Did you know that poor maternal health during pregnancy can cause babies to be born prematurely, and it can lead to various health issues for both mum and baby? That’s right; a mother’s wellbeing during pregnancy is not only important for the mum: it also has a direct impact on the health of her baby. But what exactly does wellbeing mean? Is it enough to eat well and look after your body, or are there other things to consider as well?
Wellbeing is a complex concept, but there are three main pillars: biological, psychological, and social wellbeing. This biopsychosocial perspective (I know, it’s quite a mouthful) gives us a good framework to use; so let’s take a look at these pillars one by one.
Biological wellbeing, or looking after your body: diet, exercise, sleep
You will find a lot of information about diet: what foods to eat and what to avoid in order to have a healthy baby. Recommendations will vary from country to country, but most will agree that raw meat and dairy should be avoided, such as soft cheese, sushi, shellfish, raw eggs, and of course alcohol. Cutting down on processed food as much as you can is also important. Things that come in packets, tins, and have a list of ingredients that we can’t pronounce, are not good for our health – and they’re not good for the baby, either. Choose real food that’s been cooked from scratch instead.
Exercise during pregnancy is not only important to prevent excessive weight gain, but also to keep fit and strong. You will need all your strength during labour and birth; and consciously preparing your body through gentle exercise can have a huge positive impact on your birth experience.
Sleep is something your body will absolutely crave, and rightly so. It takes tremendous work to create a human being and you will need lots of rest in order for your body to do its job. You will be tired a lot, and I’m not gonna lie: if you have a busy work schedule you’re likely to find this hard. Take lots of naps and catch up on sleep at every chance you can. At the later stages of pregnancy a good night’s sleep will be out of the question, but lots of rest and naps during the day will see you through.
Psychological wellbeing, or your emotional state: stress, work, relationships
While there’s lots of information out there about diet, exercise, and sleep, not many people talk about the importance of psychological wellbeing through pregnancy. But this pillar is just as important, because the emotional state of the mother during pregnancy directly affects the health of the baby.
Stress is a part of life and it’s impossible to shut it out completely; but try to minimise it as much as you can. Researchers are only just starting to understand the role stress plays in our health, and it looks like high stress hormone (cortisol) levels are to blame for a number of serious health issues. Stress hormones during pregnancy easily find their way into the baby’s system through the placenta and blood flow. This is not a problem if the mother only occasionally experiences a stressful situation; but if she is constantly stressed out because of a hectic job, or a bad relationship, or financial worries etc, then that can have adverse effects on the baby. These can include premature birth, low birth weight, developmental delays, reduced IQ, or health problems later in life.
Pregnancy and motherhood is a big responsibility: from now on every choice you make will affect not just you, but also another human being. If you need to make some changes in your life, make them now.
Your psychological state is very important. During pregnancy your happy hormones will also find their way into your baby’s system, so keeping yourself happy is now a top priority. What a wonderful excuse to do what you enjoy, right?
Social wellbeing, or the people around you: family, community, support
We are social beings who have a deep desire to belong and to feel connected to other people. Especially during pregnancy, a time of great changes and upheaval, you will want to feel supported. You will have tons of questions and the fear of the unknown will be very real – and very natural. This is when you need people who have got your back, people you can trust and can be completely honest with.
If you have your family, friends, and plenty of support around you, that’s fantastic. In this day and age however it’s rare to have the extended family living together, and everyone is busy with their own life anyway. People move around freely to different cities or even countries, which is great for your career, but not so great when you’re pregnant (or a new mum).
If you find yourself pregnant and without support, don’t worry; it’s time to create your own support network. Call on social media and check out local pregnancy groups. You’re sure to find other women who are in a similar situation, and you can connect and make friends with like-minded mums. Check out Facebook or meetup.com to see what’s available in your area – and if there’s nothing, why not start one yourself?
Being pregnant is not always easy; but conscious preparation and looking after yourself well can make your experience so much better. Look after your body, prioritise your happiness, and connect with people you can count on – that’s all you need for a healthy pregnancy.