The A along the R.O.A.D. to a healthy birth stands for Activity. Labor is, as its name implies, hard work. During a long labor, a mother uses about as much energy as a marathon runner or a mountain climber. If you knew that you would have to run a marathon or climb a mountain a few months from now, would you train for it? Of course! Expectant mothers (and their labor coaches!) need to be in good physical shape when the event arrives. It makes labor easier, helps make pregnancy more comfortable, and also gets lots of oxygen to mom and baby.
- Get aerobic exercise daily. ACOG (The American Council of Obstetrics and Gynecologists) recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day for pregnant women. Most moms can keep up their pre-pregnancy workouts with only a few changes. Inactive pregnant women should begin easy, and work up to a moderate level of aerobic exercise. Even 10 minutes a day of walking, swimming or low-impact aerobics is a great start!
- Coaches and moms can exercise together, or coach should at least remind mom to exercise.
- Do stretches designed to make birth easier and pregnancy more comfortable. Contact a childbirth educator if you don't know any such exercises, or look in Essential Exercises for the Childbearing Year by Elizabeth Noble.
- Strengthen your pelvic floor. This exercise, also called a Kegel exercise, involves consciously tensing and relaxing the muscle that supports the uterus, bladder and other internal organs. The easiest way to become aware of this muscle is by starting and stopping the flow of urine while going to the bathroom.
- Avoid lying on your back for longer than two or three minutes after the fourth month of pregnancy.
- Remember to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise routine.
The last part of the R.O.A.D. to a healthy birth and baby is Diet. This does not mean reducing the amount of calories you intake, but eating a good, nutritious diet. The March of Dimes has done a wonderful job publicizing one reason to eat well: preventing spina bifida by having enough folic acid. However, many women are unaware of just how much what they put in their bodies effects their baby. According to Thomas Brewer, MD in his book Metabolic Toxemia of Late Pregnancy, bad eating habits during pregnancy can cause anemia, premature separation of the placenta, severe infection, miscarriage, and metabolic toxemia of late pregnancy (also called preeclampsia) in mothers. He also states that poor prenatal nutrition can cause or contribute to prematurity, low birth weight, brain damage, hyperactivity, and stillborn babies, in addition to birth defects.
What constitutes a good pregnancy diet? Dr. Brewer recommends 75 to 100 grams of protein each day from all sources. Along with protein, eat one vitamin C source daily, two to three fruits, two servings of green vegetables, and one yellow/orange vegetable. To prevent excess swelling, salt your food to taste and drink water until your thirst is quenched.
It is also a good idea to replace all refined grains with whole grains, eat as much fresh food as possible (preferably vine-ripened, to get glyconutrients), and take a prenatal supplement for "insurance." And don't forget your "diet" of oxygen--take at least three breaks a day to do some deep breathing. Have your husband-coach join you in your healthy diet and making sure you eat well--it makes it easier.
Remember that pregnant women are supposed to gain weight! Eating healthy foods, staying moderately fit and breastfeeding help most women to return to their pre-pregnancy weight after the baby is born. While pregnant, don't worry about how much you gain, just gain it in a healthy way.
Lastly, remember that diet means not only what goes into your body, but also what doesn't. Avoid refined foods, excess sugar, food additives, excess caffeine, and drugs of any kind unless prescribed by a doctor who knows you are pregnant. This includes being cautious with herbs--some are harmful during pregnancy. And, of course, don't drink, smoke, or take illegal drugs while pregnant or caring for a young child.
All pregnancies are different, but the goal is always the same: a healthy mother and a healthy baby. The suggestions in this article have helped many couples navigate the R.O.A.D. of pregnancy successfully to that goal. Becoming a master of Relaxation, learning your Options, staying Active, and consuming a good Diet will help your baby have the best start you can give him or her.