Friday, 5 February 2021

Keeping the body and mind in shape during pregnancy


Pregnancy may be a time for great joy, but it is also a time when your body may experience some unexpected changes. These changes can be affect both the mind and body. As your hormone levels change you may experience physical discomfort in addition to emotional difficulties and these may in turn have an impact on your mental wellbeing. Fortunately, there are ways you can prepare for any potential changes and improve your mental and physical health.

Hormonal changes

During pregnancy, you experience a surge in both oestrogen and progesterone. This surge is necessary to assist with the growth of the fetus but can also have the unfortunate effect of changing your mood and causing physical discomfort. Because of these hormonal surges you may experience:

  • Low mood
  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Cramp
  • Hot flushes
  • Feeling faint
  • Tiredness

In addition to hormonal surges, other factors can increase feelings of anxiety and even depression. The thought of becoming a new parent can be daunting, and you may at times doubt your capability to look after a baby. Having a child is a life-changing experience and it is therefore unsurprising that you may be feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with being a new parent.

Steps you can take to improve your physical and mental health during pregnancy

Eat a healthy diet

The NHS highlights the importance of maintaining a balanced diet during pregnancy. There is no need to 'eat for two' during your pregnancy but increasing your fruit and vegetable intake not only ensures you are getting all the necessary minerals and vitamins but can help to keep your mind in optimum health. Healthy carbohydrates are essential for energy so if you are experiencing tiredness, eating potatoes, wholewheat pasta, and brown rice can help boost your energy levels.

Studies have shown that a healthy diet can aid mental wellbeing, specifically with regards to depression. One study, published last year, which concentrated on the effects of a Mediterranean style diet supplemented with fish oils, revealed that groups of people fed this particular type of diet saw decreased instances of depression.

Exercise

Low impact exercise not only helps you physically but can also improve mental wellbeing. Exercise can help prepare you for labour and for recovery afterwards. The NHS advises that you should not exert yourself while exercising and that you should be able to hold a conversation comfortably while exercising. In the later stages of pregnancy, swimming is an excellent option as the water will support your weight as it increases.

You should avoid exercising on your back as the weight of your growing pregnancy bump can pump blood back towards the heart which will make you feel faint. Also avoid exercise that involves the risk of being hurt such as squash, rugby, judo, or kickboxing.

Activities that are safe and great for your wellbeing during pregnancy include:

Yoga: According to Harvard Health, "reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression."

Yoga concentrates on specific movements and poses, and the transition from one pose to the next. During yoga you are taught to breathe at a regular pace at to be mindful of what your body is doing. Being in the moment and concentrating on specific movements helps you to focus your mind and to relax. 

Do find a good yoga class specifically for pregnant women and, if you are planning to join a regular yoga class, be sure to tell the instructor that you are pregnant before you begin. 

Meditation: Meditation requires you to concentrate and to focus on your breathing. It has been shown that regular meditation can maintain physical and mental wellbeing. For example, some people use meditation as a way to cope with pain as it can help to focus the mind. Being able to manage and even control some aspects of pain is a great stress-reliever. Research has also revealed that meditative movement such as Tai Chi and Quigong can help decrease depression and anxiety.

Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a slow-moving, dance-like practice which can be done alone or in groups. According to Dr Chenchen Wang, associate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts:

“Tai chi, the Chinese low-impact mind-body exercise, has been practiced for centuries for health and fitness in the East and is currently gaining popularity in the West. It is believed to improve mood and enhance overall psychological wellbeing."

Dr Wang and her associates collated the findings of various studies to determine the positive effects that Tai Chi had on psychological health as well as physical health. The studies suggested that Tai Chi helped to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and could increase self-esteem.


Speak to your midwifery team or GP if you feel that your mood is lower than normal or lasts for longer than two weeks. Antenatal depression is more common than you may think and can present itself in various ways:

  • Irritability and not wanting to be around other people
  • Less enjoyment of life 
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of or no motivation to do things you enjoyed previously
  • Low self-worth
  • Anxiety

Speaking to a health professional can ease your fears and can also help you engage in the right course of treatment for your mental health difficulties. This can take the form of counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and prescribed medication. Your health care team can provide ongoing support for you during pregnancy and so it is important to make them aware of any mental health difficulties you are experiencing.

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