Bubble baths are nice and have a place, but self-care is about so much more!
Nurturing, protecting and looking after yourself during your pregnancy can not only help you enjoy it and engage with it more, but it can provide you with a strong foundation and the tools to continue to care for yourself after your baby is born and long after.
Here are some ideas on how self-care can help you during your pregnancy.
Protect yourself from horror stories. People love to share their own stories, or tell you about someone else’s experiences, and this is great if they are positive and empowering. Sadly, though, the stories conveyed are often less than happy ones and can create or heighten anxiety. You can choose to walk away from these situations. A simple “thank you, I don’t think hearing about this will help me now but maybe you can tell me more after my baby is born” should be enough. Remember, your mental well-being is paramount – put yourself first!
Take advice with a grain of salt. Similarly, advice will be dished out left, right and centre from the minute you share your news. This will be mostly well-meaning and have its basis on things that helped the advice-giver. Yet, you are a different person with different needs and what worked for others may not work for you. Whatever you hear or read about, ask yourself if it resonates with you. You may want to delve into it a bit more by doing some reading or discussing it with your midwife.
Engage in your care. You are at the centre of your care, so never hesitate about asking questions or challenging the established status-quo. Asking what a test or procedure is for, why it is necessary, what the alternatives are and what risks are involved with it or with doing nothing, will help you feel and understand that you are, ultimately, the decision maker here. Go away and consider what works best for you and your family. What does your gut instinct say? Tailoring your antenatal care to your own needs is important. Try using a decision making tool such as BRAIN.
Hiring a doula may provide you with the emotional support, comfort and advocacy you need to feel heard, cared for and contained. Doulas do not provide clinical care but can be an invaluable emotional and practical help throughout your pregnancy, birth and beyond. Investing in their services can make all the difference to your journey of becoming a mother.
You may have already signed up to antenatal classes or joined online pregnancy forums or social media groups. These can all help you feel more informed during your pregnancy and give you a chance to share your hopes and fears, support others with theirs and enjoy a sense of belonging. Investing time building a support community will not only benefit you during your pregnancy, but it’ll be a long-term investment for the postnatal period, when women can often feel isolated and overwhelmed.
Talking about your feelings, fears, emotions and expectations can be an important part of your self-care. The ability to share our struggles with others and find recognition, validation and support can help to ease the overwhelm and stagnation that often accompany unresolved emotions and fear. You may want to confide in your support community, reach out to that one friend who is a true good listener or prefer to engage with one of the various talking therapies available via the NHS, different charities or privately.
A hypnobirthing course could be an invaluable experience to gift yourself (or accept from well-meaning relatives!). It may sound ‘faddy’, but hypnobirthing has been shown to significantly reduce fear and anxiety around birth. Many women report looking forward to their births after completing a hypnobirthing course. Releasing fears can make you feel more in control and empowered to make your own choices during your pregnancy and birth.
Exercise can be a very effective and accessible way to relieve aches and pains, improve sleep, enhance your mood, help with mental health, stimulate gut motility (relieve constipation) and tone your pelvic floor (the mesh of muscle that supports your pelvic organs).
What do you enjoy doing? What fits in with your routine? If you enjoy any outdoors activity, you’ll also reap the benefits of being in nature and breathing in fresh air.
Self-compassion. Did you know that our emotions and thoughts have an effect on our bodies, whether they are directed to ourselves or to others? When we care for ourselves, oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’ that is produced we hug someone we love) is released, making us feel safer, calmer, more connected, generous and trusting. This is why self-compassion can improve mental health and help reduce stress, while harbouring optimism and resilience.
Self-care in pregnancy can mean different things to different women. Acknowledging our own personal needs and responding to them is an important act of self-love. It can significantly improve our experience of pregnancy and set a standard for your future self-care.