by Erica Garza
While many joys come with being pregnant — feeling your baby move for the first time, finally making out a little face on a sonogram — there are also many not-so-joyous side effects involved in the first nine months of your journey into parenthood. From morning sickness to swollen feet, the downsides of being pregnant vary from woman to woman, but fortunately there are ways you can remain healthy and make the experience more enjoyable (or at least bearable). Here are some steps you can take to remain active throughout pregnancy, because the wild ride is sure to get wilder once baby makes his or her appearance.
Have a Gentle Exercise Routine
Whether you’re into sun salutations or long walks, it doesn’t matter — just keep moving. While fatigue or morning sickness may make you want to park it on the couch all day, it’ll only make matters worse. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends you get at least 150 minutes (or two hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Walking and swimming are ideal choices, as are prenatal yoga or even Pilates.
Exercising during pregnancy isn’t so much about fitting into your favorite pair of jeans longer; it can actually help reduce back pain and swelling, improve your sleep, increase your energy and even lessen recovery time after birth.
Take Your Vitamins
Your doctor will be able to provide detailed information about the kind of vitamins you should take during your pregnancy, but it’s useful to know what your body needs more of and why. There are six key nutrients that play a role in your baby’s growth and development during pregnancy: folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, DHA and iodine. Since your growing baby gets all of their nutrients from you, you may need more during pregnancy even if you eat healthily. This is where prenatal vitamins come in handy. Of course, always talk to your doctor first before taking a prenatal vitamin or any other supplement.
Drink Plenty of Water
Water aids your body in absorbing essential nutrients into the cells and transporting vitamins, minerals and hormones to your blood. And it’s these nutrient-rich blood cells that reach the placenta and ultimately your baby. This is why it’s essential you don’t become dehydrated during pregnancy. Aim to drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day and avoid caffeine, which can increase your urine output and lead to dehydration. Along with keeping you and your baby healthy, proper hydration helps prevent UTIs, constipation, hemorrhoids and swelling.
Wear Compression Socks
Swelling is a common, albeit uncomfortable, side effect of pregnancy, It’s caused by the body producing approximately 50 percent more blood and body fluids to meet the needs of your developing baby. Fluid retention also helps to soften the body, enabling it to expand as the baby develops and prepare the pelvic joints and tissues to open for delivery. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the weight women gain during pregnancy is due to extra fluids. To help combat swollen legs and feet, try wearing compression socks to increase blood flow and reduce swelling and discomfort. Also, make sure you’re exercising regularly, staying hydrated and cutting back on salty foods.
Don’t Skimp on Sleep
As your belly grows, you may find it more difficult to fall asleep or sleep throughout the night due to bathroom trips, common body aches or heartburn. Adopting some sleep hygiene habits can help you get more rest though, including minimizing screen use before bed, sleeping with a body pillow and ensuring you’re getting plenty of exercise and water throughout the week. If none of that works, talk to your doctor about other steps you can take, but don’t wait. Now is the time to rest up because once baby comes, sleep might feel like a relic of the past.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health and VICE.