Allie’s Corner: Self-Care during Pregnancy
Welcome back to “Allie’s Corner,” where our favorite Physician Assistant Allie Nowak, certified in functional medicine through the Kresser Institute, shares tips on how to invite greater health and wellness into your everyday life.
Self-care can be challenging for women throughout the lives, not to mention during the busy and emotional experience of pregnancy. Ultimately, self-care is even more important when you’re pregnant because you are growing another human being. I recommend focusing on good health habits before getting pregnant to my clients – you can eat an unprocessed, nutrient-dense diet, taper down to one cup of coffee per day, avoid alcohol and stop smoking, if those are current habits.
The goal is to nourish your body and mind to support yourself and your baby. For instance, avoid food toxins such as high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats, which can promote excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes and large babies. I also encourage both partners to eliminate soy, since just one cup per day in men can decrease sperm count by 50 percent and two cups for women can act as an unintended birth control pill. Instead, enjoy two or three servings of cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines, trout, mussels and fish eggs (roe), each week to meet your DHA needs – this supports the baby’s growth and development and it is possible to get adequate amounts through diet alone.
Make sure you are taking a quality prenatal vitamin that contains folate (not folic acid) and methylcobalamin (not cyanocobalamin) in addition to other quality nutrients such as choline, iron and zinc. If you live in Minnesota or another northern location, a vitamin D supplement between 2,000-4,000 IUs per day can help you achieve the optimal vitamin D blood level of 35-60. Vitamin D is critical for bone, nervous and immune system development, and nearly one-third of babies born in northern latitudes have no detectable vitamin D in their blood.
Sometimes exercise feels more like work than self-care, but it provides much-needed stress relief, an energy boost, stronger muscles and bones, and more. I recommend aiming for 150 minutes per week, including both strength and aerobic exercise.
And after that, spend at least eight hours in bed each night to get at least seven hours of sleep. So many women report being exhausted during pregnancy and sleeping can become more difficult as the pregnancy proceeds – you can find special body pillows for greater comfort and create a nightly ritual of herbal tea, writing in a journal, stretching or reading for a few minutes before bed. A regular stress management practice – such as yoga, meditation, massage or time in nature – is also great for mom and baby. Finally, it is always important to surround yourself with others who support you, and you may find this is a good time to let go of people who tear you down rather than building you up.
If all of this sounds or feels a little overwhelming, shrink the change – make little goals for yourself that will eventually become new habits. If you are too busy to exercise 150 minutes per week, for example, try to fit in 10-15-minute walk breaks over your lunch hour at work. All of these little changes add up and help promote a healthier pregnancy and baby.
Lastly, talk with your healthcare provider about any medications you are taking, your family history, current health conditions and exercise regimen, vaccinations, healthy weight recommendations and anything else on your mind. Self-care really encompasses your entire lifestyle and can contribute to a healthier and happier pregnancy and post-partum period.