Your body forms the very soil in which your child takes form. As any farmer will tell you, the quality of one’s crops is directly related to the quality of the soil. Pregnancy, labor, birth, and the postpartum period are beautiful illustrations of two self-care principles: you reap what you sow, and you can’t give to another what you don’t have yourself, on either the body or the soul level.
Spiritual and Holistic Options
The program described below will increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy and is the perfect self-care program to follow.
- Eat a low-glycemic diet that keeps blood sugar stable and contains adequate protein, essential fats, and micronutrients. For more information, see the dietary program in Mother-Daughter Wisdom in Chapter 3, “The Miracle of Conception” or Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Chapter 17 “Nourishing Ourselves with Food.”
- Stop smoking and avoid cigarette smoke. Smoking deprives the fetus of oxygen, resulting in slower growth and therefore low infant birth weight. According to the 2001 Report of the Surgeon General, smoking accounts for 20 to 30 percent of low-birth-weight infants, up to 14 percent of preterm deliveries, and about 10 percent of all infant deaths. The report also states that even healthy, full-term babies born to women who smoke may have narrowed airways and curtailed lung function. Other studies have shown that smoking during pregnancy is associated with learning disabilities and behavioral problems for the child later in life. Many of the same risks apply when partners of pregnant women smoke around them during their pregnancy.
- Don’t douche. Using vaginal douches is not only unnecessary, it has also been associated with low infant birth weight and bacterial vaginosis.
- Take supplements. And start before conception, if possible. For the best results, be sure the potency of the supplements you take is guaranteed and that the supplements are manufactured according to GMP (Good Manufacturing Processes) standards.
- Eat enough omega-3 fats, especially DHA. Essential fatty acids (also called polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids or PUFA’s) help the body fight and ultimately stop cellular inflammation. Eating enough may help prevent prematurity and low birth weights. McGregor1 The main source of omega-3s are fatty fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, sea vegetables, and green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, cabbage, collards, and kale. Unprocessed vegetable oils (most notably flaxseed, macadamia nut, and hempseed oils) are also good sources.
- Talk to your doctor about progesterone. If you are at risk for premature labor, talk to your doctor about progesterone. Studies show that this hormone (available in a weekly shot given from week sixteen through week thirty-six of gestation or as a vaginal suppository) decreases the risk of prematurity. Dafonseca2
- Get psychological support. Studies have shown that psychological support can decrease the rate of premature birth in those who are at increased risk. Mamelle3
- Use guided imagery. Psychotherapist, author, and guided imagery innovator Belleruth Naparstek, creator of the popular fifty-two-title Time Warner Health Journeys guided imagery audio series and author of Staying Well with Guided Imagery (Warner Books, 1994), explains that guided imagery is “a gentle but powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination.” Although it has been called “visualization” and “mental imagery,” she explains, guided imagery involves not only the visual sense but all of the senses, all of our emotions, and the whole physical body. Her CD entitled The Healthy Pregnancy & Successful Childbirth is specifically designed to encourage feelings of confidence, support, relaxation, safety, gratitude, and healthy anticipation during pregnancy, as well as labor imagery to ease discomfort, focus breathing, and underline your trust in the divine wisdom of your body. (For more information, see www.healthjourneys.com.)
- Start a meditation program. Calm Birth is a form of childbirth preparation that uses proven mind/body and breathing techniques to help create an atmosphere of calmness that decreases fear, pain, and complications for both pregnancy and childbirth. Many medical centers now use this program with good results. The three main methods Calm Birth teaches are the Practice of Opening (allowing the parents-to-be to experience a remarkable access to the development of their unborn child), Womb Breathing (where women learn to breathe into their energy bodies to reach full potential in childbirth and also to enrich the child), and the Giving and Receiving Meditation (which teaches how to transform the energy of fear, anxiety, and tension into light in your own body—and breathe it out).
- Get massaged. Massage has wonderful benefits, including boosting endorphins and decreasing stress hormones. Research by Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founder and director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, has done extensive research showing that pregnant women who receive massage experience reduced anxiety, improved mood, reduced back pain, and increased sleep. They also have fewer complications in labor, less labor pain, and fewer premature babies. Field4
- Expose yourself to natural light. Morning bright light significantly helps depression in pregnant women, according to a 2002 Yale study. Researchers found that after three weeks of morning bright light therapy, depression ratings improved by 49 percent, and benefits were seen through five weeks of treatment. They also found no evidence of adverse effects of light therapy on pregnancy. Because drugs for depression are best avoided, if possible, during pregnancy, and because depression in pregnancy may be a risk factor for preeclampsia, this is significant news. Oren5
Learn More — Additional Resources
- For more information on Guided Imagery or Belleruth Naparstek’s Guided Imagery Programs, go to www.healthjourneys.com.
- To find a Calm Birth practitioner in your area contact Calm Birth at 541-488-2563 or visit their website at www.calmbirth.org. The organization also offers a CD called Calm Birth, as well as a postnatal program called Calm Healing.
- For more information in pregnancy massage, go to the Touch Research Institute’s website at www.miami.edu/touch-research.
- Mother-Daughter Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 3, “The Miracle of Conception” and Chapter 4, “Pregnancy: Trusting the Process of Life”
- The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 12, “Pregnancy and Birthing” and Chapter 17, “Nourishing Ourselves with Food.”
- McGregor, J.A., et al., 2001. The omega-3 story: nutritional prevention of preterm birth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, vol. 56(5)1: S1–13.
- Da Fonseca, E.B., et al., 2003. Prophylactic administration of progesterone by vaginal suppository to reduce the incidence of spontaneous preterm birth in women at increased risk: a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 188(2), pp. 419–24; Meis, P.J., et al., 2003. Prevention of recurrent preterm delivery by 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 348(24):2379–85.
- Mamelle, N., et al., 1977. Prevention of preterm birth in patients with symptoms of preterm labor—the benefits of psychologic support,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 177(4):947–52.
- Field, T., et al., Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy,1999. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, vol. 20(1):31–38; Field, T. 1997. Labor pain is reduced by massage therapy, Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, vol. 18(4):286–91.
- Oren, D.A., et al., 2002. An open trial of morning light therapy for treatment of antepartum depression, American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 159(4):666–69.
Becoming a mother is a beautiful experience but surely it requires extra care and support. Thanks for this wonderful article.
Dear Dr Northrup, I am 50 years old with no health issues. I have 3 grown children and am considering having another baby. Only recently have my periods become more intense. I read that it could be perimenopause. could you advise me with your view of having a baby at 50. I feel very strongly that I want to do this if it is safe. Thank you
I thought it was really interesting that you suggested to get psychological support. You talk about how studies have shown that this type of support can help decrease the rate of premature birth. Personally, I think that this would give me a peace of mind during my pregnancy that I’m taking care of my emotional health as well as my physical health to make sure that my baby is in an environment where they can healthily grow. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much for sharing all of these tips on having a healthy pregnancy! I had no idea that eating omega-3 fats would help you have a better pregnancy. This is definitely a good thing for me, especially since I love fish! In fact, I think I am going to tell my husband to start buying more salmon for this very reason! It might also be a good idea to look into progesterone since my mother always had premature labor with all of her kids.
My husband and I went to Italy a couple of years ago and experienced the same thing. We had long, wonderful meals with pasta, bread and wine and we didn’t gain any weight. Each meal was a celebration. We walked a lot as well. It was the most wonderful vacation ever! Wish that we could have that feeling every day here in America. Why can’t this country learn this?
My husband and I visited his cousins in Venice this past April and discovered the same dining pleasure that you experienced. The joy,pride and love that we were shown when his cousins prepared a meal for us was intoxicating! One of our favorite memories is the morning walks that we would take along the water, stopping at our favorite cafe for an espresso. The locals who come in have their beloved dogs with them, know all of the other patrons and fully savor their espresso (or glass of wine!!!) before going on with their day. Small wonder that we will return in September and twice a year from now on… We have embraced the attitude toward life and pleasure that Italians practice and know that our lives will be all the better for it. Healthier too!