overall happiness. However, taking care of yourself is especially critical during pregnancy as your actions can directly affect your growing baby.
Here are the not-fun stats:
- Research has shown that long-term or traumatic stress has negative effects on baby, resulting in pre-term labor, low birth weight, and sleep and behavioral issues as they grow.
- A 2015 study found that stress in the first trimester alters the microbes in the mother’s vagina. These microbes can be transferred during vaginal delivery to baby, which can result in changes in their gut and brain. This in turn, can impact their immune system and metabolism.
- Another study found that women who were anxious or depressed during pregnancy are 40% more likely to have babies that develop sleep problems than those that aren’t.
- Poor eating habits can result in conditions like anemia, pre-eclampsia, mood swings, fatigue, etc. for the soon-to-be mom.
- A Harvard study found that 95% of pregnant women who had a balanced diet delivered healthy babies. Meanwhile, 65% of women who had a diet that consisted mainly of junk food sustained premature, malnourished, functionally immature, or stillborn babies.
- Poor sleep can lead to maternal hypertension and gestational diabetes. In addition, snoring and sleep apnea may develop and worsen during second and third trimester.
- Blood flow and oxygen intake is at its optimal during sleep for baby. A reduction of sleep may reduce the amount of growth hormone which could lead to developmental and growth issues.
- Studies indicate that women in their third trimester who slept fewer than 6 hours a night experienced longer labors and had 4.5x higher chance of C-sections, compared to those who slept more.
What can we do?
If social interactions are overwhelming for you, it is okay to set boundaries. It is okay to be more guarded with people than before, and this doesn’t exclude close friends and family members. Communicating what and who you’re comfortable with is necessary.
For example, if people offer unsolicited advice that causes you panic, anxiety, or even just annoyance, it is okay to politely close the conversation. Learning to say “no” is essential to maintaining your mental and physical well-being.
Also consider: adjusting the Do Not Disturb settings on your phone, cutting back on social media (if it helps), cutting back or handing off doing errands, leaving/logging off work at a set time.
Simple physical activities, like walking for 10 minutes a day, can help increase blood flow and provide a boost of energy. If you can handle more rigorous exercises, go for it as long as you have clearance from your doctor. Maternity yoga, using a stability ball, long/slow stretching can also help if you are stuck inside.
Maintaining a Balanced Diet
Drinking and eating will obviously look different when pregnant. Your eating schedule will definitely change, food aversions, balanced diets, restricted foods, cravings in moderation, etc. There are lots of rules on this one, but just make sure you aren’t going hungry. Weight gain and body image unfortunately can also be stressors. Listen to your body and keep open communication with your doctor.
Getting Adequate Sleep
Sleep is important, so do what you need to do to get as much of it as you can.
- Remove blue-lit electronics/screens out of your bedroom as much as possible
- Lower the temperature (60-70 degrees) for optimal sleep
- Take a magnesium supplement for sleep. It also decreases muscle tension and bowel regulation.
- Position pillows to accommodate head, neck and belly support when sleeping on your side. A shaped pregnancy pillow can work great, but also sleeping on the couch or in a recliner can help in the last few months.
- Work in afternoon naps into your schedule, if possible
- Use Calm or other apps that help with restful sleep
Easier said than done, I know. Relaxation can be anything that calms and decompresses you from the day. Meditation, breathing techniques, aromatherapy, prenatal massages, taking a relaxing bath, binging Netflix; this is your personal smorgasbord. Do it completely and do it often.
Some other things we did while pregnant:
- Hired a lawn service
- Started using Instacart or Shipt (if you haven’t already with this pandemic…)
- Signed up for a maternity clothing delivery box
- Talked to our work supervisor about alternate hours/working from home
- Did monthly acupuncture and regular chiropractic adjustments
Have another fun self-care tip? Share in the comments!
Self-care can be difficult to pencil in on a daily basis, but it is essential to a healthy pregnancy. Find ways to incorporate it into your schedule and communicate when you feel overwhelmed. If you feel concerned about your stress levels or anxiety during your pregnancy, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor or midwife.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1– S48. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006
“The Importance of Self-Care During Pregnancy“, Carley Schweet. Self-Care for the Modern Mama.
“Consequences of a Poor Diet During Pregnancy”. Health Guide Info, April 29, 2009.
“Could Too Much Stress During Pregnancy Harm the Baby?“, Lauren Wiener and Whitney C. Harris. Parents.com.
“The Effects of Lack of Sleep and Poor Sleep During Pregnancy“, Brandon Peters, MD. Verywell Health, January 21, 2020.