Ten Ways to Take Care of Yourself in Pregnancy
by Jennifer Rosenberg

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Having a Baby Today, Autumn 2001, No. 3.]

Throughout pregnancy, you and your baby will be happier, healthier and saner if you do the following:

  1. Keep your blood sugar level up by eating whole, healthy foods and plenty of protein. Do this in small, frequent meals throughout the day. Vary your diet as much as possible.
  2. Keep yourself hydrated. Plain water is great. If you are nauseated and can't keep water down, add a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of salt to it. This will rehydrate you quickly and ease much of your nausea.
  3. Get plenty of rest. Pace yourself. Take a 10-minute break as often as you can. Take a nap before dinner. Take a nap around lunch time. Go to sleep early and rise as late as you can get away with. Get in the habit of grabbing bits of rest whenever you can-this will make parenting a newborn much easier!
  4. Stay confident in your body! Look for positive information about birth and pregnancy. Avoid the birth horror stories people want to tell. Your body knows how to birth. Don't let anyone try to tell you it will fail. If someone wants to tell you about her horrible birth, invite her to share it with you after you have had your baby. If someone has advice about what you absolutely have to do, take it with a grain of salt. There is no one best way to give birth for every woman. You can find your best way, and you will have an easier time doing so if you hear about positive experiences.
  5. Hire a midwife. Even if you think you might not be a candidate for homebirth or midwife-attended birth in the hospital, it is good to start with a midwife first. Why? A midwife will spend more time with you early on, will give you more information about nutrition and taking care of yourself in pregnancy, and will give you a confident start to your pregnancy. If problems arise, your care can be transferred to an OB if necessary.
  6. Hire a doula. No matter where you are planning on giving birth or who your caregiver is, it is a good idea to have someone on your birth team who is focused primarily on the emotional and comfort issues of birth and does not have the responsibility of clinical care. This way, if something happens that absorbs all of your primary caregiver's attention, you've still got someone helping you to understand the process. A doula can also help everyone at the birth to be more comfortable, even if there is a midwife doing most of the labor support for mom.
  7. When telling people about your pregnancy, take the official due date and add two weeks to it. This serves two functions. One, it spares you a little of the post-due-date syndrome where your mother-in-law calls you the day after your due date and says, “Have you had that baby yet?” Two, it is more realistic! Normal pregnancy is between 38 and 42 weeks long. First-time moms, on average, go eight days past their “due” dates. This means that 50 percent of first time moms deliver more than a week late! Even with subsequent pregnancies, a majority of women go past the due date, with three days late being average, and up to 14 days late being normal. Even longer pregnancies are possible-different caregivers recommend handling "post due" in different ways.
  8. Ask questions about your care. Whenever a test or procedure is recommended (such as ultrasound, blood test, amnio, etc.) you have a right, even a responsibility, to ask questions. “What is this test?” “Why is it necessary?” “What will we learn?” “How will we use this information?” “Are there alternatives?” “What are the possible side effects of the test?” “What are the consequences of doing nothing?”
    Keep in mind that there are potential side effects to any test, including ultrasound and blood tests. If you would not be willing to take the recommended action for a positive test, is there a good reason to take the test? There may be, or there may not. It is important to understand the concepts of informed choice and informed consent. You and your family are ultimately the ones who have to live with the consequences of choices about your care. Almost every test in the book has good reasons for either doing the test or avoiding the test, depending on your personal situation, priorities and choices. Every test carries risks, and there are some risks also in not knowing. The question ultimately boils down to "Which risks are you willing to take?"
  9. Get educated, take classes and learn all you can so that you can make educated choices about the care you receive. But at the heart of what you learn remember this: You don't have to be taught to birth successfully. When it comes to the nitty-gritty messy physical work of giving birth, the best thing you can do is put your intellect out the window and let your body do the work it knows down to the bone how to do. That doesn't mean you have to be detached from the process—quite the opposite. It means that you don't need to rely on a complicated technique to get through contractions well, and you don't need to hold your breath and count to 10 to push your baby into the world. You've been breathing since you were born and you know how. You can do it in your sleep. Likewise, women are perfectly capable of giving birth without any conscious direction at all. What will help your baby be born? Your willingness to experience the process, pain and all, and to follow your body's direction. Your body will tell you what you need to do, if you let it. And your body is the best expert on what it needs to birth.
  10. Choose carefully the people who are with you in labor. Each person should be committed to helping you find your own best way through labor. Each should be willing to step back if needed, if you should decide you need more privacy or more focused time with just one of your support team. Do not consider birth a social occasion. A few hours or a day after the birth is a much better time to be social than during labor itself. You shouldn't have to worry about taking care of anyone else's needs during labor. You shouldn't have to worry about unpleasant family dynamics, and you aren't obligated to invite anyone to the birth of your baby whom you don't specifically want to be there. Not even your mother. Not even your sister. Not even your best friend. If you want them there because you think they can actively help you have a more relaxed birth experience, great! Invite them. But don't get caught in the trap of birth-as-family-social-event. You are not obligated to have your mother-in-law there while you are half-naked and pushing your baby into the world if you don't really want her to be there. Particularly for first babies, it is a good idea to pare down the birth audience. Your partner should probably be there. A labor support person. Maybe one friend or family member who can fade into the background or be helpful and supportive without being intrusive. Why? Birth is an intensely personal, intimate experience. The state of mind that makes birth happen the easiest is similar to the state of mind that makes orgasm possible. Could you have an orgasm with 15 people in the room watching you? Similarly it will be easier to let go and let birth happen if you don't have your entire extended family and circle of friends in the same room with you. It's not impossible to birth with lots of people in the room, it's just usually not as easy that way. You are queen for the day when you birth ... you get to choose your entourage.
Jennifer Rosenberg is the Design Editor of Midwifery Today, a doula and the mother of Kailea.