How to Enjoy Pregnancy

Love your Belly! Everyone has their pregnancy horror stories. Saying that you actually enjoy pregnancy doesn't seem very fashionable or popular. 'My ankles were so swollen I had to go barefoot for the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy,' seems to fit much more easily, and acceptably, into conversations about pregnancy than, 'At full term you couldn't even tell I was pregnant if you looked at me from the back.' If you want to make friends, the latter comment may not be very helpful. It's that age old story about how bad news always seems easier to share than good news, but I think it's much easier to enjoy pregnancy than we think.

There seems to be a cultural assumption that women's bodies are somehow inherently defective...

I think that learning to love, appreciate and respect your body is a very large step towards having a satisfying pregnancy and birth. There seems to be a cultural assumption that women's bodies are somehow inherently defective, and that giving birth naturally is innately dangerous. An article on that topic is in the pipeline, but until then here are some of my musings on what it means to enjoy pregnancy, no matter what discomforts you are experiencing.

It's that liminal space, that space in between one state and another that bugs us.

Pregnancy is one of those odd times, like engagement. With pregnancy you are not just one person anymore, and you are not yet two (and vice versa on the engagement). It's that liminal space, that space in between one state and another that bugs us. We spend months wishing away our engagement so we can just get married, instead of enjoying that unique and special time. Then we spend months wishing away our pregnancy so we can meet our babies and get on with it, instead of just enjoying pregnancy and that miracle that is happening right inside your own body.

I have found that I am much happier ... when I just accept the season I'm in and appreciate it as just that, a season.

I tend to think that a natural pregnancy is precisely the right length, just like it seems as though our bodies are designed for a 7 day work week and I have found that I am much happier, and much more able to enjoy pregnancy, when I just accept the season I'm in and appreciate it as just that, a season.

Like not drinking alcohol while I'm pregnant or breastfeeding – I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then, but having been pregnant or breastfeeding for close on three years now, glasses of wine, even half glasses, have been very few and far between because the bother of timing feeds and expressing and dumping milk after one drink was just more trouble than it was worth. And I wasn't going to let something like that get in the way of that precious gift of being able to feed my baby at my breast.

I've found that your experience and your memories of pregnancy are largely informed by how you see your body.

In my experience I've found that your experience and your memories of pregnancy are largely informed by how you see your body. So, for example, when I was feeling nauseous in early pregnancy, I found that there is some evidence to suggest that women who experience nausea in pregnancy are less likely to have a miscarriage because the nausea is linked to the presence of the hCG hormone (human chorionic gonadotropin) which is the same hormone detected by pregnancy tests.

So while I didn't enjoy the nausea as such, I certainly appreciated it...

So while I didn't enjoy the nausea as such, I certainly appreciated it, especially in those early weeks where there wasn't that reassuring kick to remind me of what was going on in my belly, and also because I have had 3 miscarriages in the early weeks. Also, the nausea is said to be related to blood sugar levels, and so it can be an indication that you need to get some more food in, or get smaller meals in more often so that your baby can get enough nutrients. So even though it is uncomfortable for me, it shows that my body is giving its best to this baby and that's far more important than my comfort!

So I just remember that I'm peeing for two...

And on frequently needing to pee, again I take that as a sign that my baby's excretion systems are doing their thing, preventing toxins from building up. So I just remember that I'm peeing for two...

I know that my amazingly wonderful body is doing what it can to make birth easier for me and the baby.

I remember also feeling looseness in my joints very early in pregnancy and discovered that the hormone relaxin was responsible for that. Relaxin is released within a week or two after conception and is believed to soften the ligaments that join the two halves of the pelvis together (amongst others) to make the pelvic opening wider for birth. Furthermore, relaxin also prevents the uterus from contracting and so helps prevent labour until the right time. So while my back and hips do tend to ache if I have lifted too much or stood for too long, I know that my amazingly wonderful body is doing what it can to make birth easier for me and the baby.

I also got heartburn and constipation in early pregnancy, which apparently happens because hormone levels change and slow digestion down, and because of pressure from the growing uterus. Also, heartburn can be exacerbated by that relaxin stuff which can relax the valve between the stomach and esophagus. Again, I can complain, or I can be glad that my slowing digestion means that my body has more of a chance to extract everything it possibly can from the food I eat, wow!

I was one of those few women who gets painful Braxton-Hicks contractions. On Christmas morning, a month before my daughter was born (at term), I woke up at about 2am with a very strong, rather painful Braxton-Hicks (BH) contraction, which lasted for about a minute. A couple of minutes later I had another one, and then another.

...I had (BH) contractions 30 seconds long, every 4 minutes, for 2 and a half hours!

I phoned the hospital and was told that if they got more painful rather than less painful each time I should come in. I started writing down how long the contractions were and how much time there was between them. Fortunately each one got less and less painful, but in summary I had contractions 30 seconds long, every 4 minutes, for 2 and a half hours. If you experience something similar, please check with your care provider, don't just assume you're not in labour. Infections in the abdominal area, sexual intercourse and dehydration amongst other things, can also irritate the uterus and cause contractions, so get it checked out! For some more information on what it means to have an irritable uterus, check out the Irritable Uterus Group Homepage.

So every time I woke up with a painful contraction I started learning to breathe and relax through pain...

Anyway, I could have let the painful BH contractions get me down, and been all worried about them, but I was assured that all was fine, and I remember thinking to myself that labour might be quite similar to what I was experiencing and actually, I had a unique opportunity to practice pain relief techniques with actual pain before the day actually came. So every time I woke up with a painful contraction I started learning to breathe and relax through pain, an incredibly valuable skill if you are aiming to give birth without medication.

When each contraction was over I just went back to sleep again.

And when I did finally go into labour a month later at 12:30 at night, I was able to sleep between contractions until about 6:30am because I was so good at relaxing through pain. When each contraction was over I just went back to sleep again. My daughter was born at 12:37pm that day, about 12 hours after my first contraction.

So whenever you get an BH contraction just imagine that your body is hugging your baby...

Even if you don't have painful BH contractions, they may still be uncomfortable. I found that rather than getting irritated with my body, I choose to marvel at how my uterus is toning itself up for birth, and giving the baby some great oxygen boosts (and a big hug) all at the same time. So whenever you get an BH contraction just imagine that your body is hugging your baby, and that'll be sure to put a smile on your face!

I was one of those women who leaked colostrum from just past halfway in my first pregnancy. I had really hoped to breastfeed and I am naturally an AA cup, so it was almost a relief when I saw that something was going on there! I could have been grossed out, and it was a bit icky sometimes, but at least I knew my body was doing the right thing, getting ready to make the most nutritious substance known to man for my precious baby. Just by the way, if you don't leak colostrum, it doesn't mean you don't or won't have any... Either way, just try to enjoy your pregnancy!

Having a child changes your heart forever, it only seems right that your body shows that change too.

I know I might be pushing it a bit here one this one, but I think we should see even stretch marks as a badge of honour rather than something unsightly, even if we only ever reveal them to our partners. Having a child changes your heart forever, it only seems right that your body shows that change too. And I think we need to get over the whole thought that pregnancy is some kind of disease and that stretch marks are some kind of 'defect'.

My last one is on being woken up in the middle of the night by kicks on the bladder, and having sharp little heels wedged up into your ribs. Whenever I would flinch at a sharp kick in the wrong place and want to complain, I would just think of a woman I knew whose baby just stopped moving one day, and just be grateful.

Speaking of being grateful, gratefulness is a big part of enjoying pregnancy, and this is something I've really been learning about. I know too many women who are struggling to get pregnant, month after month, year after year, and who would dance for joy at the first hint of nausea and throw a party for the first kick. I just make sure that I stay grateful for these discomforts, because they are actually a sign that something is going right.

...one of the only things I enjoyed more than being pregnant was giving birth...

Baby Bliss! Really, one of the only things I enjoyed more than being pregnant was giving birth, not because it was easy, but because I was there, as in really there! But that's a whole other topic...

If you'd like to read more of my reflections on pregnancy, check out my pregnancy diary.

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