Ways to make pregnancy more comfortable

During pregnancy, one of the things you learn is to listen to and appreciate demands of your body. When a pregnant woman is hungry – she is starving, when she needs to sleep – she can fall into an exhausted sleep in most unlikely times and places, even if that is usually very uncharacteristic of her. Such basic urges become extreme, and if you ignore them they can wreck havoc with your body. So, try to sleep as much as your body demands and eat whenever you need to, don’t postpone your meals or rest.

Swimming or immersing yourself in water – helps against water retention, numbness, takes weight off the pelvis, can help the baby move into the head-down position, and just feels wonderful for all the lightness and buoyancy the water provides.

Walking helps with digestion and blood circulation. If your legs retain water (which occurs frequently in the third trimester) walking can help. I found walking to the beach (about 25 minutes), swimming (25 minutes to an hour), and walking back (another 25 minutes) to be a winning combination, but that was possible due to my close proximity to one of the Ottawa beaches and the later part of my pregnancy taking place during the summer. This routine can be modified to walk to a pool and back, assuming there is one near you.

Sleep – the first trimester is usually when the woman is the most tired. I used to collapse on the couch after work and sleep, although I normally can rarely nap during the day. The last trimester sometimes brings insomnia or restless sleep, due to all the discomforts of the pregnancy and worrying dreams that unfortunately replace all the sexually-charged dreams that are often present in the first and second trimesters. Babies also love to wait until you are lying down to start kicking, since you are not lulling them to sleep with motion. Sleep when you can where you can – you need all the energy to grow this new life.

Drink water – lots and lots of it. Drink before getting thirsty – thirst is a late sign of dehydration. Dehydration brings with it all kinds of nasty consequences: exhaustion, indigestion, and even contractions that can lead to premature labour. So drink lots of water.

Ginger candy – some people swear by them in that they help with morning sickness. I was not able to thoroughly test that since I managed to avoid this pregnancy bonus feature for the most part, but I found ginger candy generally helpful against nausea caused by motion sickness.

Bananas – wonderful fruit in general, containing fiber that helps with digestion and vitamin B6 that helps alleviate insomnia and fatigue. But one of the best things about bananas during pregnancy is that they also contain lots of potassium, which might help prevent leg cramps. During pregnancy leg cramps are a regular occurrence in many women, and short of “don’t cross your legs” and “don’t point your toes”, plus the usual suggestions of not sitting for a long period of time (great if you work at a desk), walking and taking a bath, no useful tips are offered to help with those. Another thing that helps with cramps is a calf stretch – sitting on the floor or lying down with your legs straight, flex your feet and push into the heels.

Update 2014: Later research shows that bananas have only half of potassium found in green vegetables (broccoli, avocados, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and pumpkin), making the latter a better option, since bananas also have lots of sugar.

Cranberry juice – pure, 100% cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract infections, which can spring up during pregnancy. It is hard to find pure cranberry juice in grocery stores in Ottawa – most of them sell cocktails or juice blends, both of which are full of sugar and the latter normally contains more apple juice than any other. The best pure cranberry juice I found is Just Juice – it needs to be diluted with water. It contains no added sugar and tends to be quite refreshing in summer.

Probiotics – good quality probiotics help digestion tremendously. Those sold in the drug stores, however, tend to be somewhat inferior to “professional-quality” probiotics (that include multiple species of microorganisms) which you can only get through health professionals or specialty health stores. I was recommended the Ther-Biotic Complete from Klaire Labs. Check with your health professional on their recommendation.

Papaya, pineapple, unbleached almonds, and not drinking water when eating are all good ways to help prevent heartburn. Papaya is also a good source of potassium. With the growing uterus pushing all the organs out of the way, which leaves little room for stomach, heartburn is a common issue during pregnancy. Eating smaller meals and sleeping with your head elevated also sometimes help.

The modified yoga Cat pose (the back has to be kept straight when not arched up) works wonders: it takes the weight of the uterus off the pelvis and the back. Used during pregnancy it can act as a way to relax and give yourself a chance to rest from the baby’s weight. This pose is also helpful in labour as pain relief as well as to allow the baby to shift out of the pelvis and using gravity acquire a different position that can be easier on the woman’s back.

Prenatal massage – helps with sore and tired muscles, leg cramps, back pain, and just feels wonderful. You would have to find a place that offers prenatal massage – they have special training in what is safe in pregnancy, as well as table inserts that allow you to lie on your belly during the massage. I have had several sessions throughout my pregnancy, including the one to fix my back when I managed to take a fall down the stairs in my first trimester, and I found them very helpful in alleviating various discomforts and aches.

Living in Canada, most of us don’t get enough vitamin D due to lack of sunlight. During pregnancy, the recommendation is 40 minutes of sunlight a day. A vitamin D supplement might also be helpful – consult with your health care provider.

Prenatal vitamins are highly recommended by every health practitioner and every book I have come across. In addition to taking folate (NOT folic acid) prior to pregnancy and during it to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus, some of the most crucial elements are included in prenatal vitamins, such as calcium (you are building the baby’s bones and if you don’t take in enough calcium it will be taken from your own bones) and iron (used in hemoglobin production and the formation of placenta). Many women exhibit iron deficiency during pregnancy, which can have serious consequences such as anemia.

Kegel exercises have been claimed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which would have many beneficial effects: preparing your muscles for labour, postpartum return of pelvic tone, prevention of incontinence, and so on. Later investigation is showing that kegels are not effective for this purpose and are working the pelvic floor muscles in ways that tighten them, making them inflexible. Katy Bowman elaborates on biomechanics of the pelvic floor muscles and effective ways to work them. Deep regular squatting is a better way.

Eat lots of fruit – in addition to all the wonderful vitamins and minerals that you get from fruit, they also contain fiber which helps your digestive system.

Yogurt – helps prevent thrush (yeast infections) which sometimes spring up in pregnancy due to the sugar spike in vaginal flora. It can also be aggravated by synthetic or tight clothing, as well as by antibiotics (which you might be taking at some point during the pregnancy to treat some other condition). Wearing skirts (as opposed to pants) and cotton underwear (as opposed to nylon) help air circulation and can aid in keeping thrush under control.

Belly breathing is a technique where you breathe into your belly (not your chest) by flexing the diaphragm (not the rib cage). It helps to oxygenate and relax the body, which aids in relieving anxiety and stress.

In the last trimester some health practitioners recommend taking raspberry tea or a raspberry-leaf derived supplement (such as Rubus Idaeus) to tone the uterus and prepare it for labour. Do make sure you consult with your health practitioner before using this: some women find that their Braxton-Hicks contractions increase in frequency and intensity which might lead to preterm labour.

Witch hazel can help with perineum soreness or hemorrhoids. It can be used as part of a sitz bath (1/4 cup dissolved in warm water) or by soaking a sanitary pad. Before labour it is also recommended to soak a few maxi pads in witch hazel and freeze them, to use for postpartum perineal healing.

Calamine lotion can help with skin rashes that some women experience during pregnancy, due to uncomfortable clothing, heat, and carrying extra weight around.

Get a doula. A good doula is a source of all kinds of wonderful tips and tricks to make your pregnancy more comfortable. A doula also prepares you for labour by teaching you about pain relief techniques, labour progression, possible complications, and so on. A doula does not enforce any particular philosophy – you can have natural or medicated labour, at home or at a hospital, and the doula will be there to support you in whatever decisions you make. A labour doula is someone you get to know during your pregnancy and who would stay with you throughout your entire labour (as opposed to the doctor that would show up for 10 minutes only to deliver the baby, or a nurse that will stay only until the shift change and whose philosophy can significantly affect the progress of your labour). Postpartum doulas come to your place and can help solve breastfeeding problems, assist with baby care, and much more. To learn more about the roles and responsibilities of doulas, check out DONA International. I found my doula through Mothercraft – an organization in Ottawa that matches you with a doula and charges you on a sliding scale according to your income level, which makes it affordable for anyone, including low income families, to benefit from doula care.

Seriously look into midwifery care – it is much more personal, your appointments are longer, the care is based on informed choice (read: you have a say in what happens to you and your baby), and in Ontario you get 6 weeks of postpartum care, first week of which midwives can come to your home. Midwifery care is covered by provincial health insurance. Midwives in general have much better outcomes when it comes to labour induction and augmentation, Caesarean rates, and many other factors. Birth at home or a birth centre is ideal if you have no complications during pregnancy, but even in a hospital, midwives are a better choice for an uncomplicated delivery. If you are in Ontario and need more information on midwifery care, visit Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care.

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