Who’s Taking Care of YOU … Self-Care During Conception and Pregnancy

By: Valerie Mendels, L.Ac, Dipl.Ac, M.Ac.

As an acupuncturist specializing in fertility and pregnancy, one of the most important areas that I coach my patients in is caring for themselves. Whether you are trying to conceive, or you are already pregnant, in order to be optimally healthy during this special time you must raise your self-care to the highest level.

The word “self-care” might conjure up the nice things that one ideally would do for oneself: getting weekly acupuncture, taking a relaxing bath, meditating daily. These are all wonderful things (and of course, I am a big advocate of acupuncture for fertility and pregnancy support, as well as for self-care) but let’s discuss the absolute basics of self-care, the most fundamental things that you need to do: eating, drinking, and sleeping. Strange as it may seem, in our busy modern lives most of us have forgotten how to tend to these basics.

Lane_Mag_2015_Self_Care_ChartMaybe your life is made up of long days at the office or you are in a helping profession where you are busy caring for patients; perhaps you are at home taking care of a small child or you may have a high pressure job that includes lots of travel. Whatever your day to day life involves, it is easy when you are busy to ignore your body and push aside your own basic physical needs. Ask yourself how many of the self-care questions apply to you.

Most of us would answer yes to some or all of these questions, and realistically speaking it is quite “normal”, although not ideal, to neglect one’s needs in these ways when busy with a job, taking care of a child, or both.

But when you are trying to conceive or get pregnant, ignoring your body’s basic needs in this way can be quite harmful. Now is the time to do something new and actually start listening to your body! This means that when you are thirsty, don’t wait – DRINK. When you are hungry – EAT. When you are tired –REST or SLEEP. Sometimes, however, you may not hear your body’s signals (especially if you have been ignoring them for many years), so you also need to use your mind and your intention to remember to take care of yourself.

Remembering to eat

Your pre-pregnancy and pregnancy diet should be balanced, made up of whole foods (free of processed foods), nutrient dense, and organic. A healthy diet is a critical part of your self-care. To learn more, I recommend “Real Food for Mother and Baby” by Nina Planck.

An important goal should be to keep your blood sugar stable by avoiding refined sugar, and eating frequent small meals, or low-glycemic snacks between meals. Never skip breakfast, include some protein with every meal, and try not to go more than 4 hours (during your waking hours) without eating something, to prevent low blood sugar. Once you are pregnant, be sure to carry healthy snacks with you everywhere, so that when you suddenly get hungry, you always have something on hand. This does not mean that you will be eating more food than usual; you will be eating more frequently but having smaller meals.

By keeping your blood sugar stable, you can not only help to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, but you will also keep your cortisol (stress hormone) levels more stable, and help prevent adrenal fatigue.

Remembering to drink

As a general guideline the National Institutes of Health recommends, pregnant women need 8-10 glasses of water per day. In addition, 1 glass of water should be consumed for every hour of exercise. The NIH further confirms that most municipal water contains fluoride which can be helpful in the development of teeth and bones in the growing fetus. Be sure to get a water filter to purify your tap water, and also consider getting your water tested to determine whether there is any risk of heavy metal contamination. Studies have shown that water tainted with lead can result in spontaneous abortion, decreased stature and neurodevelopmental deficits in the growing fetus. Plastic bottles that leach harmful chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA) should also be avoided.

According to the principles of Chinese medicine, it is best to drink room temperature or warm water, and to avoid drinking cold water and ice water.

Remembering to sleep

When you are trying to conceive or are pregnant, sleep needs to become a high priority. If you have little ones at home who wake up during the night this may be a challenge, but do your best.

Here are a few suggestions to help you think about your sleep.

  • Go to bed early. The sleep before midnight is much more restorative than the sleep after midnight. The more sleep that you get before midnight the better.
  • Sleep as much as you can. Fertility treatment can be as exhausting as your first trimester of pregnancy. Once pregnant, some women need as much as12 hours of sleep per night. Don’t feel lazy or guilty about it; think of sleep as medicine for you while you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
  • Take naps. If you can’t fall asleep during the day, at least lie down. Getting horizontal and closing your eyes for a while will give your body and mind a chance to rest.
  • For deeper sleep, avoid all caffeine and turn off electronic devices at least 1 hour before bed.
  • If you have insomnia, try acupuncture. Be sure to see an acupuncturist who is specialized in fertility and pregnancy.

By following this advice for basic self-care you will be well-nourished, well-hydrated and well-rested, and your levels of stress hormones will be reduced . . . a great foundation for a healthy pregnancy and a happy baby and mom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ValerieValerie Mendels, L.Ac., Acupuncturist (specialized in fertility). Valerie’s practice is based in Petaluma, California. She has been treating patients with acupuncture since 1999, and holds a Master’s degree from the traditional acupuncture Institute, School of Philosophy and Healing in Action (TAI Sophia) in Maryland. In addition to acupuncture, Valerie uses Chinese herbal medicine, nutritional and dietary therapy, and lifestyle counseling to help her patients gain optimal health and fertility. Valerie is passionate about helping her patients experience greater peace, joy and well-being while working with them to achieve their fertility goals. Her website is www.valeriemendels.com