There’s nothing like seeing that double pink line on a home pregnancy test to kick your rear in gear towards your health and fitness goals. Because not only are you “eating for two,” you’re also exercising, hydrating and sleeping for two. And you’re doing all of this as training for one of the most strenuous and taxing physical events in a woman’s life: childbirth.
The problem is that about the time you realize you’re in training for childbirth, you’re likely also experiencing a delightful wave of exhaustion and morning sickness.
Over the last 9 months of pregnancy, I have collected and vetted countless tips on how to eat, sleep and train for birth. Some were better than others, and in this post I’m sharing only the best, which I can vouch for from personal experience.
But I’m going to administer a healthy dose of Real Talk with them, because let’s face it: pregnancy is hard.
Eating For Pregnancy and Birth
This is the only time in your life that you’ll have 100% control over what your child consumes, so don’t throw it away! In addition to all the foods your healthcare providers and friends will tell you to eat and avoid, there are some pragmatic things you should take into consideration.
First, you need to immediately redefine what “eating for two” means. It doesn’t mean you’re supposed to or entitled to eat twice as much food as you did pre-pregnancy. Doing that will only put both your and baby’s health at risk. While guidelines vary, the Institute of Medicine recommends women who are a healthy weight to begin with consume:
- No additional calories in the first trimester
- 340 additional calories/day in the second trimester
- 450 additional calories/day in the third trimester
If you’re overweight or underweight, expecting multiples, or have health concerns, your calorie consumption will vary based on your weight gain goals. Always talk to your healthcare provider before changing your diet or caloric intake.
But Eat Enough
If you’re like me, you’re going to struggle with putting enough calories away in that first trimester, and maybe even in the third. Morning sickness can do a number on your appetite. In the first trimester I found myself eating only Saltines and fruit for a week or two before I realized this was not going to suffice. Not only was I not getting enough nutritional variety in my diet, but I wasn’t getting enough calories, period. So I started blending my fruit with protein powder, Bare Bones Bone Broth, coconut milk, chia seeds, almond butter – anything I could get my hands on that would add some variety and calories to the meal. I would also slather some ghee or butter on my Saltines. Eventually I was getting enough calories, even if they weren’t the highest quality cals that first trimester.
Many Small Meals
In the second and third trimesters, I’ve gotten a far healthier variety of foods – meat, vegetables, starches, etc – but now my stomach is all cramped. So it’s tougher to eat a lot of food at any given mealtime. So now I have to eat several smaller meals a day – somewhere between 5-6. You can call them snacks if you want to, but make sure you’re thoughtful about what you’re consuming for these mini meals. Eat meal-type foods as opposed to snack foods.
Step Away from the Junk Food
This one should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people out there still think a pregnant woman is entitled to eat whatever the heck she wants. It’s like all the rules about nutrition go out the window. Sometimes I secretly think other people want to live vicariously through a pregnant woman eating bags of Cheetos in between pints of ice cream. Avoid these empty calories and opt for nutrient-dense foods instead.
Nutrient Density is Key
Because you don’t have a ton of space in that tummy of yours during pregnancy, make sure you’re getting maximum bang for your buck when you do eat. Eat a balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, and get as many nutrients out of every bite as possible. You’re making and filtering about 50% more blood volume during pregnancy, so make sure to include lots of iron-rich foods in your diet as well.
Even if you don’t take supplements regularly, it’s important to do so while pregnant to ensure you’re getting the essential nutrients you and baby need to thrive. Find a good prenatal and stick with it, taking it daily throughout the pregnancy. Because some vitamins and minerals don’t play well together, you may end up having to take more than one supplement. My prenatal pill, for example, did not include iron or calcium, so I supplemented with both separately. Get familiar with the supplements and amounts recommended by the American Pregnancy Association, and ensure you’re covering all your bases.
Sleeping For Pregnancy and Birth
Let’s face it, sleep is tough to get when you’re pregnant. Your body is going through a whirlwind of change. I was waking up at 3 a.m. every night like clockwork for a few weeks in my first trimester, and the wee-hours-of-the-morning wake-up calls started up again in the third trimester.
But here are a few things I’ve found that really curbed those sleep interruptions and help me get my z’s.
Embrace Bath Time
I never appreciated bath time so much as when I became pregnant. Buy some Epsom salts and draw a nice, warm bath once or twice a week to get your body prepared for restful sleep. The magnesium in the Epsom salt works like a miracle on your pregnant aches and pains (if it’s good enough for athletes, it’s good enough for expecting mamas!), and it reduces stress, calming your body. Bonus: Epsom salt can reduce swelling and soothe your overstretched skin.
Make sure you’re well hydrated throughout your pregnancy, and try to get your fluids in early in the day so you’re not waking up to run to the bathroom as much in the middle of the night.
Build a Pillow Fort
Your partner may not like this as much as your hips will, but now is the time to build a fort out of pillows to prop up various parts of your body and alleviate pressure. I personally love my Snoogle, in combination with a small wedge pillow. Every body is different, but I’ve found I need support behind my back, under my belly and between my knees to get comfortable. Make sure you start sleeping on your side, at the very least, by the time your bump starts really showing (usually around the second trimester) or when your healthcare provider advises you to.
Training For Pregnancy and Birth
Now is not the time to lounge on the sofa and eat bonbons. It’s time to get up and get moving! Exercise during pregnancy has dozens of the usual benefits, plus some you’ve probably never thought about:
- Keeps your digestion moving – something you no longer take for granted once you’re pregnant. About half of women experience constipation during pregnancy, and let me tell you, it’s NO fun and can bring with it a bunch of other unpleasant side effects (hemorrhoids, anyone?)
- Helps you sleep – another benefit you won’t take for granted anymore
- Helps reduce backaches
- Reduces swelling
- Speeds pospartum recovery
Move Every Day
Even if you don’t feel like it, do at least 30 minutes of activity every day if you can manage it. You may not break any fitness records (I sure haven’t), but even just walking at a moderate pace for half an hour will alleviate some of your aches and pains, and go a long way toward keeping you in tip top shape for childbirth. And you’ll be surprised to discover that walking becomes a true exertion as you get closer to D-Day!
You’ve heard about Kegels, sure, but has anyone talked to you about squatting? Doing a few sets of squats every day can help tone those vaginal muscles AND your legs, abs and glutes – all of which you’ll almost certainly appreciate when you’re pushing.
Getting cardio is great, sure, but it’s not going to do you a lot of good without a good dose of stretching. Stretching helps relieve tension and ease back pain. As baby takes up more room in your belly, your leg muscles – especially the hamstrings – can tighten up, limiting your mobility and range of motion, and causing some pinchy pain in your lower back. Yoga has been one of my favorite rituals this pregnancy – in particular, child’s pose, cat/cow, and pigeon. Figure-4 stretch is also a huge relief for my lower back, as all those back-leg muscles tightened up through the pregnancy. You can even do a modified Figure-4 stretch while sitting at your desk.
Stretching has the added bonus of helping loosen up your pelvic area to make room for baby’s descent.
If you do nothing else physical, make sure you’re stretching regularly as your belly expands. Your body and your mind will thank you.
Embrace the Exercise Ball
Try sitting on an exercise ball instead of in a chair. Sure, you can use it for working out, but the exercise ball has also become the ONLY comfortable seat I can find in my third trimester. It tilts my hips forward, taking pressure off my belly, while helping me maintain good posture.
There are more reasons why an exercise ball is great for pregnant mamas, though: It strengthens your core, back and legs, and also aids in relaxation. Finally, it helps open the hips and get baby into optimal position for delivery.
Bonus: It’s a useful tool in labor. Many mamas take an exercise ball into labor and delivery with them to provide comfort and relief.
What are the best things you did for your health and fitness during pregnancy? Share them in the comments below!