By Yolanda Yoder, MD, Family Practitioner and Member of the SICHC OB Team
Pregnancy is a joyous time but pregnancy can be stressful for expectant mothers. This stress is natural. After all, during pregnancy, everything is changing: from the way you look to the way you feel physically and emotionally. And now with COVID-19 complicating nearly every aspect of your life, your stress level may be even higher if you worry about being pregnant during a pandemic.
What steps can you personally take to lower stress levels and stay healthy during your pregnancy, in spite of COVID?
Good nutrition is important for both you and your baby. That means avoiding a lot of sweets and following a well-balanced diet with fruit and vegetables, dairy, good carbs with fiber (like oats and other whole grains) and healthy protein: nuts, chicken, fish and beans. Want help planning a healthy meal? Check out the guidelines at Choose My Plate.
As for the old saying “eating for two,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends skipping that in favor of thinking of eating twice as healthy. Try practicing mindfulness in all your activities- including eating. Become aware of your habits, do your research, work with your provider, and let your focus rest on being healthy.
Having twins? You only need about 600 extra calories extra a day to support your growing babies. Make them good calories and you won’t have to worry about overeating (and by the way empty calories tend to leave you hungry). Overeating during pregnancy means more stress on your body and more weight to lose after birth. Good meals and snacks leave you feeling satisfied and content—and healthy.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, just 30 minutes of mild to moderate exercise several days a week can help lower cortisol levels—the hormone that fosters anxiety. Exercise also eases constipation, reduces back pain and promotes healthy weight gain as well as improves your overall fitness, says ACOG. Even just simply taking a walk every day can make a difference, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Get Enough Sleep
Sometimes it can be a challenge to get good quality sleep as your body adjusts to the growing baby. While in the first trimester you may feel drowsier than normal and may even have to take naps, physical changes in the second and third trimester can make it harder to get the shut-eye you need. Between the kicks and the bathroom trips, you may find you’re just as tired when you get up in the morning as when you went to bed the night before.
Tips from the Sleep Foundation include reducing your fluid intake in the evening, avoiding spicy or acidic foods if you’re prone to heartburn, using pillows to support your body in a comfortable position and trying relaxation techniques to help calm your mind. ACOG offers a simple breathing technique to try: Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat three times. Still having trouble sleeping? Talk to your doctor if your insomnia persists.
Seek Social Support
Social support during this time is very important, but COVID-19 has conversely made it harder to spend time with friends and family members. Find ways to be with others while staying socially-distant—perhaps taking a “masked” walk together or even having virtual get-togethers, when you can talk about what is happening during your pregnancy. You can also reach out to other expecting and new mothers through online groups.
Monitor Your Stress Levels
In the same way you are watching how much you eat and exercise, you need to watch how much stress you’re exposing yourself to, and as much as possible, limit your contact to it. The March of Dimes recommends taking periodic breaks from watching or listening to the pandemic news stories or limiting your time on social media to help reduce anxiety. Experiencing extreme feelings of sadness, hopelessness or despair? Talk with your doctor or other health care professional so you can get the extra support you may need.
For more advice, download the free fact sheet from the March of Dimes: COVID-19 Things to know if you’re pregnant—available in many languages.
Let Us Help You
Now that you have some ideas in what you can do to stay healthy for your sake and the wellbeing of your baby, here’s what we at SICHC will be doing to make this wonderful time easier for you.
We do everything we can to create a safe environment for our mothers and babies. We take special care to ensure that all six SICHC locations are frequently sanitized and cleaned according to CDC guidelines, and we limit the number of patients to keep interaction at a minimum.
We’ve also temporarily opened an office on Cherry Street in Paoli for obstetrics and newborn care only, in addition to our pregnancy care services at our Shoals and Salem locations.
And when appropriate, we can schedule a virtual visit to reduce your in-office time. For more information about this option, contact one of our offices, and a staff member will help schedule you for the type of appointment that best fits your needs. You can also request appointments through your FollowMyHealth account.
We encourage you to trust our team to provide not just a safe environment, but also to walk with you through both the physical and the emotional challenges of your pregnancy.
This is a special time for you, your baby, and your family. Our experienced team stands ready to share and support your journey – contact us today.