As humans, when we find out that we are going to be parents, we sometimes tend to want to hoard all the information we can get our hands on. This is especially true for first time parents, who are diving into a whole new world headfirst, but it is also true of parents who have other children. You’d be surprised how new everything can feel when there has been a few years in between! There are so many different choices to make as an expecting parent. You may find yourself leaning toward more natural options. While the first thing that may come to mind when you think of “natural pregnancy” may be a home birth, that is not the only way to achieve a holistic pregnancy.
While the birth or the 38-week baby bump tends to get all of the spotlight, your first trimester is just as important as any other milestone, and in some ways, it is the most important. The first trimester is the perfect time to set the tone for your mind and body during your pregnancy. Your everyday habits matter, and the sooner that you begin to take care of yourself and your body, the sooner your baby will reap the benefits.
The first and most important step to setting any goal is to think about what you want and pinpoint exactly why. Your “why” is what will motivate and inspire you and keep you going on your path. Instead of jumping right in with no prior planning, really think about your desires for your pregnancy. Something that is important to keep in mind is that 80-90% of mothers have some sort of medical intervention during labor. There is no rule book that says that your pregnancy isn’t natural enough if something doesn’t go according to plan, or if you choose a “less natural” option because it is what works best for you. Don’t allow yourself to become easily discouraged, instead, show yourself some grace as your body works hard to protect and nourish your baby. If you expect perfection, you may find yourself disappointed if things don’t go the way you originally intended. By keeping a goal or a clear “why” in mind, you will find it easier to keep your vision in your line of sight and make it a reality.
One of the first things that you can do once you find out that you’re expecting, or even before you conceive, to ensure a healthy start for you and baby is to start taking a prenatal vitamin daily. During pregnancy, your baby will constantly steal your vitamins, whether you have extra or not. Taking a prenatal will ensure the baby receives all of the needed nutrients, even if they are missing from mom’s diet. If you are meeting each of your nutrient requirements through your diet, consider it an extra boost! When you’re shopping for a prenatal vitamin, there are some important ingredients you’ll want to look for, such as iodine, vitamin D, calcium, choline, B vitamins, iron, folate, and Omega-3 fatty acids. For parents that adhere to a vegan lifestyle, there may be unwanted ingredients in some brands of prenatal vitamins, such as gelatin, lanolin, carmine (also known as Red-4), and magnesium stearate. However, there are multiple brands of plant based prenatal vitamins available on convenience store shelves as well.
When we say a pregnant person is “eating for two,” we often consider the quantity rather than the quality of the food. When cravings set in, it can be hard to fight them off. And hey, you’re going to gain weight anyway, right? As tempting as it is to eat a dozen donuts and a bag of dill pickle flavored potato chips, it isn't a meal that will nourish your body. One of the best “natural choices'' that you can make on behalf of your child is to eat well during pregnancy. A diet rich in protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats is essential to eating balanced meals. Not only will you feel better, but your baby will receive all of the nutrients necessary to grow and thrive. Some foods that should be avoided during pregnancy are raw or undercooked seafood, deli meat, processed meats such as hot dogs, and some types of dairy including mold-ripened soft cheese. Some parents opt for a plant-based diet, which may find them being met with criticism from family, coworkers, or even doctors. Despite this, a vegan diet doesn’t lack any of the essential nutrients and offers many benefits, including a lowered risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and neural tube defects.
There are so many benefits to getting exercise that have nothing to do with losing weight, especially during pregnancy. Many symptoms can be relieved through exercise, including backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling. Getting regular exercise can also help you sleep better and help to elevate your mood and energy levels. During the first trimester, any extra energy helps! If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ve likely had to decrease your caffeine intake. On top of that, morning sickness and the constant urge to sleep for days at a time can be draining. You can get an extra boost from walking, prenatal yoga, and other exercises that are safe for pregnancy. Prenatal yoga and different exercises can also prepare your body for labor and birth by promoting flexibility, mindfulness, and coping skills. A midwife or birth doula will often help the laboring person change positions to help birth progress. Being familiar with different positions and exercises before going into labor can be helpful knowledge. By participating in prenatal yoga, you may get an idea of what positions are most helpful in relieving aches, pains, and pressure.
Morning sickness is the most infamous pregnancy symptom of the first trimester. While some may have morning sickness throughout their entire pregnancy, it is common to only experience it during the first 13 weeks. Morning sickness can cause issues with eating and even be painful. Expecting mothers with excessive vomiting that impacts their ability to keep food and liquids down may be diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, which may require hospital treatment. While doctors often prescribe medication for nausea in pregnant women experiencing morning sickness, many women prefer a more natural option. Peppermint and ginger are both known to relieve nausea, and can be greatly beneficial to pregnant women in the first trimester. When using ginger to treat morning sickness, only consume it in the form of a food or drink. Large doses of ginger can cause uterine cramping. A ginger ale or a cup of ginger tea would be an appropriate amount. Peppermint tea is wonderful for nausea as well as headaches due to the cooling effect that stems from menthol.
To make this one really simple, reach out to your doctor or midwife and ask what medications are safe for pregnancy. If you take any prescription medication, be sure to verify that it is safe for pregnant women. Your doctor may need to switch you to a different prescription or discontinue the medicine altogether. Many over-the-counter meds such as cold, cough, and allergy medications as well as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are not recommended. The most recommended OTC medication for expecting parents is Tylenol. Although new pediatric studies claim that taking Tylenol during pregnancy can cause ADHD and autism in children, there is no evidence to support this. OTC medications are not welcomed as much with parents who choose the natural route as they are filled with unnecessary ingredients such as dyes and preservatives. They are also known to cause liver issues and are not recommended for long term usage. Even if you choose herbal medicine, you still need to talk to your doctor or midwife before taking any medication. Some herbs can create issues, including Mugwort, which is an abortive.
Another way to achieve a holistic first trimester is to trade out harsh cleaning products for more natural options or even homemade cleaners. Many of the cleaning supplies on shelves are filled with chemicals that can cause all sorts of health issues, including fertility struggles and a higher risk of miscarriage. One of the most toxic commonly used household cleaning products are dryer sheets. Making your own natural cleaning products at home is not only easy and an effective way to cut costs at the store, but you also get the confidence of knowing exactly what is in the cleaners. For example, hand and dish soap can be made very easily simply by diluting natural castile soap in water. All purpose cleaners can be quickly created with a combination of apple cider vinegar and baking soda.
While dyes and fragrances found in household products can be irritating, chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA) can cause much more harm. BPA is found in plastic water bottles, tupperware containers, and cans. BPA is considered to be an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it can affect the balance of your hormones. This can also affect fetal development. The risk of children being exposed to toxic BPA is so widely recognized that it is illegal to use the chemical in the manufacture of bottles and cups for babies and infants. To reduce your BPA exposure, you can opt for stainless steel or glass rather than plastic. If you do choose to use plastic food storage containers, never heat food in them. When drinking something hot, refrain from pouring it into a plastic cup as it brings a greater risk of BPA contamination.
Much like cleaning products, many personal care products are filled with harmful chemicals. Phthalates is a common chemical found in products such as laundry detergent, toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and cosmetics. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors just like BPA. Like many other chemicals, phthalates are linked to infertility in not only women but also men. Many different brands pride themselves in being free from these chemicals, so making a switch only takes a little bit of research, label reading, and mindful shopping.
No one enjoys being sick, but there is of course an added layer of anxiety when your body is housing another human being. The only good thing about getting a cold while pregnant is this: a common cold virus does not reach the placenta. While it may not change the fact that you have a runny nose and a sore throat, your baby won’t get sick. Now that you have that relief, what can you do about that awful cough? Many decongestants are not considered safe to be taken during pregnancy. Tylenol (also known as acetaminophen) is most often recommended for pain relief and fevers. There are a number of natural options that many parents recommend, including drinks such as teas or raw apple cider vinegar, or tools such as a nasal dilator, a humidifier, or a neti pot. A very commonly used natural cold medicine is elderberry syrup, which can be bought or made at home. Elderberry syrup boosts your immune system and is safe for children to use as well.
If you think about it, there are a lot of places and ways to give birth. Women have given birth in cars, in elevators, and even at Disneyland! While most mothers opt to give birth in a traditional hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses, others desire a more personal experience and may choose to give birth at home instead. Where one parent may find comfort in being at a hospital, others may find the sterile room and harsh fluorescent lighting to be uncomfortable. Some may fear birthing at home, while others find the lack of medical intervention and comfort of home to make their birthing experience more peaceful. Many parents may be torn between their desire for a birth with few interventions and a homelike environment and their inability to give birth in their own home, whether due to lack of space or equipment. Birth centers are run by midwives rather than OB-GYNs, and they do not administer pitocin, epidurals, IV fluids, or other medical interventions that are standard practice in a hospital setting. Birth centers are also known for having a lower rate of cesarean births than hospitals, as well as lower rates of instrument-assisted and preterm births. Experiences at birth centers also less often result in induction, vaginal tearing, and babies being admitted to the NICU (the neonatal intensive care unit.) While you still have time to make this decision, there are a lot of things to consider, so getting an early start never hurts.
Massage therapy has many benefits. During pregnancy, many midwives recommend seeing a therapist that specializes in prenatal massage as they know what positions to avoid and where not to apply pressure. Not only can prenatal massage provide some relaxation that mothers in the first trimester could definitely use, but it also improves circulation, decreases swelling, and regulates hormones. This can be of great benefit in early pregnancy as your body adjusts to the influx. Massage therapy is also shown to reduce stress, which can be detrimental to a growing fetus if levels are too high.
It is extremely easy to be swept up into motherhood. One thing that is important to remember is that you can’t pour from an empty cup. As mothers, we sometimes find ourselves feeling guilty for doing things for ourselves. The truth is that our children would prefer happy mothers. If going to a local nail salon for a pedicure or taking yourself out on a lunch date makes you feel good, do it. Spend time with your friends. As busy as life can get, being able to look back on your pregnancy with fond memories with your loved ones is something to cherish. Catch up on sleep, start the new Netflix series you’ve been dying to watch but haven’t had time for, or pick up a new book and read it cover to cover. No matter what “self care” looks like to you, do it. It doesn’t always have to be face masks and lattes.
There are countless choices to make during your 40-week journey with your growing little one, and more choices may take place in the first trimester than what you had imagined. It may be overwhelming, but at the end of the day, mothers know best. Follow your intuition. If something tells you to ditch those icky chemicals underneath the kitchen sink for a less toxic blend of apple cider vinegar and baking soda, make the switch. If you are feeling called to developing a more nourishing palate or attending one prenatal yoga class a month, don’t let fears or doubts stand in your way. Do not take this article as a checklist that must not be left with an empty box. Making natural choices during pregnancy does not have to be an all or nothing. What matters most is the curiosity that drives you to analyze your options and come to an educated decision.