Q: Erika, congratulations on your pregnancy! I, too, am 3mo pregnant with my third (!?!) and I’m determined to do this better than I did the first two times by being healthy except… I don’t know what that means! Can you help me understand what it means to be healthy while pregnant?
Awww, congratulations! All the pregnant ladies, all the pregnant ladies!
It’s important to note that each pregnancy is different. Not only different between two different people, but also different between that one person’s multiple pregnancies. You and I might’ve been experiencing very different pregnancies right now, sure, but I’ll tell you one thing – this pregnancy felt verrrrrry different from my first.
Pregnancy is decision that we make willfully to share our bodies, with the intention of bringing a child into the world. It takes a physical and emotional toll on you, even if only a little bit. That toll cannot be understated.
That being said, eating too little during pregnancy, out of fear of post-partum weight gain is troublesome, too. Low birth weight, premature delivery, and health problems are a risk for those of us who gain too little during pregnancy, and we’re only talking about the baby. Because all the nutrients that you eat during pregnancy go to the baby first, leaving the leftovers to go to you, your body suffers greatly in the event of malnutrition. Bone density can be impacted, mood swings are intensified, haziness and foggy-brain are common, and an increased risk of post partum depression are linked to eating too little during pregnancy. (I’m also including this link to a National Eating Disorders Association resource about the impact of eating disorders on a pregnancy, because much of the information we have about malnutrition during pregnancy centers around eating disorders. I do not mean to imply that this is inherently disordered thinking, even though we all should reflect to ensure our thinking is always healthy and helpful.)
Having said all that, I can understand the desire to determine what balance looks like.
Well, relax. Deeeeeeeep breath.
A healthy pregnancy looks like an active person who diligently nourishes their bodies and takes seriously the task entrusted them. It’s that simple.
Simple. I didn’t say it was easy.
Part of what gets in the way of this is the consistent nausea and exhaustion of pregnancy. If you’re tired as hell from 7AM to 5PM, guess what you’re going to be from 5-10? Hella tired. Totally understandable!
Part of that exhaustion comes from growing a baby-to-be, sure, but it also comes from not properly nourishing your body, including a lack of proper hydration. Regular intake of fruits and veggies not only guarantees that you’re properly nourished on the vitamin and mineral level, but that you have adequate supply of energy-giving macronutrients to help you keep awake. Set a little schedule for yourself, where every hour or two you eat something you love. I ate little strawberry salads with olive oil, chicken and leafy greens, or apple salads with chia seeds and pecans on top of full fat greek yogurt. I ate regularly to stave off the “I’m starving feeling” because, when I don’t, my mood spikes and I let my cravings and “starvation” guide me to making unhealthy choices. The lack of a “starving” feeling made it easier for me to respond to my cravings in a healthier fashion, sometimes even ignoring them entirely or responding to them with fruit instead of, say, cool ranch Doritos.
And, speaking of cravings, I must say: there’s nothing wrong with giving into a craving. Cravings during pregnancy are complex, because as pregnancy impacts your hormones, they also impact the hormones that control your mood. It’s normal and healthy to have them, and there’s nothing to feel bad about if you give in to them. There’s more on that here.
Find a low-impact activity that will be easy on your joints and not require too much strenuous activity in your abdominal region. Unless you’ve been consistently training prior to pregnancy, it’s best to only take on low-impact activity that doesn’t add too much physical stress. Going too hard, for some of us, is detrimental to the health of the pregnancy. For others, it’s normal. Only you and your doctor can determine that.
For just about any of us, nothing is more reliable than a nice, long walk with a good audiobook, playlist, or movie (to listen to, not watch!) to keep us entertained. It helps us work our joints, keep our bodies active, and serves as an inexpensive and accessible way to help us avoid developing couch potato syndrome—that natural inclination to sit on the couch instead of getting up and getting out the door.
Stay active—up until I was put on bedrest, I was walking every day for an hour and a half, and listening to tons of books, too!—for both your body and your mind. Eat frequently to stave off hunger, properly nourish yourself and your baby-to-be, and to help you arm yourself against cravings. And, if you get a craving that doesn’t seem too bizarre to you, don’t beat yourself up if you indulge.
Because I certainly had my double bacon cheeseburger when I got the craving for it. That’s just a little secret between me and you, though.
Most importantly, pay attention to your doctor and be sure to ask questions and stay on top of what you and your little one needs. Before you know it, you’ll be holding your little bundle of joy in your arms and you’ll both be healthy, happy, and hungry!
If you can commit to these small things, you’ll find that recovering from pregnancy will be much easier than you anticipated. During my second pregnancy, I only gained about a quarter of the weight that I gained during my first, and these few tips are the reason why. Take care of you and your little one, and your body (and your little one!!!) will thank you for it!
For more on healthy pregnancies: