Pregnancy is often a joyous time for many women, however it is also a time of many complex shifts that, when combined with hormonal fluctuations and fatigue may contribute to additional stress. From the many physical changes your body will undergo, to the emotional and relational changes of identity transformation, to the personal, professional, and social pressures of trying to “do it all” and hold ourselves to the same pre-pregnancy standards, it’s no wonder that some women are more susceptible to bouts of anxiety and depression during this most tender, transitional time – particularly if you have a history of past mental health concerns. Below are five pregnancy-specific self-care tips you may find useful as you move through these nine months and on into the postpartum period to help promote your overall well-being and stay present throughout this most wondrous time.
With the approval of your doctor or midwife, many women find that light exercise helps them take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can be as simple as lacing up your sneakers for a daily walk around the block before work, on your lunch break, or after you get home, or something more structured like a prenatal fitness class. No matter which route you choose, setting aside time to move your body can help offset many pregnancy-related concerns, including swelling and edema, fatigue, mild nausea, and even some of the complex emotions that may come along with pregnancy. One key shift in mentality that many women find worthwhile is using exercise less as a means to achieve the ideal physique and more as a means to adapt to the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy. An added bonus: Exercising during pregnancy helps strengthen your awareness of and connection with your body to prepare you for labor as well as the postpartum recovery period.
Pregnancy is a time of many rapid shifts, and you may notice changes in key relationships in your life, including with your significant other, family members, friends, and colleagues. Your body is changing and hormones are fluctuating to support growing life, often contributing to more intense emotions as well, but your whole identity and experience of yourself as a relational being is also undergoing a role transition. This is especially true for first-time mothers-to-be, and you may find yourself torn between the life you once knew, which involved happy hour with friends several times a week, and wanting a slower pace with more solitude. Finding ways to stay connected with supportive people in your life in ways that prioritize your mental and emotional wellbeing can help you through this transition. Perhaps trade Thursday happy hour with friends for brunch and mani/pedis, or Friday night dinner and a movie with your significant other for a daytime stroll through the park with fresh smoothies in-hand. Use these times to share your experience with others, particularly the hard parts. Doing so can feel vulnerable, but allowing yourself to stay connected and supported will ultimately benefit you in the long run by providing a healthy outlet for various multifaceted feelings and experiences.
Prenatal Yoga and Mindfulness Meditation
It’s no secret that yoga and mindfulness meditation practice can do wonders for your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, helping to reduce stress and anxiety, combat depression, improve focus (“pregnancy-brain” anyone?), and even reduce high blood pressure. You may consider taking a prenatal yoga class at your gym or local yoga studio, which has the added benefit of exposing you to other women who are pregnant at the same time as you, or you may find it easier to start a gentle at-home practice. No matter which option you choose, make sure to check with your healthcare provider first and seek out yoga classes or sequences designed for pregnant women since certain poses are not advised during pregnancy. Looking for something less physical and more contemplative? Mindfulness meditation may be for you, and the Expectful app (available on Android and iOS) is a great resource for brief meditation and guided imagery exercises intended specifically for pregnancy and postpartum. Together or separately, yoga and mindfulness practices can be a powerful way to weather the ups and downs of your pregnant experience and feel even more connected to your baby prior to his or her birth.
Set Appropriate Boundaries
Sometimes people – even well-meaning ones who love us very much! – put their feet in their mouths. Some treat pregnancy as open season for questioning or commentary on a woman’s body and appearance. Some offer unsolicited advice on eating and exercise habits. Some may compare your pregnancy to their own or to someone else’s. And still others view pregnancy as a time to share their pregnant experiences – the joyous ones, the horror stories, and every intimate detail in between. Some people aren’t bothered by this and take it all in stride but if you find that it bothers you, it’s okay to set some appropriate boundaries. You may consider a well-timed comment like, “It’s so amazing how everyone’s pregnancy is so different!” or a more direct approach like, “I appreciate your concern but that’s between me and my healthcare provider.” Boundaries are, in fact, an act of love for ourselves and while setting them can sometimes be challenging and may need to happen repeatedly, it’s healthy and okay to have them.
If you find yourself wrestling with complex emotions during pregnancy, whether they are related to pregnancy itself or to stressors outside of it, counseling can help and there are therapists who specialize in working with the specific concerns that may arise during this unique time in your life.