I'm coming to the end of my pregnancy, having finally started maternity leave (I worked until pretty much the bitter end). Finally having some time to relax has made me reflect on the last (long) 9 months, and if I'm honest, whilst I'm still not an earth mother pronouncing their love of the bump and all that comes with it, I've had a pretty lucky time in pregnancy overall. Aside from a hateful first trimester of 24/7 nausea, feeling like I had perpetual flu and constant tiredness, for the rest I've felt like myself, haven't hated how I've looked, and have been super lucky not to fall foul of all of the common symptoms that friends of family have complained of...swelling, varicose veins, sciatica, you know who you are.
So, what are my tips for a good pregnancy (to the extent that you can control any of it, as obviously a huge amount is luck)?
(1) Eating and drinking healthily, but allowing yourself some treats here and there (but make them good ones)
I did a lot of reading up about recommended weight gain during pregnancy, and how to keep your figure. If I'm honest, it was one of the thing I was freaked about at the start. It became pretty clear that the guidelines are a load of rubbish. They've changed numerous time over the years, everyone's body and physiological make-up is drastically different, and what's ultimately important is that you're healthy throughout. I decided from the off that I would continue my approach to eating as much as possible, local, fresh, meat, fish and vegetables, not too much of the stodgy stuff. It's been the one thing that has kept me energetic throughout (aside from a first trimester where vegetables were out, and white stuff was in - but to be honest it made me feel worse) and my weight gain minimal.
Having said all of that, given that you're barely having alcohol for 9 months, and numerous foods are off the table, I did decide I would let myself have treats, I've just made sure they are good ones - more 85% dark chocolate than mars bars if you know what I mean. I'm a big believer in the nutrition that you're having is also what goes to your baby, and that's important - but the 80/20 rule is a pretty good one to live by. Life is short, after all.
(2) Keeping active, but accepting your limits
I've kept active throughout my pregnancy. Walking to the tube, swimming, yoga (in a big way, this has been the constant throughout), weights, running till about 37 weeks, and plenty of long walks at the weekends on the South Downs. I'm still the one climbing up the escalator rather than standing, and I feel so much better for it. I'm at the end of my pregnancy and although I get tired more easily, and naps now feature, I still feel energetic, and most importantly, strong - which is going to be super important for when I need to pick up a baby / pram / and all of the other associated paraphernalia daily.
My attitude to exercising has changed considerably though. My focus has been on feeling healthy, strong, and gaining some escapism, rather than feeling the burn, and what my calorie count has been. It's been a brilliant shift, and one that I plan to continue.
Advice on what you can and can't do when pregnant is bloody confusing (and often contradictory) when you start out. I went to normal yoga and pilates classes throughout, and luckily triyoga (in soho, chelsea and camden) have brilliant instructors who will give you alternate moves for pregnancy. I had a personal trainer friend who I'd recommend who gave me great weights moves (Darran Lightbody @dlightbody76) and I'd really recommend using a TRX, rather than weights. It enhances your balance and core stability whilst getting all of the benefits of weights.
(3) Embracing natural therapies - particularly Acupuncture & Reflexology
I was already a big fan of acupuncture when we were trying to have kids (and I totally credit it for the fact that we were successful, despite me not having had a period in about a year). My acupuncturist is Ross Barr and my fortnightly visits to him are my much needed moments of sanity. The treatments are bespoke to what's going on with your body during pregnancy (e.g. when I suffered from anaemia at the start, this really helped), but it's also time for you to focus on yourself and the whole physical process (and have a good old rant, at which Ross is a brilliant recipient).
Reflexology has been a brilliant discovery for me (I used the incredible hands of Hannah Adams, of Lull Reflexology who specialises in pre and post natal reflexology). Hannah comes to your house, with the comfiest chair you could imagine, has a magic touch, and an uncanny ability to identify where and what pains you have before you've said a word. I've been super lucky and not had swelling through the pregnancy, and maybe this is just genetics, but the reading I've done tells me that Reflexology is often a huge influence on this, so for that reason alone, I'd give it a try.
(4) Dressing like yourself, and keeping your sense of identity as you become the size of a bus
I wrote a big piece at the beginning of my pregnancy about my strategy for fashion over the next 9 months [link here]. I'm almost at the end now, and I have to say, it paid off - I felt like me throughout, I bought maternity items where it was important to do so (maternity jeans and leather trousers in particular were a life saver), used items in my own wardrobe where I could (long waistcoats and duster jackets have been brilliant), and treated myself to some new, non-maternity items that I knew would carry me through, and beyond pregnancy.
If you want more advice on this front, I'd highly recommend @dresslikeamum on Instagram - but ultimately, I think it's just about identifying the bits of your body that haven't changed, and you like, and emphasising them; and having some key items that are your style.
(5) Reading a lot, listening a lot, but being happy to ignore a lot
Advice comes at you from every which way when you're pregnant. I'm the personality type that likes to read around a topic and then come to my own decisions on it (not for everyone, and I've got several mates who didn't read a thing and are fabulous mums), but I didn't count on the level of volunteered information I'd receive.
From friends, family (all well-meaning), but even strangers, which I have to say is the most bizarre. There are huge positives to suddenly being a part of this mum/parents club, but you have to remember that (1) everyone is different, both parents and baby; (2) all parents seem to have amnesia about the fact that they found overt opinions quite annoying too; and most importantly (3) going with your gut instinct is probably going to be the best route in the end, as it's all trial and error anyway, and kids don't subscribe to a manual.
My advice? Strap on a big old smile, take the advice, but be happy to ignore it, and definitely don't beat yourself up about your choices, in pregnancy, or anywhere else in life for that matter.
(6) Give yourself time to chill out, and don't be a superhero
People who know me (close friends and parents in particular) will be laughing their head off that I'm writing this bit, as I'm known as someone who takes too much on, and the given perception is that I don't chill out very often. It's actually an inaccurate perception, but, it's the one that exists. I did learn that I had to take a step back through pregnancy though - one night out a week was probably my maximum, and early returns from even that were important. A late night, and it wiped me out for days. 2 nights out in a week, and I was exhausted for the next week. You live and learn - baths and sofa time have a lot of benefits.
(7) Grab as much quality time as a couple as you can - and embrace the lack of responsibility while it exists
This one is hugely important. I've seen so many mates who struggle to get any alone time as a couple post baby, but didn't necessarily take advantage of the time they did have pre the baby's arrival. We've had weekends away, we've spent more weekends on our own, we've eaten out lots, and generally taken advantage of that time we have as just us. And it's been lovely, which brings me to number 8...
(8) A partner who thinks you look beautiful
You can't do much about this one - you're either lucky, or you're not - but bloody hell, I've been lucky that my partner has been affectionate throughout, constantly tells me that I still look lovely, and makes me feel like I haven't suddenly had a body transplant. It helps that he's excited about the pregnancy and thinks the whole process is amazing (and has a great respect now for what women have to go through vs the lucky dads who just get to observe), but feeling attractive and desired is a pretty big thing as your body becomes the same distance horizontally as vertically.
(9) Making sure pregnancy is a 2 person deal, and that you talk out your fears
My biggest fear in pregnancy has been the birth itself. Tawdry stories from friends and family about 36 hour birth experiences haven't helped, and left me with a negative perception of the experience that was as much about 'surviving' it as anything. I was also thinking about it as a solo experience to some degree, of course my partner would be there to support me, but ultimately it was me going through it.
Several thing have transformed this opinion. We've done alternative NCT classes together (Bump and Baby - in London and Brighton, I can highly recommend for a practical, non-judgemental approach); we've been to a birth yoga workshop together (Amanda Walker runs these in Hackney, they're really good); and most importantly we did a hypno-birthing course together.
Each and every one of these courses has served to give my husband a real role in the process, a set of tools that he can fall back on, and they've given me the confidence of being in this as a team, that we'll not only 'get through it' together, but we'll do so in our our way, and it might even be great (fingers crossed).
Hypnobirthing was the big breakthrough. I can't recommend Hollie's courses enough (London Hypnobirthing) - they re-write everything you've heard and learned about child birth, replacing fear with confidence, giving you tools to manage the process, and a hell of a lot more information about the science behind it all than you are given in your regular NHS check-ups. Hypno-birthing is almost a bad name for it, as as soon as you mention it, people seem to think that you've bought into some hippy rubbish, but actually it's all based on science, and is the most logical approach that we've heard.
I obviously can't vouch yet for how it will affect our birth experience (although several people I know can), but it's helped me approach the whole thing with positivity and confidence, and it did transform our plans for the birth. We're now planning on home birthing (as long as all goes ok), we're the proud owners of a huge inflatable birthing pool, currently residing in a bedroom upstairs, just waiting to be used; and the option of even spending some of the proceedings in our own place has made me much more calm about the whole thing.
(10) Find other pregnant mums, and recent mums that are on your wavelength
Pregnancy does all kinds of things to your rationality, and the biggest is that you often feel like you're not necessarily subscribing to some socially accepted stereotype of what you're supposed to be like as a pregnant mum.
I don't fall into the camp of gushing mum to be, I wasn't super excited to design a nursery, I wasn't waxing lyrical about whether it would be a boy or a girl, and at times I've felt like I should be just that bit more excited, because everyone else seems to be. Towards the end of pregnancy, you find that everyone feels the need to comment, from the man on the train who wanted to check that I 'wasn't going to drop' on route from London to Worthing (I informed him that that definitely wasn't my ideal either), to the woman at yoga who told me that seeing me do yoga each day had changed her mind about having kids (no-one's downward dog is that good, seriously...) - the big thing that strangers and friends alike say is 'you must be so excited!'.
In truth, I'm a pragmatist, and tend to get excited as things happen, rather than far in advance. And in the case of kids, at almost 39, I've seen so many friends go through it, that I know the pitfalls as well as the positives, so whilst of course I'm so happy we're having a child, I'm pragmatic about how the experience will be.
You can feel like a woman devoid of all maternal instincts in the face of all of these 'excited' responses, but the best thing you can do is talk to a mate with a similar point of view. I met up with my friend Michelle this week, and her first response when I explained this concern to her was 'God, I wasn't excited at all. I was worried about whether I'd even want to be a mum after I'd given birth'. To put this in context, she's an amazing mum, and she loves it. Speaking to her made me feel normal and happy again. No-one should tell you how to feel in these situations, but finding someone who echoes your sentiment makes you feel like a normal human being at least.
So, that's it - by no means a guide to the perfect pregnancy, or a guarantee that these things work for everyone, but I'm 40 weeks in, pretty chilled out, and not climbing the walls just yet, so that's got to stand for something.