Self-Care During Pregnancy: Beyond Exercise And Nutrition

This is a revised article originally written for and published by CoSozo.

Some women dream of pregnancy as a time of miraculous wonder and awe, while others dread the burden they must endure to bear children. However you may have imagined pregnancy before it began, now that you are in the midst of it, you are likely experiencing a touch, or more, of all of pregnancy’s many impacts on your life; quiet moments you will treasure always as well as symptoms you will gladly leave behind when this nine-months journey is over!

Self-care during pregnancy refers to tending to your personal needs. Care during pregnancy may be coming from others, which is wonderful, but many women find that care from others falls short or simply can’t address the inner needs pregnancy magnifies. It is important to give yourself permission to recognize the importance of self-care during pregnancy. For first-time mothers, this will help you get in touch with your own wisdom and feelings in the midst of the swirl of pregnancy advice and information. For mothers who have had previous pregnancies, life is busy with care of your little one(s), and self-care during pregnancy becomes all the more important lest the journey gets lost in the shuffle and your needs fall to the bottom of the list.

Pregnancy is a natural catalyst for self discovery and actualization. Because of this one, of the deepest acts of self-care during pregnancy is the fostering of your inner life. While it may seem that pregnancy nausea, exhaustion, pain, increased responsibility, unknowns, and/or endless demands on your time are causing you to feel overwhelmed, these feelings may be more deeply reflective of malnourishment of your spirit. Space for growth and transformation is a fundamental need in pregnancy. Here are five ideas for how to give yourself the lovely gift of self care during pregnancy – truly balm for the myriad of emotions that accompany the pregnancy journey.

1. Enjoy a quiet moment

Pregnancy is exhausting! While some women feel nearly incapacitated by pregnancy exhaustion and others feel wonderful most of the time, nearly every pregnant woman has times when she is ready for bed a few hours earlier than usual, or afternoons when a cat nap is clearly in order. There are many physical benefits to rest in pregnancy, but there is also a hidden gem in our need to stop and lie down; and this is the importance of stillness. Empty time is receptive time. When we allow our world to stop and our mind to wander, incredible things happen. Emotions well up, brilliant ideas cross our mind, daydreams clarify our longings, or we gain the wisdom it takes it mother our child.

Whether you are tired or not, take time to rest. I encourage you to put your feet up for 5-10 min every 2 hours, and to lay down with closed eyes 20 min per day. Make it as restorative as possible by picking a sunny spot, playing music that carriers you away, or begin your rest with gratitude. Don’t worry about the aspects in your life where you do not have the freedom to rest (such as a work schedule that can’t be changed), but take control of the opportunities you do have. Close your eyes at your desk, extend your lunch break by 20 minutes, decline a few social engagements, and most importantly, don’t spend your resting time wishing you weren’t so tired or judging yourself for your lack of productivity. Embrace the wisdom and joy of slowing down.

2. Connect with your sense of the universal or divine

There is something about pregnancy that begets in us a sense of being part of the timeless and creative flow of life. Giving birth is one of the great transitions in the circle of life. It is an equalizer. It is one of the experiences that transcends the incredible diversity of life experience between those who are wealthy or poor, from the past or into the future, and so on. No matter who you are, becoming a mother is becoming a mother. It is profound and common all at once.

This sense of taking part in a shared experience is a deeply nourishing awareness and an antidote to feelings of isolation, overwhelm, or inadequacy. Self-care in pregnancy involves allowing yourself to feel this connection. It often comes easier during this period and can be felt even in simple acts like taking a warm bath and imagining other pregnant women around the world bathing. If it does not come easily, you may foster this sense of connectedness by reading stories, or by thinking back to other times or spaces when you felt more connected to the timeless or to humanity as a whole. Dawn or dusk, worship, silence, stargazing, wilderness experiences…spend time in the places or doing the things where you have sensed this connection in the past.

3. Identify what helps you come alive

Every pregnant woman needs energizers and is well served by activities that help her feel a sense of expansion and vitality. Pick your top three personal energizers. Doing the things that give you energy is an act of self care during pregnancy. Share your ideas with your partner or a supportive friend. Ask them to hold you accountable to making time for these energizers or better yet, have them be your energizer buddy who prompts you to do these often or does them with you. My top three are gazing over expansive views either by water’s edge or from a peak, wearing an outfit that comes together just right and makes me feel attractive, and stimulating conversations. What are yours?

4. Give your pregnancy hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations a physical space

Clear an area in your home to make a place where you can place gifts for your baby, reminders of their conception, pictures of your growth, or items that help you anticipate their arrival. Make the space beautiful or calming. Allow yourself to come to this space with your inner life. If you are frustrated or scared, place journal entries, symbols, or artwork expressing yourself in this place. If you would like to feel more connected to your baby, come to this physical place and speak inwardly to your child even if you are not sure what to say or don’t feel strongly bonds. If you are super excited, put things in this space that feed your anticipation or courage. Creating a physical home for your pregnancy feelings gives you the opportunity to process these feelings through ritual.

The very act of maintaining the space, whether you change it frequently or it remains constant, is a ritual. Dust this area, keep it uncluttered, or filled with purposeful items. You can enrich this ritual by enlivening your space with a candle that can be lit or a mister which can be sprayed when you want to spend time here. Adding live flowers or a plant may be significant. Any item you would like to place here belongs, and the reason it belongs may be private or public, logical or instinctual, as you wish. Ritual may satisfy inner needs, be a symbol of respect, devotion, gratitude or acceptance, or strengthen intimacy and unity among those who share in or observe the ritual together.

5. Practice human values

There are many human values such as truth, integrity, kindness, justice, and nonviolence. Most likely there are a few that are most important to you. People often think of values in action in terms of service, but it is an act of self care during pregnancy as well. When we act according to our values, we strengthen our character. Strong character imparts clarity and confidence to a person. In confidence, a woman of strong character is able to navigate the many decisions and transitions of the childbearing year, and she is able to step into her role as the protector and advocate of her child. From this place of confidence, we also find contentment and wisdom.

There is a rich satisfaction in stepping into your own unique feminine strength – a strength which is born through the practice of good old fashioned values. Are you compassionate? Show your empathy for another by taking care of them. Do you have a quick sense of fairness? Defend someone who is being mistreated. Are you an appreciator of beauty? Create a photo album of the wonders you encounter. You will find that as you act on whatever character strengths you naturally possess you will feel better. Pick just one, or ask others what they see in you, and deliberately put that one value into action.

What will your self-care during pregnancy look like?

This list of ideas for self care during pregnancy might simply be a kickstarter for your own brainstorm. It really doesn’t matter if your ideas for self-care during pregnancy are similar to mine or not. The key is that you truly put some self-care practices in place regularly.  Self-care will be even more critical as you become a mother, and the competing demands for your time and energy are not going anywhere for at least 18 years! Making self-care a habit during pregnancy, a time when your patterns, needs, and responsibilities are shifting, will help assure that you keep this good habit in the years to come. You will be happier and healthier, and so will your children.

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