Pregnancy Health Hacks

pregnancy-health-hacksAs I am nearing the end of pregnancy, I thought I would share some “health hacks” that I found helpful during pregnancy.  All of these “hacks” are safe, natural methods for dealing with pregnancy symptoms and in preparing for labor.

Chiropractor Adjustments – I’ve been seeing a chiropractor regularly for years and can’t imagine life without it.  I continued my regular visits, increasing frequency to once every week or two, depending on how I was feeling throughout my pregnancy.  Not only did I not suffer from lower back pain, which I know is a very common pregnancy ailment as the belly grows, but she was also able to help with other symptoms.  I ended up having some shoulder and neck pain as I started sleeping on my side that she addressed.  She kept my hips in alignment, helping greatly with the round ligament pain.  And, most surprisingly, she was also able to adjust my stomach to relieve most of the indigestion/heartburn caused by pregnancy (up until the last week before the baby dropped). Lastly, my chiropractor is also trained in acupuncture, which can be a great help for natural labor induction- now that I am past my due date, I’m going to see just how well it works!

Prenatal Massage – I’ve always considered massages more of a treat than a necessity, but I really tried to get at least one prenatal massage each month throughout pregnancy.  Studies show that massage during pregnancy can help improve sleep and reduce stress/anxiety.  Of course, they are also greatly helpful for pain relief and overall relaxation (you deserve it, mama!).  Look for a massage practice that has staff specifically trained and certified for prenatal massage AND one that has a special pillow so that you can lay face down, instead of on your side.  Those 30 minutes of laying “on your stomach” were magical because you never get that luxury.

Magnesium & Potassium – Suffering from middle-of-the-night painful leg cramps?  These two supplements are a must; they worked to completely take those cramps away for me.  Magnesium is also beneficial in helping to calm you before bed, leading to better sleep, and for helping to keep you regular if you are suffering from constipation.

Probiotics – I highly recommend everyone take probiotics regularly, not just pregnant women.  We encounter so many antibiotics in our food and other toxins in our environment- we need to consistently restore our levels of healthy bacteria. The health of our digestive system has a strong correlation to the abilities of our overall immune system, so probiotics are essential for supporting your immune function.  They are also helpful for keeping your bowels moving if you are suffering from constipation.  Lastly, I definitely believe that regularly using probiotics was a big reason I tested negative for Group B Strep.

Essential Oils – I am a big fan of essential oils and use them every day for both my health and around my house.  Here are a few that I used most commonly during pregnancy:

  • Copaiba – An anti-inflammatory oil, this helped relieve my indigestion; I rubbed it on my chest/throat/stomach.
  • DiGize – Another one to help with indigestion and to prevent constipation.
  • Peppermint – Great to smell or add to water when you experience morning sickness; it helps relieve nausea.  I plan on bringing it into labor also in case I experience nausea then; but I will put it away while I am breastfeeding since it can cause a decrease in milk supply.
  • Thieves – I put a drop of Thieves on the bottom of my foot every day and diffused it often to boost my immune system.  I also cleaned my house with it to keep everything chemical-free.
  • Frankincense – I definitely suffered from the “daughter stealing beauty” thing and had lots of breakouts on my face from the hormones.  Frankincense mixed with coconut oil was the only thing that works to heal blemishes fast.
  • Lavender – Very useful for overall relaxation and to help promote good sleep.  Mix some with distilled water and mist over your pillow each night. It’s also very moisturizing, so I found it helpful when I was itchy from my belly stretching.
  • Clary Sage – Only to be used at the end of pregnancy when you are full-term, this oil helps ease the pain of cramps and promotes uterine contractions.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – I drank this tea often throughout my third trimester.  My midwife recommended it as a way to tone pelvic and uterine muscles to prepare the body for productive labor contractions.  It’s full of great nutrients like magnesium and vitamin C that are also beneficial for sleep, nausea, leg cramps and immune function.  For more information, Wellness Mama wrote a great blog post about the benefits of this herb.

Evening Primrose Oil – Another recommendation from my midwife, the oil of evening primrose can help soften the cervix to prepare the body for labor.  You can find the capsules in your local pharmacy and it’s usually recommended to start after 36 weeks.

Ginger Candy – I carried this in my purse constantly when I was battling pregnancy nausea (aka morning sickness that lasts all day).  You can make them or find them in a store; the hard candies last a bit longer in your mouth, but crystallized ginger is also yummy to chew on.

Controlling Blood Sugar – I wrote a whole post about the diet, exercise, supplements and water intake that helped me keep my gestational diabetes under control – check it out here.  If you want to limit weight gain during your pregnancy, this is definitely the protocol to follow; plus, the diet+exercise simply make for a healthier lifestyle that will help you avoid much of the discomfort of the 3rd trimester.

Is there anything natural you tried during pregnancy that helped you?  Please share!

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How to Love Your Pregnant Friend Well

Before I reached this season of life, I had no idea how to be a good friend starting from the moment a friend announced their pregnancy.  I would offer to help host a shower or bring meals when the baby is born, but now I’ve learned from being pregnant there are a few other ways that I can care for a friend even before the bump starts to show.  These ideas may not apply to your friends who have easy pregnancies and just love that magical time in their lives (I really am so happy for them), but others may be struggling, especially in that first trimester, and could use your support.  Here are some ways you can help those mamas:

Give them some ginger drops – a friend gave some of these to me and they were a lifesaver when I started experiencing pregnancy nausea a couple weeks after taking the test.  When it hits, you have no idea what to do/try; having these on hand was quite the gift and they worked super well.  Another sweet gift for this time would be a pair of accupressure wristbands or a box of peppermint tea.

Bring them meals – someone experiencing bad pregnancy nausea + food aversions would definitely appreciate a meal they don’t have to plan/think about/shop for/cook. This could be as simple as chick-fil-a, a yogurt+strawberry+banana smoothie or comforting mac n cheese.

Reach out to hang out – Similar to chronic pain/illness, suffering from pregnancy nausea / lack of energy can be lonely.  While your friend may not be up to the usual going out for dinner or drinks, try to initiate hanging out in another way that will be more comfortable for them. Suggest you spend a couple hours relaxing in the pool, get a mani/pedi, go to a movie or set weekly dates to watch a tv show together – I always looked forward to my weekly Bachelorette nights with my girlfriends in the first few months of pregnancy because it was a time I could hang out without exerting much energy.

Help them with their baby registry – If you are already a mama, this is the perfect way to help.  Trying to decide on strollers, car seats, and all the little things you need for a newborn is overwhelming.  Registering for a wedding gifts was so easy and fun; registering for baby items can be stressful.  Plan a date at a coffee shop, order yummy tea, find a registry checklist and browse for items together, providing your recommendations and wisdom as you search.  Or go to a store together and help as they scan.  For unique items, invite them over to look over your nursery stash- we are planning to cloth diaper and a friend took me through her whole collection, explaining what worked best and what she recommended- it was so valuable as I went to register!

Pray for them & encourage them often – there were days I just wanted to sleep all day I felt so bad and I really needed some encouragement as I was trying to make it through the work day.  Having friends and my husband tell me they were proud of me & praying for me, texting me throughout the day/week, was what got me through.  Also, if you know a doctor’s appointment or ultrasound is coming up, let them know you are praying for them – there can be a lot of anxiety leading up to those appointments, worried if the baby is healthy and growing.

Pregnant gals / mamas- any other ideas I should add to this list?

What I Learned in Early Pregnancy

half-way-pregnancyThe idea of becoming a mother and the impending great responsibility of raising a daughter has made me quite reflective lately.  Here are a few thoughts of what I learned in the first half of my pregnancy that I hope can be encouraging to those of you expecting:

  • Focus on nutrition pre-pregnancy – If you know me or have ever visited this blog before, you know how important I think the right nutrition is.  I’ve done a lot of reading on epigenetics (one of my favorite books that explains it well is Deep Nutrition) and have been convinced that I have the ability & responsibility to impact the genes of my future generations by changing what I eat and my exposure to environmental toxins.  With all the health problems I have experienced in my lifetime, I really wanted to change my gene expression to give my children (and future grandchildren) the best chance at great health.  I’m confident that since I’ve seen benefits myself, that my diet and lifestyle changes over the past 5 years will be even more beneficial to this growing baby. And another reason to focus on nutrition pre-pregnancy is…
  • Giving myself some grace – Before I got pregnant, I thought I would be the type to continue exercising and eating the best possible foods, not giving into cravings much.  That all went out the window when I was hit with a wave of all-day nausea (the term “morning sickness” is a cruel joke) and lack of energy that made simply getting through the day an achievement. Going to work took everything out of me; 5 o’clock naps and 9 pm bedtimes became my norm and exercise was the last thing on my mind.  The thought of any kind of food repulsed me, so I was in survival mode- anything that sounded remotely okay at the moment is what I could eat.  Mac n’ cheese, PB&J, applesauce and popsicles became my go-to food items for the first time in many years. There are so many mom blogs out there that talk about doing crossfit during pregnancy or eating super healthy green smoothies and liver for nutrients.  Good for them, but that is not realistic if you are experiencing these symptoms- it’s not possible to just “push through” them. The nausea finally started to subside after Week 21 and I was able to add in some more protein and veggies, but I’ve had to give myself grace.  It doesn’t make me a bad mom or a bad blogger or unhealthy person; I’ll continue to do my best to be healthy in the remainder of pregnancy.  But, I’m just thankful I was healthy enough pre-pregnancy to pull me through this season.
  • How to rest – This may not be an issue for some of you, but for those like me who can’t go to sleep without doing at least one productive thing each day, it was a hard lesson to learn.  Sure, it was forced upon me, but I’ve learned the value of slowing life down and getting some rest.  I’m certainly not taking it for granted – I’m learning to appreciate lots of sleep and quiet weekends at home with my hubby, as I know those will disappear for many years after baby is born.  You’re growing a human and it takes a lot of energy- use this down time to read and pray and prepare for the craziness to come.
  • To start ignoring judgmental comments – I’ve seen this happen with moms I know that judge each other on breastfeeding vs bottle feeding, cloth vs disposable diapers, vaccines, or discipline and it’s terribly sad and disappointing.  I knew to expect it in motherhood, but wasn’t quite prepared to face it so early on in pregnancy.  As soon as I found out we were expecting, I began my search for a birth center with midwife care.  I knew that if I had a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, I didn’t want to give birth in a hospital.  Personally, I’ve had terrible doctor and hospital experiences that make me nervous to even visit friends in the hospital, so I knew it would not be the most relaxing, comfortable location for me to labor. I have bad reactions to pain medication, so I don’t want to risk complications and I believe a place that focuses on natural childbirth will be the safest for me and the baby.  Women have been having babies without pain medication for thousands of years, and I believe I have the strength to do it.  Funny how the norm can become so alien to people now used to babies in hospitals.  I never bring it up, but people always ask where I’m having my baby and so I tell them the truth.  The response is almost never encouragement; rather, I usually get raised eyebrows and a sarcastic “good luck” or “good for you.”  Maybe some have the best of intentions or for whatever reason feel judged themselves, but it has continued to surprise me that moms want to encourage otherwise… “that’s why we have doctors/hospitals,” “you aren’t weak because you choose getting an induction/epidural/c-section,” “you have no idea how painful it is,” “you better plan for things to not go your way.” So to those of you mamas who want a natural childbirth- you’ll get no judgment here: you are strong and know what’s best for you and you can do it!
  • A new appreciation for the value of fighting for LIFE – While this pregnancy was planned, the news was a bit of a surprise (see this post).  Finding out you are pregnant can bring on all kinds of emotions (the surge of hormones doesn’t help); it is life changing and body changing and full of unknowns – My friend Emily wrote a great blog about the totally normal mixed emotions of pregnancy for those of you dealing with those unexpected feelings.  This season of life has made me even more compassionate for women who find out they are pregnant and don’t want to be.  It’s scary and uncertain and really, really hard.  Add the news of a baby to early pregnancy symptoms and it becomes even harder. I cannot imagine doing it without a lack of support.  I have the utmost amount of respect and admiration for the strong women who chose to believe their baby is more than a fetus, that he or she is a life worth saving and who decide give that life a chance.  It is incredible to see week-by-week how the baby grows and how developed they are even by the time you find out you are pregnant.  We heard the heart beat at just 8 weeks, but it was beating weeks before that.  Pregnancy is a miracle and all babies deserve a chance at life no matter what the circumstances of their conception are.
  • To Practice Thankfulness – Though this pregnancy has been really tough on me physically, I can never forget 1) that I wasn’t supposed to even be able to get pregnant and 2) that so many couples struggle for years with infertility, miscarriage, loss or go through the long adoption process to become parents.  No matter how hard the day, I try to focus on the fact that God has blessed us with the life of this baby girl and that she is healthy and so am I.  I’m learning to practice thankfulness daily by taking time in the evening and throughout the day to reflect on what I’m grateful for.

Pregnant?  What did you learn in the first few months?

It’s That Time of Year…

Cold and flu season. Up until a couple of years ago, I generally spent December – March being sick all the time.  No matter how many times I washed my hands or tried to stay away from people, I always caught something.  And when I got a cold, it would be weeks, if not months before I got over it; plus, it usually developed into bronchitis or a sinus infection, and even pneumonia once, at some point too.

Well, I joined the club and caught a cold over the weekend.  But, I’m already much better.  Coincidence?  I think not!  Eating healthy gives you the nutrients your body needs to keep your immune system in good shape so that it can do it’s job.  I focus on a few key items in my diet, especially when I’m sick, to aid the healing process:

  • Kombucha tea – contains lots of probiotics that fight off the bad bacteria attacking your system
  • Bone broth – soups with broth made from chicken/beef bones and full of veggies pack lots of nutrients (I’ll be sharing an easy recipe later this week!)
  • Water – drink lots of it… not only does it help move toxins through your body, but it moisturizes mucous and helps move it through the sinuses

I also want to share a few great articles to expand upon some of the supplements I take daily (and more of when I’m sick) as well as a few other natural ways to help prevent or fight off a cold or the flu fast:

Supplements cannot replace a good diet, but since many of our foods are now lacking the nutrients they had just a hundred years ago, they can definitely help boost your system. When buying supplements, make sure you look for those made from whole foods.  Taking fake vitamins that are manufactured from chemicals won’t help… you need real vitamins from real foods.  I find the best selection at People’s Pharmacy and Natural Grocer here in Austin.

Stay healthy!

– Christine