rethinking modern birth - part 6: sleep, move, eat real food
Have you ever stopped to think about how the basics of good health have become so un-basic?
Sleep, fitness, and nutrition are foundational aspects of living well, and that doesn't change when you're expecting.
To optimize your prenatal health, do these three things:
Take care to move your body every day, prioritize your rest and sleep, and eat real food.
Want a 4th? Listen to your intuition.
The mind-body connection is critical, because how you take care of your body influences your mood and thoughts...!
1 - MOVE MORE
Aside from the obvious physical benefits, making time to move your body every day can be enormously helpful in maintaining a positive mental state.
I’m talking about shifting your lifestyle to be less less sedentary...which really begins with thinking differently about how you move.
The thing is, you don't want to suddenly start CrossFit or training for a marathon when you're expecting (hey, your body is already waaay busy at the cellular level) - but you DO want to maintain, or slightly increase, your previous levels of movement.
There's a difference between movement and "exercise" or fitness, and fitness bio-mechanist Katy Bowman explains it brilliantly:
To paraphrase her - exercise is like a vitamin, while movement is like a well-rounded diet.
We have gotten so used to being efficient, that we rob ourselves of hundreds of opportunities to do simple movements (that nourish our bodies!) every day.
Just think of how much less we all walk, now that grocery delivery is in vogue!
If you have a lousy "movement diet" in general, then adding in some exercise is like taking a vitamin. It's not the same thing, and will be much more helpful, if you're already eating a reasonably healthy diet. Think of it like sustainability, but for your body instead of the planet.
If you need to sit for long periods, consider buying a balance ball chair, wear comfortable (flat) shoes, and do some stretching sessions in between assignments. Try wearing a bluetooth watch, so you can track how many steps you take on a typical day.
If the concept of movement-as-a-nutrient piques your interest, I highly recommend you check out Katy's work. Here is a brilliant lecture that is maybe more than you need to know (!).
(Yes, they're affiliate links, and if you use them I may get about 52 cents. Otherwise, buy used + local!)
Instead of focusing only on exercise, start looking at all the ways you move every day.
Whether it’s walking with friends, dancing to your favorite music, or weeding the garden—these activities all increase your stamina and can help prepare you for labor.
Staying active will also allow you to be more attuned to anything that’s wrong, painful, or uncomfortable in your body as pregnancy continues.
2 - OPTIMIZE YOUR SLEEP
Any movement that raises your heart rate releases endorphins that make you feel good, and also help you sleep more soundly!
Sleeping during pregnancy can be less comfortable, so it's worth any effort to improve your sleeping arrangements.
Use as many pillows as you want to feel comfortable. Body pillows are nice to have, and can be useful after baby as well.
Consider getting an essential oil diffuser and adding some Lavender, Frankincense, and/or Balance blend while you sleep. Learn to use essential oils safely and effectively during pregnancy with my new course, here! Try getting a diffuser with no pilot light, so you can sleep in complete darkness.
Consider putting a salt lamp night light in your bathroom, as the orange glow is least likely to interfere with your circadian rhythms - and it's likely you're having to get up in the middle of the night to pee!
You may be used to taking supplements like melatonin to sleep better - but it might be best to skip those. It seems that there's not much concrete data on its safety (or lack thereof) during pregnancy - but we do know that it crosses the placenta freely.
Some women tend to dissociate from their physical body in pregnancy, as if that will somehow lessen the pain or intensity of labor.
In my experience, the opposite is true.
The more intimately connected and attuned you are to the many subtle signals of your body, the more likely you will be able to intuit the best movements and actions to facilitate your labor.
You’ve got to know the language of your own body to communicate with it effectively.
3 - EAT REAL FOOD
What do I mean when I say "real"? I mean eat as close to nature as possible, when you have a choice. Don't sweat the details, and look at the overall quality of what you consume.
If it’s a fresh fruit or veggie, kudos to you. Extra props for organic and locally grown (but no sweat if it's not!). If it’s meat, grain, dairy, or anything else, take a moment to think about where it came from. How close is it to its natural state?
Frankly, nutrition is a topic that frustrates me, because most health care providers are hardly even educated in nutrition.
Throughout their training, medical doctors are explicitly and repeatedly told that diet has nothing to do with health!
Most MDs need to take only one semester-long course on nutrition over the entire course of their education - look it up. (I hope it's changed, and I'm wrong.)
Anyone who believes in the power of self-care understands that nutrition makes a massive difference in our wellbeing.
Food has gotten to be such a complex topic.
There's loads of opinions disguised as facts when it comes to nutrition (so I encourage you to follow your own path, here especially).
Personally, I do not believe you need to hold an advanced degree in order to understand how to eat with wellness in mind.
Focus on eating fresh, whole, colorful foods more often than not, and don't stress over the details.
A dear friend of mine used to say anything that has more than six ingredients on the label probably isn't real food.
Interestingly, during pregnancy, if you’re deficient in a nutrient or mineral, your body will sacrifice its own stores of that nutrient in order to provide for the growing fetus--so eating well helps to ensure your own good health, rather more than the baby’s!
Of course, with sleep, diet, and fitness, what you DO is even more important than what you don’t do.
Skip the negativity. Focus on the DOing, not just the avoiding, and you will be better off for it.
For example, if you want to improve your diet, focus more on adding green vegetables and fresh fruits, and don’t beat yourself up about a second slice of pie with dinner.
With your sleep, fitness, and diet habits - the best way to move forward is to make small, mindful changes, focus on the positives, and enJOY the challenge of change!
For more tips on conscious, mindful pregnancy and birth, go to RethinkBirth.com.
birthawakening is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
RETHINKING MODERN BIRTH SERIES