Pregnancy can be a confusing time for many women, especially in a digital world that is constantly bombarding women with advertisements about how best to manage their bodies and which products to use in order to do so. Information overload can be overwhelming, but once that bundle of joy has made a home in a woman’s womb, she must now navigate an entirely new physiological landscape — one that includes swelling, heartburn, cravings, and yes — hemorrhoids.
There is no magical herbal tea that can give you an Instagram-worthy, picture-perfect pregnancy, but there are sensible ways to maintain your health and wellness. We reached out to three doctors of obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYNs) at Centennial Women’s Group to pick their brains about the most important lifestyle changes a woman can make during pregnancy. These experts in their field aim to help women make smart choices about nutrition and fitness while still feeling like themselves.
Exercise is not the enemy.
All three physicians emphasized that exercise is a major component of a healthy pregnancy, particularly the cardiovascular variety. Moderate exercise can minimize stress, alleviate aches and pains, and help prepare a woman’s body for delivery. For women who were active before pregnancy, it can be difficult to determine what level of fitness is now best for them and for the baby. These moms-to-be don’t want to overdo it or cause undue stress to the baby, but they also want to maintain their health and fitness. Dr. Nicole Heidemann explains that it is important to understand that you have a new center of gravity, and what might have been your standard before is probably not your current standard.
“With workouts other than cardio, you have to really watch your balance, and your stance when lifting may be different,” Dr. Heidemann says. “Be smart about your exercise.” She recommends prenatal yoga with modifications for ease and lots of stretching, adding that women who were not as physically active before pregnancy can start with walking. “I don’t recommend training for a marathon if you’ve never been active, but you can do some low-impact things at the gym such as the elliptical or stationary bike on a low setting. This is going to help you later on,” she explains.
Dr. SaCara Shaw also advises her patients to incorporate exercise to stay active. She says workouts like Pilates and yoga can help reduce shortness of breath and make pain management more effective.
Don’t neglect your brain.
While physical health is often top of mind, Dr. Shaw encourages taking key steps to lower stress and anxiety.
“Taking care of both physical and mental health is equally important,” says Dr. Shaw. “If the woman is feeling overwhelmed or stressed, having a good support system in her corner is good, including being in different mom groups or moms-to-be groups. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to your community.”
Dr. Shaw explains that depression and anxiety are very common during pregnancy, so it’s essential to know the signs and seek help if your symptoms persist or worsen. Her most important piece of mental health advice is to stop Googling, as tempting as it may be. Pregnant women can find themselves in a research spiral that leads to misinformation and unnecessary worry. If you want educated answers, Dr. Shaw recommends picking up a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Understanding your symptoms
So what are some of these symptoms you should brace yourself for at the beginning? While bodily changes vary from woman to woman, some of the more common symptoms are often manageable.
“Pregnancy is a normal life event,” Dr. Jeffrey Draughn explains. “Typically a common-sense approach [to health] makes more sense than anything else.” Most women have a basic understanding of what symptoms they will experience during the first trimester, but if they’re not fully prepared, the symptoms may hit them harder than they realize, Dr. Draughn explains.
What symptoms should women expect in the first trimester? Fatigue, nausea, and sore breasts are the most likely to occur. During the second trimester, many women enter a ‘honeymoon’ period in which several symptoms taper off and they become accustomed to the changes. However, as the third trimester begins, they may experience general discomfort, lower back pain, swelling, heartburn and those dreaded hemorrhoids.
While these effects are unpleasant, Dr. Draughn stresses that they are perfectly normal reactions during a healthy pregnancy. He advises women to exercise caution, however, and watch out for signs of more serious health issues including preeclampsia, high blood pressure, significant swelling or a headache that does not subside after resting. Women who experience these symptoms are advised to seek professional medical advice right away. Dr. Draughn explains that rest is also important for minimizing stress on both the body and mind. “You cannot put a price tag on a good afternoon nap when you’re pregnant,” he says.
Eat the cheese fries!
Many women struggle throughout their lifetimes to have a healthy relationship with food, especially during pregnancy when cravings attack them from all sides. According to Dr. Heidemann, the best approach is a holistic diet.
“I am never a proponent of elimination diets. Just maintain that really well-rounded diet with lots of lean meats and vegetables,” she says. Dr. Heidemann and Dr. Shaw both agree that women do not need to significantly increase caloric intake. Basically, the myth of eating for two is just that — a myth. Dr. Shaw says women should keep healthy snacks on hand (fruit, nuts, cheese, protein shakes) and try to steer clear of processed sugars. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to diabetes and other complications for women and their babies. “Your cravings will make you feel like you want to eat everything and anything, but this is not a good idea,” she says. “If you get a craving for cheese fries, go ahead and get them, but you can’t do this every day.”
Pregnant women should also avoid certain unsafe foods entirely during the duration of the pregnancy, according to Dr. Heidmann. She says some of the biggest risks (not a comprehensive list) include:
- Unpasteurized foods such as soft cheeses (brie, feta, true queso) due to the risk of listeria and infection
- Undercooked meat and cold deli meats
- Food high in mercury, especially fish that consume other fish (mahi-mahi, grouper, halibut, and tuna)
Take your vitamins.
Women must also consider medication intake during pregnancy, including over-the-counter meds, prescription drugs, and vitamins.
Dr. Heidemann says it is best to avoid NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and pseudoephedrine. Most physicians will provide a list of safe and unsafe medications and practices, but if you’re unsure, ask your doctor before taking any medications. She says prenatal vitamin intake should include DHA for brain development, calcium for bone development and extra folic acid for neural development.
Book a babymoon.
A fairly new trend for expecting moms is the babymoon, a play on a honeymoon that allows couples or families to get away for one last trip before the baby arrives. Dr. Heidemann says this is a wonderful way to decompress and spend time together. “I think it’s great,” she remarks. “If it’s your first baby, this is potentially the last time to have this vacation where all the stressors are not there. It’s a time to be together and appreciate each other and strengthen the relationship.”
If you can’t get away on a babymoon, there are still plenty of coping methods that can ease stress. “I’m a huge fan of prenatal massage to have that time to just really pamper yourself and relax,” Dr. Heidemann says. “Do what you normally do to cope with stress. Now is the time to make time for it and not say you’ll get to it later.”
Implementing a few simple lifestyle changes during your pregnancy can make all the difference in your overall health and happiness during this special time. And remember to always reach out to your OBGYN with any questions or concerns.
For more information about the services provided at Centennial Women’s Group, visit them online at centennialwomensgroup.com.
This article is sponsored by Centennial Women’s Group.