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First of all, if you are pregnant, CONGRATULATIONS! This is a super exciting time, but whether this is your first or fifth little one it can be a little stressful at times too. I am preggo with our first baby – A BOY! – and wanted to share some things that helped me get through the first trimester and some things that I wish I knew from the beginning.
Though I am a doctor, I am not YOUR doctor, so please consult your physician if you have any medical concerns.
1. Have a support system
We are always told not to share our pregnancy news until we are in the second trimester because of the high risk of pregnancy loss. (1 in 5 women will suffer a miscarriage before 12 weeks gestation.) However, I think it is really important to have a few people who are in on the secret from the beginning that you can share your fears, hopes, and mishaps with. You aren’t supposed to get through this on your own – it is important to have a support system!
You might have some weird pregnancy symptoms that you want to ask your best friend about, you might need extra help around the house, or you might need some accommodations at work. It’s nice to be able to text someone just to complain about how tired pregnancy is making you or to ask if that ache in your side seems normal or not. I have provided prenatal care to many women and delivered over 100 babies myself but I STILL had things I wanted to talk to a friend about. Find some people in your life you can confide in and you trust to keep your exciting news to themselves and let them share in this special time with you!
2. Figure out how to deal with morning (or night!) sickness
I don’t think I got nauseous in the morning at all. I’m not sure if I was just lucky or if I happened to be really good about eating first thing in the morning, which helped to keep the nausea at bay. I basically ate an English muffin every single day as soon as I woke up – either with cream cheese and strawberry jam or an egg and some cheese on it – and it helped calm my stomach.
The times that I DID get extremely sick happened to be at night. Especially if it had been a few hours since I last ate. So my advice to you is keep your belly full as much as you can by eating a little something (even just a cracker!) as soon as you get up and having healthy snacks regularly throughout the day.
Some other tips for outsmarting morning sickness:
- Stay hydrated – during pregnancy you should be drinking at least 12 8oz. glasses of water a day. You need more fluid than usual as your blood volume is increasing. Sip on fluids slowly throughout the day because it may be difficult to take in large volumes at once.
- Suck on a natural ginger candy such as Tummydrops or try the fruit flavored Preggy Pop Drops. A friend bought these for me and they were incredible! (Thanks Jess!) I personally couldn’t handle the strong ginger taste of the Tummydrops but some people swear by them and the Preggy Pop Drops taste delicious. Ginger tea works as well! Just make sure it is caffeine free or fits into your caffeine allotment for the day (about 200mg).
- Try a sea band! These combine acupressure with essential oils to help settle your stomach during pregnancy.
- Listen to your body and eat what you can (within reason!) For me, vegetables were pretty much out of the question in the first trimester but I am trying to make up for that now.
- Avoid fatty or spicy foods and eat more protein. For some people, eating meat, such as chicken, is not appetizing at this point in pregnancy so you can try alternative sources of protein such as eggs, cheese (make sure it is pasteurized!), milk, yogurt, peanut butter, spinach, or beans.
If you are vomiting every day, unable to keep down food or fluids, losing weight, or feeling dehydrated or dizzy, you may have a more serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum and you should see your doctor right away.
3. Take a Prenatal Vitamin
With morning sickness it can be hard to keep down regular prenatal vitamins, which are hard on the tummy. Gummy vitamins are easier for a lot of people to digest. I have been taking SmartyPants prenatal vitamins, not only because they have an amazing name, but they also contain L-methylfolate instead of the usual folic acid.
Folate is one of the most important nutrients for pregnant women because it is needed to produce new cells.
Your tiny little one is a growing bundle of new cells!
Most prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, which is a synthetic form of folate. In order to use this nutrient, our bodies have to convert folic acid to methylfolate and most of the time our bodies kind of stink at doing this.
L-methylfolate is readily bioavailable and ensures that you and your baby get all the folate you need every day.
SmartyPants vitamins also have Omega-3 DHA and EPA, which are important for healthy brain development, and Vitamin K, which helps build strong healthy bones along with the usual suspects – Calcium and Vitamin D. As an extra bonus, SmartyPants has the MK-7 form of Vitamin K2, which is rarely found in the Western diet and lasts longer than other forms of Vitamin K in the blood stream.
(((I swear this isn’t a paid advertisement!)))
It is important to note that the SmartyPants vitamin does not have iron in it so you may need an additional iron supplement. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) states that there is not enough evidence to support iron supplementation in pregnant women who do not have anemia – so you should discuss this with your doctor. Iron may cause constipation and tummy troubles. So if you are already dealing with these lovely pregnancy complications and you are taking a vitamin containing iron your vitamin may be making your symptoms worse. Please talk to your doctor about this. And again – stay hydrated!
Whatever you do, don’t take your vitamins on an empty stomach because this would make even a non-preggo get queasy!
4. Stay Active
Staying active is so so important for your energy levels, mental health, and to keep your pregnancy weight gain in check! If you were active before pregnancy you should continue doing workouts that you enjoy within reason. Generally, activities where you risk falling and injuring yourself or the little one growing inside of you are considered off-limits (i.e., horseback riding, skiing, surfing, mountain biking). Scuba diving is also a no-no during pregnancy because babies in the womb are not protected from the harmful effects of pressure changes during scuba diving – so skip this activity if you are going on a babymoon!
If you weren’t active before pregnancy in most situations it is not only okay, but encouraged to start exercising! Please speak with your physician before beginning an exercise regimen. Some good activities to try are walking, yoga, swimming, or light weight lifting.
When exercising, try not to lie flat on your back after the first trimester for too long because this can compress a major blood vessel called the vena cava and decrease blood flow to your heart and to your growing baby.
Also, it is generally not recommended to do abdominal exercises such as crunches or sit-ups after the first trimester. Try incorporating planks to strengthen your core instead.
Make sure to stay hydrated.
Don’t work out in high heat and humidity.
Talk to your doctor about your exercise regimen.
And most importantly…
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.
I have been doing CrossFit for the past 4 years or so and I have continued it throughout my pregnancy without any issues whatsoever. On top of that, I was a runner in college and have been very active since then.
Just last week I started a workout and was running just to warm up and I started having some crampy pain in my pelvis. Instead of running through it, which I normally would have because I am pretty stubborn, I sat down (and cried for a quick minute partially because it was scary and partially because I was overwhelmed by all the crazy changes my body is going through!) and it passed in a few minutes.
The baby and I are totally fine, and I am back to working out, but you absolutely have to listen to your body and stop when something doesn’t feel right.
In contrast, yesterday I was able to do burpee box jumps for 7 minutes straight without any discomfort at all. Some days you win and some days you lose!
I know a lot of inspiring women who have done super intense workouts such as CrossFit or kept up with high volume running schedules while pregnant and delivered BEAUTIFUL healthy babies. Do what feels right to you, don’t take unnecessary risks, and talk to your doctor.
5. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!
Hydration is always important but it is WAY more important when you are pregnant. During pregnancy your blood volume increases by 50%! You also need fluids to carry nutrients throughout your body, flush out toxins, form amniotic fluid and build new tissues.
Drinking fluids can help ease constipation, reduce the risk of a urinary tract infection, decrease swelling, help combat dry skin and decrease the risk of preterm labor! You also need to be well hydrated in order to absorb water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin B6, B12, riboflavin, nicotinic acid, and ascorbic acid.
Try to get at least 12 cups of fluids each day, and if it is hot or you are exercising (which we hope you are!) you will need even more. You should aim to drink enough that your urine is light yellow or colorless and you should not feel thirsty.
6. Avoid foods that can be dangerous in pregnancy
- Alcohol – there is no amount known to be safe in pregnancy so it is best to avoid alcohol altogether…sorry!
- Excessive amounts of caffeine. Caffeine should be limited to 200mg – about 12oz of coffee – per day during pregnancy
- Raw meat
- Deli meat including ham, turkey, roast beef, hot dogs, bologna, prosciutto, salami and pepperoni (unless you heat it until it is steaming)
- Fish containing high levels of mercury such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tile fish
- Smoked seafood
- Raw shellfish
- Raw eggs due to potential exposure to salmonella. Watch out for foods made with raw eggs such as raw cookie dough, hollandaise sauce, homemade Caesar dressing, mayonnaise, and homemade ice cream or custards
- Unpasteurized soft cheeses including brie, Camembert, Roquefort, feta, Gorgonzola, and Mexican style cheeses including queso blanco and queso fresco unless they clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk
- Unwashed vegetables
7. Take Care of Your Skin
Hopefully everyone gets to experience the glow of pregnancy! However, many people also deal with dry skin, more breakouts than usual, and those dreaded stretch marks. In general, you should avoid acne products containing salicylic acid, hydroxy acids, or any type of retinoid. You should also steer clear of Botox. Most makeup, sunscreen, over-the-counter topical steroid creams and lotions that remove hair chemically are considered safe.
It seems like everyone has their opinion on the best products out there to prevent stretch marks. Here are my two cents:
The #1 thing you can do to avoid stretch marks is to gain the appropriate amount of weight at the appropriate pace during your pregnancy.
Unfortunately, you can’t control your genetics but you can control how quickly you put on the baby weight. You should discuss what your optimal weight gain is with your doctor.
Okay, so of course I am also trying some lotions and potions even though there is no proof that these work! One that I love is Burt’s Bees Mama Bee Belly Butter. This is 99% natural with Cocoa, Shea, and Jojoba Butters and feels so so luxurious!
I have also been using Belli Elasticity Oil, mainly at night. It came in one of my monthly Bump Boxes (which was an amazing and thoughtful present from my mama!) and it is made with Lavender, Grapeseed, Sunflower Seed, and Sweet Almond Oils as well as Vitamin E and Cocoa Butter. I swear the smell of the Lavender puts me right to sleep at night! One of my beautiful, talented, and brilliant physician friends who is a few weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy swears by Bio-Oil. I might give this one a try next – it’s definitely fun to pamper yourself!
8. Get enough sleep
Of course, I thought I was going to be this rock star pregnant woman who wasn’t ever tired and could just go about life as usual (come on! I made it through med school and residency and fellowship – how hard could this really be?!). In fact, I tried to work MORE than usual to save up some cash so I could stay home longer after our little man is born (I don’t get any paid maternity leave or sick time – but that’s a whole other topic).
I was working 70-80 hours a week during flu season and guess what?? I got the flu. Lack of sleep and pregnancy both lower your immune system so I set myself up with a double whammy and I paid for it. I was just 8 weeks pregnant with fevers, chills, body aches and a cough so bad I was literally scared I would cough the baby out. Yes, even doctors have these crazy fears!
I was put on bed rest for three days and only allowed to get up to go to the bathroom. My hero of a husband took such good care of me and dealt with my random crying outbursts like a champ. The whole time I thought for sure the baby wouldn’t make it. This wasn’t a Netflix and chill weekend in bed – it was terrifying and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Lesson learned. Don’t overdo it. Listen to your body. Take care of yourself. And get sleep!
Some things that can help you rest up during pregnancy:
Nap when you can
Not only are you growing a baby, but during the first trimester the placenta is also developing. Your body is doing a lot of work! Your body also only releases the highest levels of growth hormone while you are sleeping – this helps stimulate growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration. Nap when you can, and sleep an hour or two extra when you can fit it in. Rest more on the weekends. Don’t overcommit yourself.
Invest in a Snoogle
Right now I have been using a small pillow between my knees and my hubby’s shoulder as a makeshift Snoogle but I have my actual Snoogle ready and waiting next to the bed for when my belly gets too big for this to be comfortable like anymore. I have heard nothing but good reviews about it and it can also be used after the baby is born for nursing positioning. I have another friend who used five (yes 5!) pillows to get herself cozy for bed, so whatever it takes to get comfy– do it!
9. Do the best you can and ask for help when you need it
When things get overwhelming, which they will, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are definitely days where I feel like I can’t grow a baby, be a caring doctor, do the laundry, get a healthy dinner on the table, give our pups the attention they deserve, work out, take out the trash, spend some quality time with the hubs, and keep the house looking even remotely presentable…and I definitely struggle with thinking I somehow have to do it all. Must be my Type A personality but it’s really hard for me to ask for help, especially since Ty is not only in medical school but studying for boards right now. (He’s a rock star!)
I’ve finally accepted that I can’t do all of it, but I can do some of it, some of it can wait, and shockingly…I can ask for help! Ty might not always be the best at taking initiative to do things (sorry babe!) – but when I ask him to help with something specific – like cleaning the dishes or putting some food in the crock pot – it usually gets done before I can bat a pretty little eyelash. Our loved ones want to help so don’t be too stubborn to ask for what you need. They aren’t mind readers.
10. Don’ t forget that at the end of all of this there will be a little one!
Every time you are feeling overwhelmed, nauseous, exhausted, or want to cry for absolutely no reason at all, put your hand on your belly and remind yourself what all of this is for. Your little one is growing in there! Think of what it will feel like to finally hold him in your arms, watch him grow, read to him, teach him the ins and outs of life, and see his smile – it will make the rough days much much easier to bear.