Everything You Need To Know About Pregnancy, From A Doula

18

May

Today I’m excited to kick off a new series with my friend Kelly Newsome Georges. Kelly’s a mom to a toddler and a newborn, doula and a postpartum wellness teacher. She recently launched Ritual Care — an online space for moms to learn about early motherhood through online courses, private coaching and dreamy retreats in France. I really wish this resource was around when I was struggling through those first few months of motherhood and can’t wait to see what’s to come for Ritual Care and Kelly!

So, we’ll start at the beginning and  today Kelly’s sharing all of her knowledge and insight about pregnancy!

I’m pregnant, now what? What are the first few things a woman should do when she realizes she’s pregnant? 

First, breathe. This is big (no pun intended), and any actions are better done when you’re calm. :) 

Also, book a “confirmation of pregnancy” appointment with your health care provider. This is usually done at 6 weeks or later, and will get you started with proper maternity care. 

Finally, start taking the best care of yourself, if you aren’t already. Give yourself good, wholesome food. Drink lots of fresh, clean water.  Enjoy exercise that isn’t overly taxing (your doctor can advise you more on this later). Avoid alcohol, smoking, drugs, etc. 

And extremely important: let yourself feel what you feel and get support accordingly. If you’re elated, awesome! Tell your partner or a best friend, and rejoice every 5 minutes. If you’re terrified, that’s okay, too. Find a trusted confidante — or dust off your journal —  and give yourself some space to share some of those hard-to-process emotions. There’s no one “right” response to pregnancy. In fact, it’s often a mix of emotions — happiness, overwhelm, surprise — and that’s how motherhood is, too! Start riding the emotional roller coaster with awareness and support, now.

What are your favorite pregnancy books? 

I love anything by Penny Simkin — I find them practical and middle-of-the-road between “medical” and “crunchy.” Pregnancy, Birth, and the Newborn and The Birth Partner are my favorites. I also like Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

Let’s talk diet! What do you recommend your clients avoid and increase in their diet while pregnant? Any favorite snacks or recipes? 

Ooh, good one! 

Here’s the thing. If you Google “what to eat during pregnancy,” you’re going to find all sorts of advice. 

With regard to what to cut out, experts often say to avoid soft, unpasteurized cheeses and milk products, unwashed veggies and fruits, sushi and raw shellfish, raw meats and deli cold cuts, fish high in mercury (e.g., tuna, shark), raw eggs (like that used to make fresh Caeser salad dressing), caffeine, and alcohol. This is because some of these foods can increase your chance of getting food-born illness from bacteria (e.g., salmonella, listeria, toxoplasmosis). 

That said, common sense is key here. You absolutely need to make sure you wash your produce well, and you should steer clear of raw products from unknown sources. I remember hearing someone say once “never buy your food at the same place you fill your gas tank” — so, I wouldn’t recommend picking up a spicy tuna roll from the local gas station! But if your girlfriends are going to a phenomenal, reputable sushi restaurant, you don’t have to skip it — consider ordering an option that’s low in mercury, or play it totally safe and get the veggie or cooked salmon roll.

Personally, I ate raw sushi throughout both of my pregnancies — I was just extremely careful about the quality of the restaurant. I also drank wine occasionally in my second and third trimesters. (In France, where my husband is from (and where we live half of the year), it isn’t unheard of to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time.) 

Always check with your doctor and do your research… then go with your gut. Literally!

As for what to increase — NUTRIENTS! Focus on nutrient-dense meals, as opposed to low-fat or low-calorie. Your body is building a whole person, and it’s important that you get sufficient calories, protein, and fat (especially for healthy muscles and brain tissue). Some of my favorites are avocados, high-quality salmon (look for wild-caught or responsibly farm-raised, on a good diet), Greek yogurt, unsalted, raw or roasted nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower), and a colorful selection of different veggies and fruits. Smoothies are an easy way to add veggies and fruits to your diet — just add dark leafy greens to your mix! (And if you aren’t sure how to get more vegetables in, I have a free, easy e-book available at  in the Free Library section).

When in doubt, supplement with a good prenatal vitamin, focus on eating different colors (and avoid the “tan” fried food plate), and stay hydrated, so that you know if you’re really hungry… or just thirsty. 

Your intuition is also a wise source of information during this time. Notice what you crave. Are you obsessed with tomatoes? Wanting extra salt? A vegan who’s got a taste for steak? These can be clues to what your body needs.

What about pre-natals? What’s your favorite kind and what should women think about when picking out a vitamin. 

Prenatal vitamins are a really personal choice. Your health care provider may even say it’s optional for you (like mine does). I choose to take Rainbow Light’s One-a-Day prenatal. There are a number of good options out there, but this was a simple one for me because it’s only once a day and it’s so easy to find — two priorities for my life. 

To find what works for you:

– look for something that is food-based

– ask your friends for tips (for instance, if you hate taking large pills, the one-a-day varieties may not be the best choice because they’re often larger)

– ask your provider or pharmacist for a sample that you can try before you commit to a bottle. 

Also, watch out for marketing and check the labels. You don’t necessarily need something that includes Omega 3s, for instance, because you might get a better value taking a separate supplement (or getting what you need from your fish intake!).

Exercise & the expecting mama. Should she still work out? How important is it to stay active? 

Absolutely! It’s important to stay active because regular exercise keeps your body healthy for both you and your baby. It also helps prevent excess weight gain during pregnancy (making complications less likely), and it keeps you fit for the “marathon” of labor and delivery. 

But I love movement most for the stress relief and mental/emotional support it provides. Exercise is a critical component for a good mind-body balance. It increases “happy” chemicals, such as endorphins (natural opiates), that help you feel awesome. In fact, one of my former Psychology professors, Tal Ben-Shahar, says “NOT exercising is like taking a depressant.” Personally, I’ve had postpartum depression with both of my kids, and exercise has made a massive difference in managing the symptoms!

Usually, you can either continue the exercise that your body did comfortably pre-pregnancy, modify your previous exercise regimen, or find a totally new way of moving that is fun and helps you stay fit. I love walking (especially in nature!), prenatal yoga, barre classes, and good, old-fashioned stretching. (Be careful not to overdo it, though — a pregnancy hormone called “relaxin” makes you more flexible than normal, so you’re more likely to injure yourself if you go to your new limit.) 

That said, in very rare cases, your provider may recommend that you stop exercising completely — but this is unlikely (and if it does happen, it’s usually later in pregnancy). Always check with your health care team before you begin any exercise during your pregnancy.

What are your favorite pregnancy resources online? 

There is a lot of good stuff online — but it can be so hard to find and overwhelming to wade through! 

Some of my favorites for pregnancy and/or postpartum are SpinningBabies.com, EvidenceBasedBirth.com, Mother.ly, Postpartum.netKellyMom.com and, for comic relief, ScaryMommy.com.  And, of course, I also share pregnancy resources on my own site, RitualCare.com

Stay away from the “chat forums” that are filled with fear and anxiety-ridden advice. Contributors often mean well, but that doesn’t mean it ends well for you.

What are some ways a mama can relax and unwind if she’s feeling anxious while pregnant? 

First, know that it’s normal. Pregnancy can bring up every fear you’ve ever had, every unresolved issue or unprocessed experience from your past. This happens often, and you can get through it!

Also, make self-care a top priority. This is easier said than done! My whole business seeks to help expecting and new moms take care of themselves in the most effective ways, and every mama has her own unique challenges. 

That said, some strategies are universal. We can all relax more by getting enough sleep (huge!). We should all consume balanced diets, exercise regularly, and drink enough fresh water. We can all also benefit from writing in a journal, and creating strong support networks around ourselves (yes, “self-care” can include other people!). 

You should also have more custom strategies, too. (If you only try random self-care ideas without figuring out what feels right for you, you’re more likely to quit!) I created a super-quick quiz, “What Self-Care Character Are You?” for this very reason. It only takes a few minutes, and it tells you your self-care profile, with strategic suggestions to help you keep self-caring.

When should a woman think about hiring a doula? Do you work with pregnant women in the earlier stages of pregnancy or not until later? 

As soon as possible! You don’t have to hire a doula in your first trimester, but good doulas have busy schedules and they often book far in advance, so start asking around for recommendations early. Plus, choosing the right doula is also a bit like dating — it takes time to find the right fit. It’s less stressful if you don’t rush it at the last minute.

When I worked as a traditional doula, I preferred to have clients book appointments in the second or very early third trimester if possible. Now that I no longer offer in-person doula services, I use my birth and postpartum training in my consulting and teaching work, with women in all stages of pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond.

What are some of the benefits of working with a doula?

So many! Three of the best benefits are: support, knowledge, and objectivity.

First, unwavering support. A doula’s job is to provide physical and emotional support unconditionally. Birth doulas support you during childbirth on-site, and postpartum doulas support you in the comfort of your home. Both are trained to know what new moms need. This kind of care can make a massive difference in your well-being. The right doula can help you achieve your “ideal” birth, or even help lessen the occurrence or impact of postpartum mood disorders.

Second, your own personal Google. I’m only half-kidding here. With a trained, experienced doula, you get a knowledgable professional on hand who can answer questions and offer suggestions to keep you comfortable during pregnancy and labor (for birth doulas) and after delivery (for postpartum doulas). This is incredibly helpful, because the learning curve for pregnancy and new parenthood is so steep! Some doulas even specialize in unique circumstances, such as high-risk births, VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), breech birth, moms who have past trauma, etc. 

Third, unbiased objectivity. This one is a bit more subtle, but think about it: your partner, your friends, your family — they all bring great intentions, but they also bring their own experiences and history to the table. It may be more difficult for them to give you educated, objective advice, or just their presence without offering answers. In contrast, doulas actively listen without interjecting their own “stuff,” and they’re trained to not take things personally. They offer a safe space where you can just be you, without worrying or withholding. You need your loved ones during the mama transition, but having an objective third person who brings a calm, worry-free presence is extremely valuable, too.

Any tips or tricks for combatting morning sickness? 

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof, one-size-fits-all way to get rid of morning sickness. But there are a number of options to try.

If you’re experiencing morning sickness, you can:

– eat small, appetizer-sized meals throughout the day

– snack on stomach-friendly, saltine-type crackers

– have a handful of raw almonds FIRST thing in the morning

– drink fresh ginger tea (try 1/4 cup of grated fresh ginger root boiled in 2-3 cups of water; strain and serve with honey if desired)

– talk to your health care professional about natural supplements, like papaya tablets in the morning (which control with stomach acid) or Vitamin B6

– invest in high quality, pure essential peppermint oil, dab a drop on your palms, and inhale throughout the day

– keep exercising (don’t overdo it, but a little exercise goes a long way with nausea)

– try acupuncture

And if home remedies don’t work, speak with a qualified naturopath for more natural ideas, or your doctor for a prescription medication.

One other option that I always suggest is “writing it out.” This can seem crazy to the mom who’s suffering from morning sickness, but nausea can often have emotional underpinnings (for instance, high anxiety about baby or giving birth). I’ve seen moms crack open a journal to explore and release their fears about pregnancy, labor, and motherhood, and then find that their morning sickness symptoms either reduce greatly or disappear altogether.

Morning sickness is a common part of pregnancy, but there are solutions that often give relief. Take good care of yourself, and take advantage of them!

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