PREGNANCY is undoubtedly a joyous and positive experience for most women. The majority of females are healthy when they get pregnant, and unless there are pre-existing conditions or complications, they should remain healthy during the nine months.
Nevertheless, pregnancy can represent a physical challenge and almost every expectant mum is afflicted by minor aches, pains and ailments at some point. Whether it's morning sickness, heartburn or constipation, there are unfortunately some negative side effects to bringing a baby into the world.
Jessica Bourke is a qualified acupuncturist and nutritional therapist with the Northumberland Clinic in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. She says that there is a variety of ways to ease any ailments experienced during pregnancy.
"It is a time in a woman's life where she is very wary of using medication to appease her symptoms. I have found diet and lifestyle changes, coupled with specific tailored supplementation and acupuncture to be a very effective combination for all manner of pregnancy symptoms," explains Bourke.
"For example, there is an acupuncture point above the wrist that is famous for treating nausea and works brilliantly for women who have bad morning sickness or may even be at risk of hyperemesis (severe vomiting)."
Bourke maintains that nutritional therapy is the foundation of a healthy pregnancy because if the women is deficient in nutrients, her health will suffer.
"High quality supplementation such as super greens can make a big difference to the endless cravings many women experience and also help prevent excessive weight gain," she advises. "Constipation can easily be alleviated with the addition of foods full of fibre and certain herbal teas also have proven beneficial."
Indeed constipation is thought to affect one in five pregnant women, many who have never suffered from it before. One reason for this is because hormonal changes impact on bowel movements. Also, if a woman is taking iron tablets during pregnancy, these can be a contributing factor. Furthermore, as the baby grows, it puts increasing pressure on the bowel, which can interfere with movements too.
Any woman with constipation during this time should increase her fibre intake by eating foods such as fruit, vegetables, cereals and wholemeal bread. She needs to also drink plenty of fluids and try to get enough exercise as this helps the digestive system. She should consult her GP, however, if the situation gets extreme.
FIGHTING THE FOG
Another common symptom mums-to-be often speak of is the so-called 'pregnancy brain'.
" This is often down to a deficiency in essential fatty acids, specifically DHA, which the embryo requires in large amounts for healthy brain development," explains Bourke.
"In this case, it is the woman who suffers if her diet is deficient as the baby has to get it from somewhere, so it will be stripped from her body to be given to the embryo, leading to foggy thinking and forgetfulness."
Weight gain, water retention, heartburn and stretch marks are some of the most common complaints that the pregnant women Bourke sees are concerned with, and she says that plenty can be done to prevent these symptoms occurring – all it takes is a few tweaks to the diet or the addition of supplementation if the diet is lacking. As is so often the case, the woman is so busy there is no feasible way that she can acquire all the nutrients she needs from diet alone.
"A nutrient that has a huge amount of scientific research showing how important it is to pregnancy is vitamin D. Trials have demonstrated that up to 10 times the RDA level of vitamin D showed no side effects, but rather reduced the chances of pre-eclampsia, pre-term labour and a low birth weight baby. This is massively important considering the recent media reports of late-term miscarriages."
A simple blood test can assess a woman's vitamin D levels, which can then be easily corrected with supplementation. "It is impossible to acquire what we need from our diet," adds Bourke.
BANE OF BACKACHE
Perhaps one of the most widespread pregnancy ailments is backache. Yoga teacher Allyson Dowling, who has trained in pregnancy, hatha and vinyasa yoga, agrees.
"Backache is the most common issue I encounter in class. Some women experience it all the way through pregnancy, others may feel it just at the end. Prenatal yoga strengthens the back muscles and the muscles of the hips and legs. Some women find that even walking contributes to back pain and yoga is a useful alternative, particularly in late pregnancy as all the poses are adapted to suit the changing body.
" What a lot of people don't realise is that back pain can also be an issue after birth due to poor posture and a weakened pelvic floor. Prenatal yoga focuses on keeping the pelvic floor active in pregnancy and on poses to use for sitting and standing to protect the back."
Insomnia is another common problem, Dowling continues. "Most women who attend a class report sleeping much better as a result. Various yoga postures also help with the digestive, respiratory and cardiovascular system, which are all under strain during pregnancy."
So what about the expectant mums who have never done yoga before – how hard is it for them to take it up during pregnancy?
" You don't need any previous yoga experience to take up prenatal yoga," she replies. "A lot of women contact me because they are nervous that they won't be able to do the class but all the poses are modified so that a less flexible person can do a version of it.
"I encourage women to come along even on weeks when they feel exhausted and just lie down for the breathing and relaxation. That alone can make a huge difference to how you're feeling. Lots of expectant mothers who never did yoga before tell me that they wanted to do regular yoga classes after having their baby because yoga made them feel so good."
That said, Dowling stresses that yoga should not be taken up in pregnancy without clearance from a GP or obstetrician. "If they contraindicate yoga for whatever reason, then I would listen to their advice. Also, yoga is not advised during the first trimester. Usually breathing and relaxation is all we advise in the first three months or so."
She believes that one of the main advantages of yoga during this period in a woman's life is the psychological support it gives. " The mental benefits can really help a woman during this time. Breathing techniques, visualisation and relaxation are all a big part of prenatal yoga and for some women this is the first time they get a chance to learn how to relax properly.
" Yoga also helps with labour and here is where the breathing practices really come into their own. Most prenatal classes will give guidelines on how to practice breathing at home. And it's worthwhile going to a prenatal class for the chance to meet other women in the same situation and to hear how to handle common ailments."
And yoga should not be forgotten after the birth, adds Dowling. "I think women on their first pregnancy often forget that there will be a baby in the house after labour so yoga is just as important for the postnatal stage.
"It is a very transformative and often confusing time so establishing a meditation or breathing practice can really help when you feel overwhelmed. It doesn't need to be anything complicated, just five minutes of deep breathing can make a difference.
Mother & Babies