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Optimizing Pregnancy

The sky’s the limit when we start talking about things a mom and her family can do to optimize a pregnancy. Here are a handful of major ideas to ensure the best pregnancy possible!

Being a prenatal and pediatric chiropractor is such an honor. I have the privilege of helping families through one of the most important, exciting, and stressful times of their lives. Having entered into my second decade of chiropractic practice, we now have the pleasure of seeing moms through multiple pregnancies. For some, the idea that each pregnancy can be better than the last is novel, while others are actively seeking out better and better experiences for themselves and their babies.

The sky’s the limit when we start talking about things a mom and her family can do to optimize a pregnancy. Here are a handful of major ideas to ensure the best pregnancy possible!

These are probably all a given, but throughout the entire pregnancy, it is important to eat well, hydrate, sleep well, move well, and mitigate stressors as much as possible. Some of these can be easier said than done at times.

Eat Well

All the salads and smoothies sound great, unless you are too nauseous to eat or, you try and can’t keep anything down. So what to do? There are different theories on what causes the nausea during pregnancy. One being the change/tax on the liver. Sipping on teas such as dandelion and nettles or supplementing with these in capsule or tincture form is a great way to support your liver and help you feel good. Meal time can be daunting when nothing appeals or you think you want something and, after two bites, realize it was the wrong choice. Taking digestive enzymes with meals is a great way to ensure proper digestion and nutrient absorption of what you are able to consume. A daily probiotic is another great way to ensure your GI system is happy.

When it comes to food, keep it simple. Typically, heavy meals don’t sit well anyway, nor do lots of additives and chemicals. Try to eat whole foods and limit processed food products as much as possible. And, trust me, I know a pregnant gal can need her carbs! There are lots of options for crackers, pastas, and breads, which keep the ingredient list simple, so read those labels. And even though carbs are yummy, a pregnant body actually needs a high amount of protein, not necessarily more carbs. This can be tricky as a nauseous belly wants a bagel, not a steak. If you are able to sneak in extra protein in a way in which your body can handle, you will most certainly have more energy and be less nauseous.

Another theory on pregnancy nausea is that it results from the blood volume expansion that happens during pregnancy. This is also why for some mamas, morning sickness returns during the third trimester, when the blood volume undergoes another rapid expansion. The more protein you can take in, the easier your body can increase its blood supply. We are talking 70-90 grams of protein a day…yes, that’s a lot. My tricks for sneaking it in include collagen powder in a warm beverage or in smoothies, snacking on nuts instead of crackers, putting nut butters or hummus on toast instead of eating it plain, and adding beans to meals if meat is a no-go.

An interesting area to research is the endocanaboid system. Some evidence suggests that priming this system can help balance the body and allow for better overall health, which includes less nausea. Many mamas report benefits from taking a CBD oil during pregnancy, and I haven’t found anything that would compel a mama not to try it. Research is still emerging in this area, but if a little CBD helps you nourish your body, it sounds pretty darn good to me!

A prenatal vitamin is, hands down, a good idea. Unless you have the most amazing diet, you might as well add some healthy well-balanced nutrients in the form of a good supplement to ensure you and baby are covering the basics. But, PLEASE make sure you are using a high-quality prenatal. Ensure your prenatal has folate vs. folic acid, and avoid prenatals with added fillers. Brands I like that you can order through a practitioner are Thorne, Metagenics, Seeking Health, and OrthoMolecular. My personal favorite is the Orthomolecular prenatal packs. I found Thorne a little intense on my belly, the smell of Metagenics was hard to handle, and I never seem to get the recommended eight capsules in the Seeking Health one, but they are all high-quality, well-balanced supplements. MegaFood is another great brand. They make a whole-food-based prenatal, which can be found at most health food stores. In addition to my OrthoMolecular prenatal, I add 5000 IUs of Vitamin D3 with K2, adrenal support, a B complex, calcium, magnesium, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and omegas. By no means do you need to take all of that! I’ve dealt with a series of health issues and was finally getting myself into a really good place prior to this pregnancy. These supplements are what I’ve found to keep me feeling my best. It’s always a good idea to work with a trusted provider and come up with a supplement plan that will best suit your needs.

Hydrate

I’m not sure why this happens, but I’ve gone through periods during my pregnancies when water just seems horrible. I typically guzzle at least 80 oz. a day but struggle with 8 oz. of plain water during pregnancy. This is not ideal. We need a lot of water during pregnancy! Our body is made mostly of water, and our baby floats in it and is protected by fluid. That blood volume expansion requires a lot of fluid. Typically, recommendations say to drink at least 64 oz. of water a day. During pregnancy, that increases to 96 oz. a day. And as mama and baby grow, they both need more water. So what to do? In an effort to increase both fluids and protein, I like collagen water; Vital Proteins makes a nice lemon-flavored one. Coconut water is another option, hydrating and providing key minerals. Adding a squeeze of lemon or lime to water to give it some flavor can help, as it will be alkalizing and hydrating. Sparkling or mineral waters can be a nice change of pace as long as the carbonation doesn’t bother you. A splash of pomegranate juice or other organic low-sugar juice of choice is a great way to trick yourself into consuming more water. You’ll want to mostly avoid sodas and beverages high in sugar and caffeine. And if you do enjoy a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea, make sure you drink extra water after. I also find I drink more out of a pretty cup with a straw versus a plain old cup…hey, whatever works!

We need a lot of water during pregnancy! Our body is made mostly of water, and our baby floats in it and is protected by fluid. That blood volume expansion requires a lot of fluid.

Sleep Well

Talk about easier said than done! Pregnancy insomnia is definitely real. I’ve found it ebbs and flows throughout the pregnancy. Some nights simply aren’t good ones, and that can just be par for the course. Worry is the work of pregnancy, and often our anxiety and fears really come to life just as we are feeling exhausted and ready to doze off. And then there is that bladder that seems to need to empty every two hours, the hips that get sore when you lay on them, and the pregnancy pillows that just don’t seem to support the right places…sleep while pregnant can be, well, exhausting!

So, what to do? The best thing you can do is set yourself up for success the best you can. Try not to eat a large meal too close to bedtime so you aren’t dealing with heartburn or reflux when you lay down. Ten minutes of gentle yoga stretching, especially targeted at your hips, can make all the difference in getting through the night. Anything that soothes or calms you in the evening is a good idea. This could be tea, like chamomile, a warm epsom salt bath, taking magnesium around dinner or bedtime, or maybe using essential oils topically or in a diffuser to help you wind down and ease any worries that are creeping in.

Making sure you limit your screen time before bed is really important. Between the lights of devices and the constant bombardment of news and events and ads through social media and email, screen time near bedtime is a sure fire way to mess with your sleep.

Having the right physical support for your body is also important. Not only will it help you get better quality sleep, but the right sleep postures can help ensure proper pelvic alignment, which will feel good and also help your baby be in the best position. I’ve found traditional pregnancy pillows a bit too bulky, especially for my neck. I use my regular pillow under my head, and when I’m on my sides, a down pillow between my knees and a Boppy wedge under my belly. Now, I typically wake up with the wedge and any extra pillows on the floor, but at least part of the night, I have that support. The common advice to only sleep on your left side is a bit misguided. Listen to your body! If sleeping on your left side is the only way you are comfortable, then go for it. But if you are comfortable on your right side or even on your back, it’s okay! Your body will wake you up feeling nauseous, or light headed, or short of breath if your back or right side is a no-go. So get cozy and get those zzzs while you can!

Magnesium is a smooth muscle relaxant and helps soothe the nervous system. We are commonly deficient in this important mineral, so for many mamas, supplementing with it is a great idea. You can use a powder like Natural Calm and sip on it before bed; you’ll absorb magnesium through your skin if you take an epsom salt bath, you could use a magnesium spray, lotion, or oil topically, or you can take a capsule. I like Ease magnesium spray, especially on sore or tight legs or feet, and I take Magnesium Caps by Life Extension. You’ll want to stay around 500 mg/day while pregnant. A typical prenatal dose only has about 50mg, so not nearly enough. Keep in mind that magnesium is a smooth muscle relaxant. So while it is wonderful to relax us and ease sore muscles, we need to keep in mind that the uterus is a smooth muscle, and we want it to be able to contract when it’s go time! For this reason, back off your magnesium supplements around 37 weeks. You can still take an epsom salt soak, and use topical sprays, and even take a bit here and there; just don’t overdo it!

Postpartum tip: Bring that mag right back postpartum to help with constipation and ease those early, scary bowel movements. That’s right, relaxing smooth muscles means easier poops! Magnesium is a great tool for anyone dealing with constipation.

Essential oils can also be a great tool. When it comes to using essential oils, two resources I like are Oil and Glass by Johonna and Yael and Gentle Babies by Debra Rayburn. They both have recipes for pregnancy, postpartum, and babies, as well as dos and don’ts for using oils safely. There is, of course, a ton of info about oils online, but I like a good ole reference book I can trust. I use Young Living Essential Oils and like a drop of Stress Away on my big toes before bed and a few drops of Gentle Baby in the diffuser before bed. Peace and Calming is another favorite.

If you are really struggling to fall asleep, there are safe homeopathics and herbs you can take that can be extremely helpful. It would be best to speak with your midwife or trusted provider about which herbs/remedies would be right for you. For me, Rescue Remedy is a staple during pregnancy and postpartum, that and a few drops of a lemon balm tincture in a glass of water keeps me feeling balanced and calm.

Move Well

How much you move and exercise during your pregnancy depends on many factors. While we don’t want to succumb to the real urge to eat junk and sit on the couch all the time, we also don’t want to push our bodies to depletion. It’s a constant balancing act, and every week can be different. I find it to be a tricky art form, especially if I set out a fitness plan for myself and then don’t follow it. Am I being lazy? Or am I really just tired and need to rest? Getting in tune with what your body needs is so important.

The best advice is to continue whatever exercise routine you had before you got pregnant. If you are a runner and it feels good to run, keep at it. Taking classes at the gym that you enjoy? Keep going! You will hit a point where your body tells you it is time to modify or do less; listen to that! If some type of yoga or stretching is not already part of your routine; I highly recommend adding it in. There are loads of options for online prenatal yoga if you don’t have a local class to take. Spinning Babies is an excellent resource and has a Daily Essentials stretching routine that will help ease aches and pains as well as help you prepare for labor. If you didn’t have a workout routine before pregnancy, it’s not a good time to decide to become a runner or a cross fitter! But you can do plenty of activities like walking, gentle hiking, yoga, and swimming. There are some great online resources like Birthfit and Mama Beasts where you can learn pregnancy-safe workouts. Check out the Birthfit YouTube channel for the birth fit basics, which are very helpful during pregnancy and postpartum.

No matter where your fitness level is currently, know that it will change during pregnancy. Try to let go of any ideas around how much weight you will or will not gain and know that your body is going to look different after you have your baby. You are a superhero with the power to create life! Embrace that and try to nourish your body and move it appropriately. You’re beautiful and strong, mama.

De-stress

Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the power to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, right?! When it comes to managing stress, it’s another balancing act. We have just dealt with several years of global stress—talk about out of our control! So do your best to take care of yourself and your family, and try to keep external stressors to a minimum. I’d advise not watching much or any of the news. I can feel my blood pressure rising even with a quick scroll through a news feed on my phone. If you are having a high risk or stressful pregnancy, it really is okay to go inward and just do what you need to do. The outside world will still be there, with all its chaos, when you’re ready to emerge!

Have strategies available to you that work to help you manage stress when it comes your way. A lot of the things that help us with sleep will double as stress relievers. Exercise, even gentle exercise, is a great way to move energy and help mitigate the effects of stress. And eating well, sleeping well, and moving well will help you navigate even the biggest mental hurdles. Journaling and meditation can also be helpful tools if those things resonate with you. There are loads of options online for pregnancy meditations. A good therapist who regularly works with pregnant and postpartum women is always a nice addition to your team.

Get Adjusted

Many mamas don’t realize that chiropractic care during pregnancy can be so beneficial. Personally, I can’t imagine going through a pregnancy without regular adjustments! Not only is care during pregnancy safe and will help alleviate aches and pains, getting adjusted will help you prepare for birth. Having a balanced pelvis means your baby is more likely to get into a good position for birth. Studies have actually shown a decrease in labor time for mamas who are under regular care throughout their pregnancy. Headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, heartburn, reflux, and nausea can all improve with regular care. Why? When your body is aligned and your nervous system is functioning at its best, your body will do what it is naturally meant to do, which is to be healthy. While so many of these pregnancy complaints are common, I wouldn’t call them normal. You should be able to eat and sleep comfortably and move about your day without pain, even with a cantaloupe-sized baby growing inside! A balanced nervous system will adapt to stress easier too. Make sure you seek out a Webster-certified prenatal chiropractor who regularly sees pregnant women. Another benefit is that your prenatal chiropractor will be able to give you local resources for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, as well as appropriate referrals to things like physical therapy if you need it. It takes a village, and you won’t regret having a good chiropractor as a part of yours. Enjoy mama! You’ve got this!