You found out that you will be having a baby. You do not know what to expect, but want your pregnancy to be the best ever- for you and your baby. The first step is to eat healthfully yourself. Choose naturally colorful, unprocessed, organically grown foods, free of pesticides and hormones. Here is a map of what you will be facing.
First Trimester [weeks 1 to 13]
Transformation characterizes this trimester. The fetal cells undergo such rapid development that by the end of the ninth week, all organs and systems are in place. By the 13th week, your baby is completely formed. Vast amounts of pregnancy hormones, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), circulate throughout your body. This supports the profound fetal growth, but it also might give you a constant PMS feeling. You feel tired and queasy, your breasts tender, and your emotions out of control. But not to worry—hormone levels peak during this trimester, and your body will adjust.
- Begin your pregnancy journal. Take time to record your thoughts, desires, and dreams for you and your baby. It might surprise you that your communication with her begins earlier than you thought.
- Plant a tree. If your energy levels allow it, plant a tree or bush as a symbol of nurturing life.
- Face your fears. The possibility of miscarriage can consume you in the first trimester, particularly if you’ve had previous complications. Be mindful of your fears as they arise. See them as opportunities to notice how you handle the unknown. Repeat a mantra as an exercise in letting go of fear: “I am as vast as the universe—open, trusting, and flexible.”
- Brew a cup of pregnancy tea. Drinking a tea of red raspberry leaf and nettles throughout your pregnancy helps tone the uterus, increase milk production, ease labor pains, reduce leg cramps and hemorrhoids, and relieve nausea. It also contains easily assimilated calcium, a plus during this time of great calcium need. Combine equal amounts red raspberry leaf and nettles in an airtight nonaluminum container. Add boiling water and let steep for 30 minutes. Flavor with honey, lemon, or spearmint. Drink hot or chilled as often as you like.
- Stock up on stomach-settling items. Eat foods such as citrus fruits, cucumbers, banana smoothies, frozen grapes, licorice, pasta, saltines, toast, bagels, and watermelon. Suck on candied ginger or drink ginger or peppermint tea. And take comfort in knowing that even women who experience severe nausea report relief by the end of the fourth month. Hang in there.
- Carve out a nap time. If your body wants to collapse, let it. Don’t overdo work or play. Remember that the fatigue won’t last forever and your energy will return—at least until the baby comes!
- Drink in aromas. Although you should avoid medicinal use of certain essential oils during pregnancy—such as lemongrass, rosemary, basil, and peppermint—because they mimic hormonal responses, some can be helpful for you and your baby. Try calming oils such as chamomile (balances digestion), geranium (elevates mood), lavender (relieves pain), and vanilla (fosters sleep); soothing and cooling oils such as jasmine (acts as an anti-inflammatory) and mandarin (calms the nervous system); and invigorating oils such as cinnamon (aids in digestion) and ginger (combats nausea).
- Mitigate stretch marks. Although you can’t always prevent them completely (especially if your mother had them), you can lessen the possibility of getting stretch marks by paying attention now. Massage your body twice a day with calendula ointment with vitamin E, and keep your skin well-hydrated by drinking plenty of filtered water and eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Practice belly breathing. Don’t wait until you’re in labor to practice breathing. Start now. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and let all distractions melt away. Inhale deeply through your nose, letting the breath fill your belly. Imagine this breath of life synchronizing with your baby’s breath. As you breathe in, say the word soft and as you breathe out, say belly. Continue this exercise for two to five minutes each day throughout your pregnancy. **
Second Trimester [weeks 14 to 28]
A plateau phase, the second trimester is when most women feel their best. Morning sickness, along with that drop-dead exhaustion, subsides, and you should regain your appetite and energy. Your uterus continues to expand, and your body produces copious amounts of fluid necessary to sustain you and your baby. Your blood volume increases by 40 percent. High levels of progesterone relax your blood vessels, allowing an easier flow of nutrients to your baby. Unfortunately the valves in your esophagus, large veins, and anus also relax, which can result in indigestion, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. Your baby’s sex organs are now formed, his bones are hardening, and his muscles are developing. From inside the womb, he can hear the sound of your voice as loud as a ringing telephone.
- Create a daily ritual. Find a time each day to clear your mind. Water your tree, meditate, play a favorite melody, take a candlelit bath—do something consistently that grounds you. With so much change going on inside and around you, you’ll need it.
- Sing. Soothe your baby with your singing. Studies have shown that after the sixth month, a baby moves in rhythm to her mother’s voice. Talk, read poetry, play music—all sounds can trigger an emotional response in the fetus.
- Be mindful of balance and posture. You may notice your sense of balance suddenly fails you. This results from the hormone relaxin, produced during pregnancy to loosen the ligaments around the pelvic area and prepare you for birth. But it can also throw you a bit off-kilter. Be aware of this, and work on your posture by gently tucking your tailbone.
- Deepen intimacy with your partner. “The middle of pregnancy is a honeymoon period,” asserts Siobhan Dolan, MD, of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Some women report being more interested in sex during weeks 18 to 24, possibly due to general hormonal changes and feelings of well-being.”
There is no right way to feel about sex during pregnancy but do stay connected with your partner. Light candles. Explore your new body together. Sex is safe anytime during your pregnancy unless you experience spotting or bleeding, are at risk for preterm labor, have an incompetent cervix or placenta previa, or your water has broken.
- Cherish the silence. With baby’s crying demands just around the corner, now’s the time to be quiet. J. Krishnamurti, spiritual teacher and author of First and Last Freedom writes, “The mind is quiet when it sees the truth that understanding comes only when it is quiet.” In other words, don’t feel inclined to fill a void with noise. Remember, there are communication spheres beyond words that can enhance the intuition and trust you have with your partner and your baby.
- Use craniosacral therapy (CST) to sync your bodies and minds. This non-manipulative, hands-on healing process uses gentle pressure to preserve optimal flow within the fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord. CST calms the nervous system, enhancing the emotional bond between mom and baby.
- Settle your indigestion. Eat simple, small meals throughout the day, and chew your food well. Avoid spicy and fatty foods. Drink up to four 8-ounce cups of slippery elm or marshmallow tea—but not if you have gestational diabetes. Fennel tea also aids digestion.
- Relieve your hemorrhoids. Drink plenty of fluids and eat fiber-rich foods to alleviate constipation, which can aggravate hemorrhoids. To support vein elasticity, sip nettle tea and add lots of fresh garlic to your diet. For pain and itching, use presoaked witch hazel pads, a comfrey compress, or arnica gel. **
Third Trimester [weeks 29 to 40]
In the home stretch, the size of your belly reflects the reality that you are your baby’s home. Your uterus has grown about 500 times its original size. Trips to the bathroom become increasingly frequent, and you may have difficulty sleeping. Your baby prepares to leave the womb with all five senses officially intact. Her gentle flutters of movement shift to kicks and jabs. By the end of this trimester, her movement slows as she’s sleeping most of the time, snuggled in position to enter the world.
- Soothe back pain. Stay mindful of your posture as your belly takes over. Practice modified yoga. Sleep with pillows under your knees and your back to support your belly. Massage sore areas with Tiger Balm or White Flower Analgesic Balm. Get at least 1,200 mg per day of calcium and 280 mg of magnesium. If you have trouble sleeping, drink 30 drops of standard tincture of valerian mixed into hot water before bed to calm muscle spasms.
- Treat water retention. Wear loose and comfortable clothing, and drink plenty of filtered water. Eat natural diuretics such as cucumbers, nettles, or dandelion greens. Normal water retention worsens over the course of the day and collects in the extremities (hands, feet, lower legs). But swelling of the whole body, with no relief, may signal preeclampsia and requires immediate medical attention.
- Prevent preeclampsia. Once called toxemia, preeclampsia is a rare (occurring in 3 to 10 percent of pregnancies) but life-threatening condition that most often appears in the third trimester or first-time pregnancies. Symptoms include swelling, pain around the liver, blurred vision, constant headache, and the signature diagnoses of high blood pressure and extra protein in the urine. Pregnant women with preeclampsia have abnormal antioxidant defenses, so supplementing with 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IUs vitamin E per day—in addition to the prenatal vitamin—may help reduce the chances of preeclampsia in high-risk women. Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, a whole-food source of antioxidants. Although further research is needed, studies have shown that women with preeclampsia have higher levels of homocysteine and lower levels of folic acid. For women with elevated homocysteine levels, supplementing with an extra 3 mg per day of folic acid can keep homocysteine levels within normal range.
- Up your omega-3s. Dubbed the ultimate brain food because of how they promote cerebral development, omega-3s are very important in the third trimester. Studies show that omega-3 essential fatty acids may prevent preeclampsia, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes; increase the nutritional value of breast milk; reduce inflammation throughout the body; and prevent depression. Among children of asthmatic mothers, maternal intake of oily fish during pregnancy reduced childhood asthma by 71 percent.
- Try moxibustion if the baby is breech. “Using moxibustion to turn a breech baby is a wonderful option,” Evans says, “and its success rates at 50 to 84 percent are very high.” For this condition, moxibustion, a traditional Chinese medical technique, involves applying heat from a burning stick of the herb Artemisia vulgaris to a specific point on the foot for five to 10 minutes. For greater success, begin treatments around 36 weeks, says Evans, and continue weekly until the baby turns. With moxibustion, turning can be quick, subjecting the baby to cord issues. “I recommend monitoring the baby during this treatment,” says Evans. “Even during external version [in which the obstetrician applies manual pressure to the mother’s belly to try to turn the baby], I recommend monitoring.”
- Meditate on the birth and motherhood. Imagine yourself having a peaceful birth, surrounded by your chosen birth team. Light fills the room, soothing music surrounds you, and you and baby are in harmony, ready to work together.
As you transition into motherhood, sit quietly and hold your belly with both hands. Connect with your baby by talking to her, sharing your birth plans with her, and anticipating the thrilling moment of finally meeting her.
Sally Wallace Lynch, MS, CD-N and Andrew Behrendt