How to Sustain Health Before and After Pregnancy
It’s vital for a woman of any age to physically prepare for pregnancy and motherhood, for the health of both the mother and the baby. Start by speaking with a trusted medical practitioner, and then consider the following practical advice geared to keep everyone healthy and happy through every stage of the childbirth process.
Getting Ready for Pregnancy
Stop taking birth control pills. If you’ve been using a hormonal method of birth control, your doctor may want you to take several months off before trying to conceive. Doing so allows your cycles to regulate and clears your body of any lingering manmade hormones; use another form of non-hormonal birth control during this time.
Get your body in shape. According to Mairi Breen Rothman, a certified nurse-midwife with the M.A.M.A.S., Inc. home birth practice, in Takoma Park, Maryland, being in shape ensures a healthier pregnancy. “Pregnancy is hard work, and the more strength you have, especially in your core, back and legs, the better you’ll feel during pregnancy,” she advises. Being in good physical shape before pregnancy can also make it easier to stay fit during the nine months that follow.
Start eating better. A balanced, organic diet provides the nutrients needed to raise a healthy developing baby. “During pregnancy, the baby is very much a part of its mother’s body,” says Rothman. “That means eating toxin-free foods, which cuts back on chemicals found in the mom’s body, will also limit chemical exposure to the baby.” Also remember to take a prenatal vitamin; a study by the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, at the University of Southampton, in the UK, found that only 5.5 percent of the 238 pregnant women monitored had taken the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid each day prior to becoming pregnant.
Take care of chronic medical conditions. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma, for example, get it under control before becoming pregnant. Apprise your healthcare professional of any family health problems, so he or she can plan ahead once you conceive.
Have a Healthy Pregnancy
Take prenatal yoga. “Prenatal yoga not only promotes long, lean and supple muscles, it also helps with breathing, which is important during labor and delivery,” counsels Rothman. Yoga also helps open the hip and pelvic joints and eases the aches and pains of pregnancy. The cat-cow pose in particular benefits the lower back, promotes circulation and even helps move the baby into the proper birth position.
Limit exposure to toxins. Examine the labels of products you regularly use—especially skincare and cleaning products—and banish anything that contains a toxic soup of chemicals; if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it’s probably not good for you or your growing baby. Research from leading institutions such as the University of California–Berkeley and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has linked personal care and cleaning product ingredients to endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, developmental and reproductive disorders and cancer. There are now plenty of easy-to-find, toxin-free product alternatives. Green cleaners are available at most grocery stores and CosmeticsDatabase.com offers helpful guidance on safe beauty products recommended by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
Research alternative therapies. Taking drugs for common medical problems such as headaches, colds and muscle pain isn’t always the best approach. Speak with your midwife or obstetrician about options like acupuncture, massage and homeopathy. According to a study published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, Swedish researchers found acupuncture to be effective in relieving back and pelvic pain during pregnancy; of the 1,500 pregnant participants, 60 percent of those who tried acupuncture reported substantial pain relief.
Natural Mothering Strategies
Breast is best. Although breastfeeding isn’t super easy, it’s the healthiest option. “Human milk is meant for human babies, so it’s exactly formulated to be just what babies need and what they can easily digest,” notes Rothman. Breastfeeding gives babies an immunity boost, so that they tend to get sick less often and receive just the right nutrition; it also provides a sense of comfort, warmth and security that bottle feeding can’t match.
Use natural remedies for illness. Aromatherapy and homeopathy remedies work to reduce mothers’ and babies’ exposure to over-the-counter drugs. For instance, eucalyptus makes a good natural decongestant; simply add a few drops into the bath, a diffuser or even onto a cotton ball that can be placed on a bedside table, for a soothing scent. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any natural measures that you are taking to support family health.