Tips for a Better Pregnancy
Pregnancy comes with many changes to your body, and while the process can be beautiful, difficulties can also arise in the form of challenging, sometimes overwhelming symptoms, not to mention all of the "unknowns."
While we can't answer everything, we can give you tips and tools to help you manage your pregnancy to the best of your ability.
Pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, split into three trimesters. The first trimester (weeks 1 to 12) sees your body going through many changes, with hormones affecting nearly every organ. For most women, this includes a variety of symptoms, though others will feel few of them.
The second trimester (weeks 13 to 28) is usually easier than the first, as nausea and fatigue fade. This is the stage when most women will start to notice significant body changes, such as stretch marks, darkened nipples and, of course, a burgeoning bump. It's likely you'll start to feel your baby move inside you around this time.
The final trimester (weeks 29 to 40) puts you in the homestretch. Your body will continue to get larger as your baby grows, which may cause some discomfort.
Each trimester brings its own set of symptoms and experiences, which will be a little different for each woman. It's an exciting and often nerve-wracking time, but you're going to do great. Lean on your partner and loved ones for support, and go to your doctor with any questions or concerns you have.
Managing pregnancy symptoms
Determining pregnancy is best done through tests and ultrasounds, but many women will notice initial changes happening in their body. The experience is different for everyone, but here are some tips on managing common pregnancy symptoms.
Morning sickness, marked by nausea and vomiting, usually occurs within the first four weeks of pregnancy—despite its name, morning sickness can happen at any time of day. The severity of morning sickness varies but can worsen with significant stress, travel or if you're carrying multiples.
You may find smaller meals easier to tolerate. Try eating frequent snacks and choosing cold foods without a strong odor. In addition, spicy food and greasy dishes are less likely to appeal to your senses when you're not feeling well. Nausea, combined with a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy, can make foods such as fish, chili, onions, garlic and eggs seem unbearable.
You can also experiment with meal timing. If you don't have the stomach to eat something first thing in the morning, don't—wait until later in the day, when you feel up to it. If you are vomiting, stay hydrated and drink water throughout the day. Ginger or hard candies such as Jolly Ranchers are often helpful for nausea.
Morning sickness is common, but if you experience any blood in your vomit, a fever, an inability to keep any food down or weight loss, you should call your doctor immediately.
Fatigue is very common for women throughout pregnancy, but the most severe fatigue often occurs in the first trimester. During early pregnancy, progesterone levels rise, causing sleepiness. While there is not much you can do to combat feelings of fatigue, you can ensure you're getting enough rest by sleeping eight to nine hours a night. Light exercise and a healthy diet can help balance your energy levels, too.
It's important you get plenty of rest. Your body is creating another person, which requires a tremendous amount of work.
Mood swings are another common symptom of pregnancy. Oscillating between pure joy and utter despair within a minute can feel overwhelming and scary, but this is temporary and due to serious changes happening in your body. Hormone fluctuations, fatigue, sleep deprivation, anxiety and physical growth are all occurring at once.
While mood swings can be a real challenge, you can take some steps to feel a little more balanced. Eat well and drink plenty of water. Get as much sleep as your body needs right now. Light exercise can boost your mood and destress your mind. Talk to your family and friends about your emotional swings—anyone who's been pregnant will totally understand.
Lastly, if the mood swings are starting to feel too intense, talk to a therapist. A mental health professional can help you talk through your feelings and manage the swings.
These are just some of the most common symptoms women experience. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to, breast tenderness, increased urination, bloating, cramping, spotting, constipation, acid reflux and nasal congestion.
Diet and exercise while pregnant
For most women, working out during pregnancy offers a variety of benefits. An active pregnancy can aid with better sleep, promote healthy weight gain, reduce risk of gestational diabetes, boost your mood and reduce the aches and pains of pregnancy. Some exercises are off-limits: contact sports, high-impact workouts, scuba diving, hiking at high altitudes, intense aerobic exercise, or any exercise where there is a risk of falling.
While exercise can be beneficial to your mood and physical health throughout pregnancy, most doctors recommend you slow down during your third trimester. Listen to your body. If you experience any dizziness or discomfort, take a break and discuss your exercise regimen with your doctor.
Dietary choices are another important part of keeping healthy during pregnancy. Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends women eat 300 additional calories per day to provide for their growing child. Giving in to intense cravings (pickles and peanut butter anyone?) is OK sometimes, but eating nutritious foods will help keep your baby healthy—and can help reduce unpleasant symptoms.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, dairy and protein. Avoid unpasteurized cheeses that can carry bacteria, and deli meats that put you at risk for listeria. Any raw foods, sushi included, should be avoided. Additionally, it's important to wash all your produce before consumption.
It's likely your doctor will prescribe a prenatal vitamin, as well. Prenatal vitamins are not a replacement for a healthy diet, but they can help ensure you're getting all the nutrients your body needs.
Sex during pregnancy
Pregnant women and their partners often wonder if it's safe to have sex during pregnancy, and although the answer is generally yes, there are a few aspects to consider.
It's perfectly safe to have sex during all stages of a normal pregnancy (one considered low-risk for complications) unless your doctor or midwife has told you otherwise. Neither penetration nor the movement of intercourse will harm the baby, who is protected by your abdomen and the muscular walls of your uterus. Your baby is also cushioned by the amniotic sac, a thin-walled bag that holds the fetus and surrounding fluid.
While sex is safe for most couples during pregnancy, it may not be all that easy. You will probably need to find different positions. This can be a time to explore and experiment together. Sex with your partner on top can become uncomfortable quite early in pregnancy, not just because of the bump, but because your breasts might be tender. Sex can also be uncomfortable if your partner penetrates too deeply. You and your partner may want to lie on your sides, either facing each other or with your partner behind.
The contractions you feel during and just after orgasm are entirely different from the contractions associated with labor. Still, as a general safety precaution, some doctors advise avoiding sex in the final weeks of pregnancy because hormones in semen called prostaglandins can stimulate contractions, with a possible exception for women who are overdue and want to induce labor. However, any kind of sexual act resulting in orgasm can be harmful if a woman is at high risk for premature labor. As always, check with your doctor for advice.
No amount of literature could possibly prepare you for the incredible changes your body will undergo during pregnancy, but hopefully, these tips will help you feel more informed and confident about those changes. Remember, pregnancy is different for everyone. The most important steps you can take are to communicate with your doctor and to lean on your loved ones.