BEING PREGNANT FOR the first time includes a lot of anticipation and an equal amount of information overwhelm. While the truth is that every pregnancy is different, there are a few insights every new mother could use to equip them well for the days ahead — and they’re not always openly shared.
Doula, author and CEO of LOOM, Erica Chidi Cohen, is a wealth of knowledge who supports women from period coaching to fertility, pregnancy through the postpartum shift. Erica’s lifetime of learnings can be accessed through her IRL workshops at LA’s LOOM, her insightful book, and now, in her new online birth course. One thing we love about Erica is that she dishes out the kind of info few other pros will tell you. Keep reading the kind of pregnancy advice you really wanted, but may have been afraid to ask….
The Chalkboard Mag: What do you wish all women knew about the first few weeks of being newly pregnant?
Erica Chidi Cohen: I wish more women felt comfortable sharing about their pregnancies during the early stage of their first trimester.
There’s a lot of cultural fear around sharing your pregnancy too early out of fear of miscarriage or even superstition. But it’s important to create a community around your pregnancy experience, especially if something was to go wrong and the pregnancy doesn’t maintain — it’s okay to share it.
Miscarriages are actually very common and opening up the conversation around it is important. Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s normal to feel extremely tired during those first few weeks, especially as the hormone progesterone starts to take over, it makes you tired and It slows down your digestion, so constipation in those first few weeks is common — magnesiumcan help.
TCM: What do you think is the biggest myth to debunk about being pregnant?
ECC: I think the biggest myth is that everyone is going to experience similar symptoms during their pregnancy, but that’s not necessarily true. Pregnancy is a very individual experience. Try not to compare your experience to anyone else’s, give yourself the opportunity to not become attached to exactly how you think the experience will go. There’s sometimes a lot of anxiety around I think this is going to happen to me and then it doesn’t. Make space for your own experience and stay curious.
TCM: How can women maintain a positive body image when their bodies are changing in dramatic and sometimes uncomfortable ways?
ECC: It’s important to understand that your body is doing an incredible job and that a shift in your body is necessary to accommodate the pregnancy. Basically, these changes are for a purpose. Sometimes understanding the purpose behind the body’s shift will help with perception and help you develop more compassion for the changes that are happening.
Another helpful option might be to seek out healthy and normal images of what a pregnant body looks like, pre- and post-delivery. The Fourth Trimester Body Project, an Instagram account that photographs postpartum women shows normal bodies and encourages positive self-talk. Exposure to more images like this is a great way to circumvent the idea that the body must bounce back immediately after birth.
TCM:What are the most surprising things that happen down there?
ECC: Your blood volume increases by about 50% when you are pregnant in order to nourish your baby. That, plus the hormonal shifts that happen during pregnancy and you growing uterus can restrict blood flow in your pelvic region, causing your vulva can lead to the tissues in your genital area enlarging, so your labia can change size and in color. There’s nothing to do to manage those changes, but it’s helpful to have an awareness that this can happen.
Hemorrhoids, whether they’re internal or external, can also happen during pregnancy. Make sure you have enough fluid and fiber in your diet. After the onset, witch hazel pads, sitz baths and this hemorrhoid cream are you best bets.
Another phenomenon is stress incontinence, which is an inability to hold urine. It typically goes away after pregnancy, usually within three months. If not, you could see a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health. For managing the discomfort, try wearing a pad, but choose an organic version like the ones made Naturacare.
TCM: Would you share some key products and tools that make pregnancy more comfortable?
ECC: Having a good supportive body pillow helps make sleeping more comfortable. I think a foam roller can really be helpful, in addition to yoga tune-up balls. These are great to roll over the feet to help release the fascia because there’s so much tension we hold in our body, especially when pregnant.
Good supportive compression wear will be helpful — I love the brand Blanqi. Compression clothing helps lift the belly so you don’t feel as tense or tight. I also think it’s nice to get a compression massager that goes over your legs to help with all of the fluid build up.
Also, magnesium can make pregnancy more comfortable. Taking something (like Calm) before bed can help to relax muscles and help with constipation.
There’s also new wearable device called the Ohnut, and it allows for more comfort with penetrative sex during pregnancy. There tends to be a lot of concern about penetration and comfort with sex during pregnancy. Lubricant can be great as well due to the reduced natural lubrication that can happen during pregnancy.
Another thing that could be helpful is to learn about the birth process, taking a birthing class is key. It can help alleviate maternal anxiety, and helpful you feel more confident about the big day.
TCM:What should more women know about pregnancy when it comes to nutrition?
ECC: Everyone’s appetite is going to be different during pregnancy and the most important thing for the first trimester, when it comes to food, is give yourself a break. Regardless of whether you’re only eating apple juice, white rice and cheese, your baby will get everything it needs because your baby will draw it directly from your own body.
Most women find that their appetite returns in the second and third trimester. That’s the time to eat foods that are high: fiber, healthy fats, lean protein, and free from refined sugar. Healthy fats and fiber are going to boost your energy and fiber specifically helps move the gut, which is slowed down during pregnancy, as well as constipation.
Do your best to eat small meals throughout the day, because as the uterus stretches it impacts all other abdominal organs making far less room for those areas to be full in the way that they used to be. Consume smaller meals and eat to comfort as opposed to eating what you would normally eat in terms of portion size. Remember, high fat, good fiber, good protein.
Also, it’s normal to have mild anemia when you are pregnant but it can be rough to manage the low energy that comes with that, my go-to nutritional recommendation is Floradix, it’s food based, easily absorbed, non-constipating and GMO-free.
Ultimately, give yourself a break. You don’t have to eat perfectly all the time. Aim to get it right 70% of the time, then 30% of the time let your cravings guide you.
TCM:What should be on every newly pregnant woman’s reading list?
ECC: I would recommend my book, Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood. which is now also has an online course.
Beyond that, Emily Oster’s books Cribsheet and Expecting Better are wonderful resources along with Mindful Mom To Be, The First Forty Days, The Fourth Trimester, and What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood. Online, Evidence Based Birth is another good place for info.
The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.