The word pampering gets used a lot when talking about pregnant people, especially in the lifestyle realm. And while part of the definition of the word is entirely apt—”to indulge with every attention, comfort, and kindness” —the word also implies an element of frivolity or luxury and so the notion that folks who are pregnant can use some attention and comfort and kindness, gets mixed up with the idea that pregnant people need (or want) spoiling. I’m here to say that being pregnant doesn’t make you a brat, but it does mean you might require a little extra care.
Many healthy pregnant people can continue along with their normal activities and responsibilities and do just fine thankyouverymuch. Indeed, in most cases, pregnant people need to do this; there’s not an option to call it quits or put up your feet and demand bonbons. (Is there?) But that doesn’t mean that we can’t all work on being gentle with ourselves, to carve out time and resources for our own care, to pay attention when our bodies tell us to rest. And if we’re not pregnant at all, that we can’t be sensitive to the notion that being pregnant is just not the same as not being pregnant and help a body out. (If you’re wondering how to go about helping folks who most need it, scroll to the bottom.)
For all of the magic and excitement associated with a pregnancy, it can also mean experiencing aches and pains that are new and sometimes alarming. Pregnancy might mean an unprecedented level of exhaustion. It might mean dietary needs that are more complex or demanding or just plain bizarre. It might mean itchy skin, or swollen feet, or acne, or water retention. It might mean –yes, I’m going here—an achy pelvic floor, or constipation, or gas, or bloody noses, or incontinence, or any other number of things that nobody really wants to talk about but that can crop up anyway. This isn’t meant to be scary, it’s just part of the course of things.
Now that I’m solidly into my third trimester, I’m reminded of the wild things that pregnancy does to my body. My belly’s increasingly feeling too small for the baby pushing against it. I sit at my desk with one hand poised over the computer and the other gently shoving the tiny foot out from beneath my ribcage (or trying to). I walk down the street and feel a twinge of pain shoot down my sciatic nerve. I want a heating pad pressed against my tailbone at most hours of the day. I have to pee, again, and I just went to the bathroom twenty minutes ago. I have tiny popped blood vessels all over my hands and cheeks and chest. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m gripped with sheer terror over the state of the world, I’d be passed out in bed by 8:00 pm every night.
QUICK, SOMEBODY PAMPER ME.
Here, a few obvious and less obvious ways that I take care of myself while pregnant:
Take a bath: Epsom salt baths forever and ever, amen. For me the quickest way to get my body to relax (physically and emotionally) is to get in the tub. These days I often take one right after we put Faye to sleep for the night. A hearty scoop of salts and some warm (but not too hot) water works wonders. If only getting out wasn’t so cruel…
Get a pedicure: As one of my sisters would say, this sounds like a tip you’d find in a lady mag for ladies, but seriously, getting my feet rubbed can make a whole host of other discomforts melt away. I’ve written before about Hortus Nailworks in Lower Manhattan. They’re committed to using safe products and their space is relaxing and verdant and just where you’d want to be to take a breather for a half-hour or so. Look for a similarly eco-friendly salon in your neck of the woods and see if they offer any special treatments. Hortus recently invited me in for their The Works pedicure and it was delightful. There was a nutrient rich salt soak, a sugar scrub, a detoxifying mask—all for my legs and feet. (If going to a salon for a treatment isn’t in the cards, plan a night with a friend or lover to help you out. No need to go whole hog—though damn if it isn’t hard to keep your toenails in order when you can’t reach them—just soak those feet in warm water and get someone to rub ’em for you.)
Book a massage: I haven’t had a prenatal massage yet this pregnancy, but one of my sisters treated me to one when I was pregnant with Faye and it was so, so wonderful that I think another one is in order. (If you’re local and looking for a place to head, I went to the Rhemedy by Rhed in the West Village and loved my time there. Wherever you head, make sure you go to a spot with a dedicated pre-natal service (and trained practitioners!) and explain that you’re pregnant when booking!)
Get acupuncture: I’ve never gotten acupuncture, but I know a lot of people who’ve found it to be tremendously helpful during pregnancy. My longtime internet-friend, Kristen Dilley of Nightingale Acupuncture in Portland, OR, explained to me why working with a licensed acupuncturist during pregnancy can be so helpful: “It works amazingly well to alleviate the less exciting symptoms of pregnancy from morning sickness and low back pain to water retention. Consistent visits to the acupuncturist in the last trimester, can help with an easier labor and birth, and even address complications like the baby being in the breech position. Acupuncture allows your body to remember the ‘rest and digest’ part of your nervous system, making it especially invaluable as a woman navigates the ups and downs of pregnancy.” Sign me up.
Take a yoga class: Prenatal yoga classes are such a nice way to stay fit and relaxed during pregnancy. I admit, I kinda wish all yoga classes were as low-key and nurturing as the prenatal ones. Prenatal yoga can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and build strength to prepare the body for the marathon of childbirth. For me, one of the most useful things about taking a prenatal yoga class is being able to replicate the most helpful positions at any time of day and from the comfort of home. When my back gets pinchy and uncomfortable from sitting down for too long, a few gentle stretches can do wonders to loosen it up again. (I’m still working on normalizing getting into child’s pose in the middle of the coffee shop floor.) There are a few classes offered each week (free with membership!) at the YMCA that we belong to, and most yoga studios offer at least one prenatal class a week. Look up local classes in your area and give one a try.
Tone your muscles: Speaking of marathons: One of the midwives in the practice that I go to recently described not doing pelvic floor exercises before birth as being equivalent to deciding to run a marathon after only ever running mile. Point taken. So while this isn’t exactly like getting a massage or having your feet rubbed, pelvic floor strengthening is just as important for your pregnancy wellness. Most pregnant folks have heard of Kegels—the exercise where you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by mysteriously tightening them while sitting on the subway or at your desk—but the truth is that they can be hard to get right. And if you’re on your second or third pregnancy especially, you might need some additional help. So, vaginal weights! I know! They weren’t at all on my radar either and what kind of couth woman talks about weights she sticks up her vagina? This one! If your insurance doesn’t cover physical therapy or if you can’t afford it, using vaginal weights like these ones can be helpful to build strength before and after pregnancy. (As always, chat with your healthcare provider regarding your personal care!)
Gather your people: Especially around your table. I can’t say that I’m a fanatic when it comes to pregnancy nutrition. I’ve mostly stayed my typical course of eating whole foods, prepared relatively simply, while paying a little more attention than usual to incorporate plenty of iron-rich foods into my vegetarian diet. (Okay, I’ve also had a renewed interest in eating a handful of mint Newman O’s every night, but that’s neither here nor there.) Lately, part of my pregnancy nutrition wellness plan has also been mostly about inviting friends to join us around our table. It’s felt not only like the right thing to do for a growing baby, but the right thing to do for a world-weary mama. To make hosting while pregnant more manageable, James and I tag-team the effort (emphasis on James), we invite our guests over at an earlier-than-usual dinner hour, and serve simple foods (one-pot stews and chilis, sourdough pizzas and green salads) and we have everything cleaned up and ready to go long before Faye’s 8:00 pm bedtime. Soup for the soul, etc.
What about you guys? I’d love to start a discussion about what’s been helpful and comforting for other people who have been pregnant or are currently pregnant.
If you’re wondering how to help get wellness services to pregnant folks who might not be able to afford them themselves, here’s a list of organizations doing work to provide wellness services—as well as much more basic maternal care—to people in need. Please add any others you know to the comments below and consider helping them out:
Homeless Prenatal Program: A nonprofit in San Francisco that works with families to break the cycle of childhood poverty. Among many other things, services include pre- and postnatal care including yoga, massage, acupuncture and doula support for homeless families.
Healthy Babies Project, Inc.: A nonprofit offering a wide-range of services to as-risk families in Washington D.C.. Services include classes that teach pregnant folks the importance of nutrition, prenatal attachment, and physical and mental balance during pregnancy.
Y.O.G.A. for Youth: A nonprofit on a mission to provide urban youth with tools of self discovery that foster hope, discipline and respect for self, others and community. Their services include yoga classes for pregnant teenagers in Los Angeles.
Every Mother Counts: A global nonprofit dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. They work both internationally and domestically and right now their work in the US—one of only thirteen countries with a rising maternal mortality rate—feels especially urgent.
Sistersong: A nonprofit with a mission to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.