One of the most common insecurities that women have when they get pregnant for the first time is how their body will "bounce back" after pregnancy. Although the "bounce back" goal isn't the best thing to focus on when you're bringing life into the world, there are some reasonable fears about how your body will heal and return to its "normal" state after you've given birth. When women talk about how to recover from pregnancy and birth, they often focus on the habits you have while you're pregnant and what you do after you give birth. Those are certainly important phases of motherhood, but if you really want to prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy and fairly smooth postpartum phase, focus on your health long before you actually get the positive pregnancy test.
When I got pregnant last year, I gained more weight than I wanted to. I've been a trainer and weight-loss coach for a long time, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about losing all the weight after my daughter was born. It didn't happen overnight, but I did return to my pre-pregnancy weight within the first several months of my daughter's life and I did it without huge effort. And that's because I focused on healthy habits for a long time before I fell pregnant. Here are five ways I recommend you prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy—because both you and your baby deserve the best.
1. Get Direct Sunlight Every Day
Americans spend far too much time indoors, and it affects our health in ways we can't even begin to understand. It's of the utmost importance to go outside as much as you can and absorb direct sunlight. We've been led to believe that the sun is an evil monster that is going to kill us, but there are plenty of ways to consume safe sunlight without putting yourself at risk for skin cancer. Direct sunlight plays a big role in our sleep/wake cycle, hormonal balance, immune function, metabolism, and much more.
An easy way to increase your daily sun exposure is to commit to a morning walk every day. The early morning is the best time to get sunshine because the sun isn't that strong yet, and the early morning rays suppress melatonin (which makes you feel more alert) and boosts serotonin (your happy chemical). If you start with just a 15-minute walk each day, you can build from there. Ideally, you should spend 60-90 minutes outside every day. You can achieve that by going outside for a walk in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Not only will this help prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy and birth, but it will boost your mood and instill a healthy habit that you can pass down to your kids.
Direct sunlight plays a big role in our sleep/wake cycle, hormonal balance, and immune function.
2. Eat a Nutrient-Dense, Whole Foods Diet
You probably know this already, but it's a good reminder. Pregnancy becomes much easier when you're feeding your body the right kinds of foods. Stay away from processed and packaged foods, seed oils, soda, refined carbs, and trans fats. Eat out as little as possible and cook at home every chance you get. Prioritize nutrient-dense foods like high-quality grass-fed meat, eggs, avocado, and other nutrient-packed fruits and veggies, fish, etc. The way you eat now will play a big role in how your body handles pregnancy later, and it will play an even bigger role in how you recover in your postpartum phase.
Many women think that when they get pregnant, they can just start eating healthier and it will help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Of course, it's better to eat healthy during your pregnancy than not to, but if you ate poorly for the last year of your life and you suddenly start eating healthier during your pregnancy, the effects of the last year don't just disappear. That's why it's important to start preparing your body as early as possible for pregnancy so that your body is already a healthy place for your baby to reside.
3. Stay Away from Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control wreaks havoc on your gut, depletes you of basic vitamins and nutrients, affects your moods negatively, and even changes which men you're attracted to. There are plenty of women out there who use hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy when they're married, thinking that they can just toss out the pill when they feel ready to have a baby, but the longer you use birth control, the more your body is affected by it. You don't need artificial hormones pumping through your body, and you definitely don't need your ovulation halted completely (which is what the pill does) in order to prevent pregnancy. There are plenty of ways to track your cycle naturally, and there are many non-hormonal forms of birth control that won't have a negative effect on your body. Imagine how clean your body will be if you quit hormonal birth control a year before you try to get pregnant. That's the kind of environment you want to offer to your baby.
Hormonal birth control wreaks havoc on your gut.
4. Prioritize High-Quality Sleep
Sleep is the bedrock of our health and the unsung hero of longevity. Just because you're in bed for eight hours doesn't necessarily mean you got high-quality sleep. There are three phases of sleep: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Light sleep is simply the connector between the other two, deep sleep is the most restful and restorative, and REM sleep is essential for memory retention. Deep sleep occurs in the first few hours of the night, around 10pm-1am, and adults on average get 60-90 minutes of it. If you're going to bed at midnight but waking up at 8 a.m., that means you're likely missing out on some crucial deep sleep that your body needs to recover.
The number one piece of advice from sleep experts on how to achieve high-quality sleep on a regular basis is to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every single day, no matter what. Your body runs on a tight sleep-wake cycle, so it responds well to a routine. Prioritize healthy sleep for a while, and you'll notice a big difference in the rest of your life. Besides, when you have a baby, all that time you had for luxurious sleep disappears for a while, so catch those zzz's when you can!
5. Surround Yourself with Loving Family and Friends
Our physical health doesn't exist within a vacuum. Your environment and social life contribute to your overall health, both physical and mental. You need people in your life who love you and support you. This will help ward off depression and anxiety, and even early death. Preparing your body for pregnancy is about much more than just eating well and exercising. You need to feel fulfilled in your personal relationship too. If you know you want to start trying to get pregnant soon, make sure your relationship with your husband is solid and you're in a good place. Reconnect with old friends or mend friendships if needed. Being close with your own parents plays an important role too.
The more support you have around you, the easier pregnancy and postpartum will be. Nobody is an island, especially when you're pregnant. If you don't foster lasting relationships before you get pregnant, it will be extremely difficult to achieve that goal when you're carrying a baby. Prioritize healthy relationships with the people you love.