Here are some tips for a healthy pregnancy, which support the development of a healthy baby and prepare you for birth.
Nutrition: Eating well can help to prepare your body for labor.
Make sure you’re eating a variety of healthy foods. Especially:
- Iron – Important throughout pregnancy. In the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, your baby is storing the iron he needs for the first few months of life. Red meat and leafy greens (like spinach, some lettuces, kale) are good sources.
- Vitamin D – baby is also stocking up on this. Can be found in most dairy foods, as a supplement, or can be naturally produced if you spend time outside in the sunshine.
- Protein – good for strengthening muscles. Eggs, dairy, nuts, beans, and meat.
- Calcium and magnesium – help build bones and teeth, also important for heart health. Found in dairy, green leafy vegetables, and more.
- Drink lots of fluid, at least 64 ounces a day. Water is best.
Exercise: Certain exercises can help prepare your body for labor.
Kegel exercises. Kegels exercise the muscles in your pelvic floor which surround your vagina and anus. This helps avoid tears and episiotomy during birth, and helps your body recover better after the birth, restoring good bladder control and sexual tone.
To learn how: when you go to the bathroom, begin pee-ing, then tighten up your muscles to stop urine from flowing. Those are the muscles you want to work with. Once you’ve learned to tighten them, don’t do this while urinating… that’s just a tool to help you learn.
To practice Kegels. Just tighten up the muscles, hold, then relax. Do slow “elevator” kegels, where you count slowly from 1-5, tightening your muscles a little tighter with each count, then count back down from 5-1, gradually relaxing the muscles. Do lots every day! It’s easy to do a few at a time, off and on all day. You can do them while talking on the phone, or watching TV, or driving, or showering, or whenever. You can do this anytime, anywhere, and no one knows you’re doing it!
Some people’s pelvic muscles are too tense – if if hurts to have vaginal intercourse, it’s difficult to insert a tampon or you have a hard time relaxing enough to pee, then instead of doing kegels, do pelvic relaxation exercises. Instead of tightening to “lift” the pelvic floor muscles, try gently bulging the muscles downward.
Transverse abdominal contractions. These strengthen your stomach muscles, which can help with back pain during pregnancy, and also help with pushing. To exercise these: Tighten all your abdominal muscles – think of using all your core muscles to pull your belly button toward your spine like you’re trying to button a really tight pair of jeans. Then relax.
Pelvic tilts. These strengthen your stomach muscles, which can help with back pain. (During labor, they also help the baby move to an ideal position for birth.) How to: Get on your hands and knees. Tighten up your abdominal muscles. Hold for a few seconds, then relax back to a flat back (don’t let back sag down.). Repeat. You’ll notice that when you tighten your abdominal muscles, your back will arch up a little bit (like an angry cat), at the same time your pelvis tilts. (You’ll “tuck your tail” like a scared dog.) Those are signs you’re using your abdominal muscles well. Do at least 20 times a day.
Sit crosslegged. Sit on the floor, or elsewhere, crosslegged. (What you may have called – inappropriately – “Indian style” or “criss-cross applesauce” as a kid). This helps open up and relax your hip joints which can help during delivery; it also helps baby get in the best position.
Get general information about exercise during pregnancy here.
Mental / Emotional Health in Pregnancy
During pregnancy, find ways to reduce stress, spend time with the people who help you to feel nurtured and supported (and reduce contact with those you have unhealthy relationships with), and learn skills like relaxation, conflict resolution, and reaching out for support when needed.
Learn about perinatal mood disorders (from pregnancy anxiety to postpartum depression) and ways to reduce them with this handout.
Warning Signs in Pregnancy.
Call your doctor/midwife if you see any of these signs.
- Bleeding (especially bright red blood from your vagina) at any time during pregnancy should be reported to caregiver immediately.
- Headaches, blurred vision, swelling of arms, hands, or face, pain right under your rib cage. These can be signs of high blood pressure.
- Fever or signs of infection.
- Decreased fetal movements.
- Signs of Labor before 37 weeks. For example, contractions of your uterus (five or more in an hour). Menstrual-like cramps. Dull ache in your lower back. Pressure in your pelvis, groin, or thighs. Increase/change in vaginal discharge, especially a gush of fluid.
When will your baby be born?
Your due date is an estimate of when your baby will be born. It is perfectly normal for baby to come anywhere between 38 and 42 weeks. So: be ready 2 weeks before the due date; but have a fun project to keep you busy and distracted for up to two weeks after the due date!
If your baby is “late”, try not to get too impatient. Many women are tired of being pregnant, and will hope for induction, where a doctor uses medication to make labor begin. However, all methods of induction carry risks with them, primarily longer and stronger contractions, which are a) more painful for mom, and b) harder for the baby to cope with: may lead to fetal distress. Induction may double or triple your chance of a c-section.
Use the extra weeks to take extra care of yourself, and pamper yourself before you need to focus all your energy on caring for someone else’s needs.
In final weeks of pregnancy: Help the Baby Move into the Best Position for Birth (can lead to shorter, less painful labor)
Note: this information is based on ideas called Optimal Fetal Positioning or Spinning Babies. The research about whether doing this during pregnancy makes a difference for babies’ positions during labor is limited, but it can’t hurt. Doing these things during labor definitely helps with babies’ positioning at birth.
What position is best, and why? Ideally, in labor, baby is head-down, with his back along your belly, and his face pointing toward your back. (This is called anterior.) Lots of babies (as many as 25%, or 1 in 4) are posterior instead: looking toward your belly, with his hard little head pressing against your lower back. This causes back labor, which is usually more painful than regular labor, and labor also tends to last much longer, as the baby is not in a good position to help your cervix dilate.
What to avoid: The heaviest part of a baby is his back. By the laws of gravity, his body will rotate so the heaviest part is down, closest to the ground. If you spend the final weeks of pregnancy lying on your back, leaning back in the car, and leaning back in the couch with your feet up, your back will always be lowest, and baby is more likely to be posterior.
What to do: Try any of these; the more you do them, and the less you’re on your back, the better. Sit up straight in chairs, stand or walk for part of the day, lie belly-down on a soft beanbag chair, sit backwards in a chair and lean your arms on the back, sit crosslegged on the floor, do pelvic tilts, crawl, weed the garden, scrub the floor on your knees, swim a lot (breaststroke or crawl). Sleep on your side, not your back. (Left side is best.)
Emotional Preparation: Fear can slow labor and increase pain; so it’s best to work out some of your fears before labor begins! Spend some time thinking about, or talking about: what part of labor are you afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen during labor? What scares you about birth and parenting? Draw pictures, or write it down, talk about it, or do whatever helps you explore and process these fears.
Also, caring a new baby can be stressful, so try to reduce other stresses before birth. If you are struggling in your relationships with the baby’s father or with your family, work on this before the baby is born. Figure out who you can reach out to for support if you’re having a hard time with the baby; talk to them about this before the baby is born.