As a dietitian, I have counseled numerous women before, during, and after pregnancy – but it wasn’t until I became pregnant myself that I truly learned what it meant to battle morning sickness, feel ravenously hungry (when I had just eaten two hours ago), and be on the constant lookout for the nearest bathroom. The body changes dramatically throughout pregnancy. It’s okay to rest, give into a craving here or there, and ask for what you need.
Here are 5 easy steps you can take to feel your best throughout pregnancy:
1. Give yourself permission.
One of the most difficult challenges to overcome initially was giving myself “permission” to do less and reset my expectations in the early days of pregnancy. I was used to pushing myself to the limit during exercise, a heavy workload or chores around the house – despite feeling tired. During pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, the body can start to experience a new level of fatigue (along with some other new discomforts such as nausea, vomiting and hormonal shifts). Giving yourself permission to sleep instead of doing dishes, or eat plain toast because it’s the only semi-appetizing food, is crucial. Nutrition and exercise are important during pregnancy, but women who experience severe fatigue or morning sickness should speak with their doctor and a dietitian to develop an eating and exercise plan that fits their individual needs.
2. Listen to your body.
While your body changes over the next forty or so weeks, pay careful attention to how you are feeling and what you need. When you feel hungry, eat. When you feel tired, sleep (even if for only fifteen to twenty minutes). When you feel emotional, reach out to your support system for comfort. According to UCSF Medical Center, mood changes are common throughout pregnancy and are a result of hormonal shifts, fatigue, and overall anxiety around the life changes that ensue. Speak with your doctor about any concerns you may have and keep an open line of communication with friends, family, co-workers, or any others that are part of your support system.
3. Eat small frequent meals.
Instead of eating the typical three meals per day, eating about five or six smaller meals throughout the day can help manage hunger and prevent other common discomforts such as nausea. In the first trimester, it is common for women to experience “morning sickness” with symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Going for long periods of time without eating can make nausea worse. I recommend having something small to eat every one to two hours. Focus on simple office snacks that are easy to digest and will alleviate nausea, such as saltine crackers, toast, or applesauce. In the second trimester, it is common for appetite to increase as the baby grows. Consuming protein and fiber-rich snacks or meals (such as plain Greek yogurt with a piece of fruit) throughout the day can help keep hunger at bay. If your office has corporate catering services, one strategy to help promote frequent eating is to save some leftovers from the office breakfast meal or office lunch meal to be eaten later in the day.
4. Fuel up on fiber.
Constipation can be another common discomfort during pregnancy. Foods rich in fiber are a great addition to the diet during pregnancy because they aid in digestion and help relieve constipation. This is extremely important during those second trimester days when it feels like no amount of food will satisfy that ravenous appetite. High fiber foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly pears, apples, berries, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, as well as beans, lentils, and whole grains such as quinoa, farro, barley, brown rice, and whole wheat bread or pasta. As a dietitian at Zesty, a San Francisco office catering company, it’s a little easier to incorporate fiber rich foods into my diet. Zesty’s meal program is centered around offering healthy, high quality meals and I always try to fill at least half of my plate with vegetables to ensure I’m getting a hearty helping of fiber.
5. Keep moving.
Whether or not you exercised prior to pregnancy, this is a great time to be active. Any light activity such as walking, swimming, or pre-natal yoga are generally good options, but always check with your doctor first before incorporating any type of physical activity into your routine. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the benefits of staying active throughout pregnancy include improved energy and mood, reduction in common pregnancy discomforts such as backache, constipation, and swelling, and maintenance of muscle tone. Being active throughout pregnancy can also help prepare the body for labor and recovery after the baby is born. Prior to becoming pregnant, my exercise routine included spin classes and hiking. I was able to continue this routine, at a lower intensity level, up until my third trimester. My routine now includes walking or swimming for about thirty minutes each day.
Using these 5 simple steps throughout my pregnancy has not only kept me energized, but has eased difficult changes in my body that led to backaches, constipation, and difficulty sleeping. Focusing on providing my body (and baby) with proper nourishment, as well as staying active to maintain my strength, have helped decrease discomforts and I’ve been able to take each trimester in stride. With only a few weeks left, I’m confident that these 5 easy steps have set me up for a successful labor and recovery – and I can’t wait to meet my baby boy!