Long gone are the days where we referred to pregnancy as a woman's confinement period and women were expected to stay indoors and do very little throughout. These days we're rightly proud to keep our lives running much as usual and see pregnancy as a normal, healthy part of life, rather than an illness. But it's easy to take this a little too far and end up over-doing things through a determination not to let pregnancy affect our normal routine. The fact is that your pregnant body is different and is working way harder than usual to make a healthy baby, so you do need more rest and relaxation than usual and that's nothing to feel guilty about. Here are some of the best ways to make sure you keep yourself stress-free throughout pregnancy, or to beat stress when it strikes.
1. Rest - When you're pregnant you need to get used to the idea that putting your feet up and simply doing nothing for a while is not a waste of time, but an important opportunity to relieve the physical stresses on your body and to give your mind a break. If you can it's best to take a break before you become so tired that you have no choice but to flake out on the nearest sofa, which is far harder if you're working or have other children to look after. Pregnancy definitely isn't the time to work through your lunch hour, and if need be then speak to your boss about adjusting your work load or making time for short breaks.
You might find that you become more fastidious about household cleaning when pregnant, but try not to let that growing pile of ironing stress you out. Your partner should take on a greater share of the household chores if possible, if not try asking family to help out, particularly if you're going through difficult times in pregnancy, or consider getting in a regular cleaner.
2. Exercise - When your body's aching and you're over-tired then exercise might be the last thing on your mind, but a bit of gentle exercise can really give you a mental and physical boost and be a great source of relaxation in pregnancy. Swimming is great, as is pregnancy yoga, which should cover relaxation techniques and breathing that may later come in handy during labour. Find out more about why and how to exercise in pregnancy here.
3. Fresh air and sunshine - While you might not count it as exercise, even just getting out of doors and into the fresh air for a short walk will give you a lift. If you spend most of your day indoors then try to get out at least once a day for a walk, even if it's only to go and get your lunch from a sandwich shop that's further away than the usual. Sunshine also improves your mood, and we don't often see that much of the rays in the UK, so so seize your chances to soak up a little when the sun does come out of hiding, but be sure to be take care to protect yourself in very hot or sunny weather.
4. Knowledge is power - When you first find out you're pregnant you'll probably have a mountain of questions, anxieties and concerns, particularly if it's your first baby. Arming yourself with information should help to put your mind at rest, help you cope with any pregnancy problems that do arise and get you mentally prepared for birth and life with a new baby. Your doctor or midwife will be able to address your medical and health questions and books and websites will be useful sources of all kinds of information. It's also a good idea to sign up for antenatal classes where you'll both be primed for coping with pregnancy discomforts, labour and the early weeks of parenthood, and have a chance to meet other future mums in your area who are due at a similar time.
5. A problem shared... -
It will probably help to discuss some of your concerns with your partner or others close to you. But, especially in the early days of pregnancy, your partner may not be able to relate to your voracious desire for pregnancy knowledge and for talking through all the issues it raises. Try not to be too disappointed if he doesn't seem to want to talk about it as much as you do, it's far more real to you than it is to him at the moment and for some men the enormity of what's about to happen doesn't really hit until they're holding their new baby in their arms. It can be a huge relief to share your concerns and experiences with friends who you know are pregnant, or who have children already and to be reassured that, whatever the pregnancy-related problem is, you're not alone. If your friends don't have children, or there are some things that you find it too difficult to discuss with people you know, or even just to seek out more people going through similar experiences to you, then try the ThinkBaby forum where mums to be support each other online.
6. Get wet - The healing power of water can be particularly relaxing during pregnancy. A simple shower can help ease aching limbs, but making time for yourself to soak in a warm, but not hot, bath is even better. Add aromatherapy oils (only those safe to use in pregnancy), candles and soft music for mental as well as physical relaxation.
We've already mentioned swimming as great for relaxing during pregnancy, and it's not just the fact that it's exercise, many women find simply being in water calming and relaxing and as your pregnant body gets heavier, the water helps support you and gives you a prized sensation of weightlessness.
7. Spa therapy - Going for spa treatments works on several levels to relax and de-stress you. First and foremost the treatments are specifically designed to ease both body and mind using water, massage, aromatherapy, music and a restful atmosphere. Secondly the very fact that you're taking time out to focus purely on yourself should perk you up. You'll need to make sure that whatever treatment you opt for is safe for pregnant women: saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms are out, along with the use of some aromatherapy oils and certain kinds of massage in early pregnancy. But even when you can't have a full massage in the early months of pregnancy, you can still reap the benefits of head, shoulder, arm, hand, leg and foot massage. And then there's still facials, manicures, and pedicures to give you a well-deserved boost.
8. Muscle relaxation - This takes some practice but can be well worth it for releasing tension that builds up in your muscles. Lie somewhere flat and comfortable, and if it helps you to relax then dim the lights and play some soft music. Starting with your hands, tense and then consciously relax individual sets of muscles on each side. When you relax each muscle try to relax it completely - combining the tensing and relaxing with your breathing will help - tense the muscle as you breathe deeply in, and then relax the muscle as you breathe out, allowing stresses and strains to drain out of your body. Work up your arms, through your shoulders to your jaw and face. Then work down through your torso and legs to your toes. Once you've mastered the art of deliberately relaxing your muscles it might come in very useful to help you settle to sleep at night.
9. Meditation - Pregnant or not, meditation is a great way to restore calm and is most effective when practised for at least half an hour, and the more often a week, then the better. Obviously, ensuring you get half an hour of undisturbed time can be quite a challenge, particularly if you have other children to care for, but perhaps you can take the chance when they go down for an afternoon nap, when they're settled into bed at night or when your partner takes over for a while. Find somewhere peaceful and quiet, maybe playing soothing music softly if it relaxes you, and then settle into a comfortable position. Start by focusing on your breathing, breathing deeply and slowly and make a conscious effort to release tensions and worries with each exhalation. Once you are settled then you can use any number of meditation techniques: perhaps imagining yourself in a beautiful, relaxing place, slowly developing a mental picture of your perfect restful location, or focusing on your baby, sending it extra oxygen with each breath and thinking positively about meeting your baby and your future life together. You might learn meditation techniques at a pregnancy yoga class, or there are many books with suggestions for meditation themes to try.
10. Indulge yourself - So much of your life will now be focused on preparing yourself for life with your new baby, and the attentions of family and friends may be so much on your baby that you might at times feel like little more than a walking incubator. Doing something that's just for you will make you feel good, and, of course, it's never just for you, because the better you feel, the better it is for the baby! Take the time to treat yourself, whether that's to seeing good friends, to the occasional beauty buy or that amazing pregnancy top that makes you feel sexy despite your growing bump.
If you can sort out a last holiday away together, or a series of weekend breaks then now's the time. If you have older children already then see if you can leave them with the grandparents for a weekend or even just overnight so that you can escape with your partner for a while. You needn't spend lots of money or go away together to nurture your relationship and relax in each other's company, setting aside an evening for a special meal or time for a weekend lie-in can be enormously relaxing - treats don't have to be big to be special and relieve stress.