My Top 10 Pregnancy Wellbeing Tips
[Bumper edition – make sure you have a cuppa at the ready folks]
Having an inherently intrepid nature, shortly after I discovered that I was pregnant, I was tempted to squeeze in one last overseas adventure. Something we’ve always wanted to do: Camper vanning around New Zealand? Star-gazing in Scandinavia? Or simply kicking back on a beach holiday with iced lemonades on tap. After some careful thought, I soon realised that for once, I didn’t have the urge to travel. Not only did I have an instinct to ‘nest’ in but I was also overcome with a real sense of wanting to explore more important things before the baby arrives.
Instead, I used the money I would have spent on a trip to do some pretty awesome things, all of which have been immensely fulfilling. I enrolled on a couple of courses including a brilliant poetry course with Helen Ivory at the UEA and I took advantage of my own back yard and became a tourist in and around Norfolk. In the spring, we stayed at a beautiful retro bed and breakfast in North Norfolk called The Control Tower, took afternoon tea at the Michelin Star Morston Hall, stayed at Titchwell Manor another weekend and hired a beach hut in Southwold this summer (blog post to follow). But the most fulfilling, inspiring, interesting and relaxing aspects of my pregnancy? Well, I’ll tell you.
In the past I’ve always shied away from conversations about pregnancy, babies and childbirth; I’m certainly not a ‘natural’ when it comes to these things. Also, a lot of what I’d read frightened me. I was keen to combat a few of the pregnancy myths and cliches and find a way that worked for me.
With literally one week to go until my official due date, I’ve been reflecting on the last seven months, which has been a really insightful and rewarding time. It’s given me a whole new angle on pregnancy. It’s funny, because we all know that we need to take care of ourselves but it’s only really been since I’ve been growing our little ‘Beanie’, that I’ve really started to be more mindful about my wellbeing. There’s an important lesson in there somewhere and what a gift.
I’ve been really lucky so far (touch wood) and have had a reasonably smooth nine months but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was largely down to all, if at least, a combination of the things I’ve mentioned on this list. I’ve always been a big advocate for alternative approaches and natural methods but I hadn’t realised that there were so many pregnancy-friendly alternative therapies out there that could made such a difference.
Nine times out of ten you do need to find a practitioner who has trained to treat pregnant women specifically. If you have any special circumstances to your pregnancy then before you embark on any treatment, always check with your midwife first.
So my top ten, in no particular order:
1) Take Hypnobirthing Classes: For a calm approach to birth
This was the single most beneficial and eye-opening thing we did throughout our pregnancy. I had all sorts of preconceptions about birth before hand, mainly fulled by sensationalised films and TV documentaries, and of course, those oh so helpful stories that happened to a friend of a friend *places fingers in ears* la, la, la, la, la, la. Really?
Hypnobirthing however, is to do endorphin flow. Endorphins are the body’s natural ‘tranquilizer’ and they flow when the body is in a state of calm. Hypnobirthing is about exactly that – keeping the body in a state of calm and control during birthing so that the endorphins can help the body give birth naturally by tapping into this natural painkiller.
Me and my other half went along to five sessions with four other couples to learn breathing techniques and birth education from a modern perspective, designed to help you feel more empowered and relaxed and prepared about birth.
Before the classes, which were held at The Orange Grove in Norwich, I was quite anxious about the birth but after a series of sessions about what to expect, what really happens, how to prepare, breathing techniques, visulisations, some group hypnosis and positive affirmations to take home and practice – all of which were delivered and presented in such a positive and empowering way – I felt so much more equipped after the classes.
If there’s any one thing I’d recommend during pregnancy, hypnobirthing would be it.
Costs around £180 for the length of the course (per couple) which includes the official Hypnobirthing book and CD featuring relaxation techniques and affirmations.
2a) Reiki Treatments: Good for relaxation and other pregnancy aches and pains
Reiki is wonderful during pregnancy. It increases energy levels, creates deep relaxation, helps the body release stress and tension and accelerates the body’s self-healing ability, aids better sleep and reduces blood pressure.
I’ve been having monthly reiki sessions with a lovely practitioner called Diana Cooper at The Orange Grove to help with relaxation, which was especially helpful for me when work was super-busy during the early stages of pregnancy. It’s been absolutely fantastic. After every session I’ve floated away feeling full of energy, spirit and generally more balanced. And, every time I’ve received some reiki, the baby has responded too (it was such a lovely way to connect with the baby so early on). In fact, some of the first significant movements I felt were during my reiki sessions. It relaxes the baby in the womb and helps support their health too. To find out more about reiki, check out one of my previous posts: “The Truth About Reiki”.
A reiki session with Diana costs £40 for 75 minutes.
2b) Learn Reiki Yourself: To help you during those low-energy moments (and post-birth to help baby with sleep, feeding, colic and reflux)
You don’t have to stop at simply receiving a reiki treatment from a practitioner – did you know you can give yourself (and your family and friends) reiki too? Imagine the ability to self-heal. After receiving some remarkably helpful treatments over the years, I’ve been wanting to learn how to do this for myself for some time. The benefits aren’t just for your own relaxation and wellbeing but apparently it can ease the symptoms of colic and reflux for your baby and for you and your partner, it can help with all manner of things such as head aches, increasing energy levels and reduction in stress and tension. It’s a great thing to learn to do whether you’re an expectant mother or not.
I studied and qualified in both my reiki first and second degree during my pregnancy so that I could learn simple techniques to give reiki to myself and the little one. I learnt with Julie Beales, a lovely Reiki Master based in Norfolk who, through self-healing, managed to reverse a very serious condition to her oesophagus a few years ago.
Each level takes two days but it’s not essential to do both your first and second degree to be able to self-heal. By simply attending your first degree over a weekend, this will give you enough to go away and give yourself self-treatments. I’ve been doing this at home most afternoons for half an hour or so and afterwards I’ve felt so energised and relaxed. Sometimes when I’ve struggled to get to sleep it’s been a massive help.
Reiki is something you can give to yourself discretely without anyone realising what you’re doing, at the hospital, in the car, in a waiting room.
The Reiki One Degree course cost £180 and Reiki Two Degree is £250 and includes all course materials, handbooks, attunements and vegetarian meals throughout the weekend retreat.
3) Take up Pregnancy Yoga: Good for lower back and pelvic pain
Great for flexibility, breathing exercises and relaxation, I think the fact I haven’t suffered from lower back or pelvic pain is down to the weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) classes of pregnancy yoga. My midwife was extremely supportive of yoga because it can help with learning moves that keep the baby in the right position for birth. It can also help with leg cramps and carpel tunnel, both common in pregnancy. For someone who’s loved a regular yoga practise for a few years now, it’s been so good to be able to keep up my practise as being pregnant can sometimes feel limiting when you have to give up things like cycling and running. But for me, not having very many friends with children, one of the best things about pregnancy yoga has been mingling with other first-time (and some lovely second-time) mums-to-be.
Above Photo Credits x 4: Pictures taken by the talented Jess Wilkins (newborn, baby and pregnancy photographer based in Norfolk)
A series of 6 yoga sessions with The Orange Grove costs £45.
4) Enrol on a Counselling Course: An (accidental) beginners guide to parenting
So this might sound a bit of an unusual one! But… for a few years now, I’ve been really interested in following in my Dad’s footsteps. He’s an Art Therapist and I’ve loved the idea of using my MA in Creative Writing to help people explore untapped feelings through writing. To practise as a Creative Writing Therapist, ideally I need a foundation in counselling or psychotherapy – anything to do with the mind I find fascinating! So a few months ago, I embarked on the first part of my training.
Before I start my diploma, I completed two introductory courses in Person-Centred Counselling Skills and Theory here in Norfolk (there are other similar courses nationwide), delivered by Andrea Rippon through her business “Who Are You Now?”. Previously, Andrea was the Course Director of the Certificate in Counselling Skills at the UEA for 10 years.
Now, I knew this would be good for my own personal development but I didn’t realise how helpful this would be for becoming a new parent. We learnt some really insightful things about personality development and the first two years of a baby’s life – how they form their experiences and how this is shaped along side influence from their parents. It’s given me some insights in how to support and listen to a child so he or she is able to be their own person. It’s a big subject to go into here but these short courses – which are not just for those looking for a career in counselling – were useful to not only look at my own “stuff” but has given me a few basic insights about how to approach parenting, by staying along side your child’s development, in a supportive, non-judgemental and empathetic way.
Course costs range from £210 – 270. If you’d like to find out more, call Andrea on 07814 735970 or check out www.whoareyounow.co.uk
5) Have a Shiatsu Massage: For relaxation and other pregnancy pains
This holistic approach combines therapeutic massage strokes with gentle stretching techniques, and its name literally means “finger pressure”. It’s a Japanese technique, which apparently all midwives give to pregnant ladies in Japan as a standard part of their antenatal care. Amazing eh?!
It works according to the principle that the stimulation of certain pressure points on the body can be used to heal the body, treat pain and improve overall physical and mental wellbeing, improves a variety of complaints, including lower back pain, leg pain, constipation, heartburn, bloating and swelling, and in some cases, morning sickness. Many women report an improved feeling of comfort and wellbeing following treatment – which was one of the main benefits for me.
I went along to two or three sessions with a really knowledgeable practitioner called Gary who also holds clinics at The Orange Grove and other locations in Norfolk: www.gary.moore.shiatsusociety.org
6) Pre-Birth Acupuncture: To prepare you for birth
Research shows that acupuncture from week 36 of pregnancy helps to prepare your body for labour and will mean a reduced need for medical intervention. I’m not usually a big fan of needles but the super-fine single-use needles used in acupuncture are so so tiny that you barely feel it. As the needle is inserted you sometimes feel a very mild dull ache and this is a good thing. But it isn’t painful. After every treatment I have felt incredible, so relaxed and more balanced.
The special acupuncture points they use during a pre-birth session can help you up until your due date and will do three key things:
1) General relaxation and promotion of oxytocin, the love hormone, essential to help start labour and to feel good during birth
2) Softening the ligaments of your uterus, which can help you to birth a little easier and it
3) Slowly and naturally begins the dilation of your cervix.
In fact, a pre-birth acupuncture audit carried out by Betts and Lennox 2004 concluded that for those who had pre-birth acupuncture, there was a reduction in medical inductions, epidurals and caesarean sections. The treatment can also balance your energy and encourage the natural onset of labour, prior to a medical induction.
I found an awesome multi-bed acupuncture place at the Norwich Acupuncture Rooms. A multi-bed is where you have an acupuncture treatment in the same room as other people, which is more affordable at £24 per session. And, possibly the best part of using a multi-bed is that you are able to tune into the energy surrounding you – people are treated together and can get a sense of the heightened energy of healing at work in the room.
Pregnancy Acupuncture and Acupressure Specialist Rebecca Geanty: www.norwichacupuncturerooms.co.uk
7) Encourage Your Partner To Learn Acupressure Points: To help with challenging moments during labour
Acupressure is a safe and effective tool for labour that uses a gentle to firm finger pressure during a treatment. We went along to a one-to-one training session with Rebecca Geanty for an hour and a half where he learnt a set of points to assist the natural process of labour.
Similarly to the hypnobirhing training, it was a brilliant way to include my partner and for him to have a “role” as I can imagine it must be hard for the guy during labour, what with their tendencies to sometimes want to “fix” things. He was a natural – I was really impressed by his accuracy and natural ability, as was our teacher!
We left the session with a simple guide and also a handy pack from Betts (see link to PDF below). In couples interviewed, the men stated that acupressure was their most used and valued tool, women found it to give them confidence and control, and a sense that they could “do something” to facilitate their labour. And, in a Cochrane review of 13 trials, 1986 women concluded that: Acupuncture or acupressure may help relieve labour pain. Here’s a great free download link which takes you to a manual for safe acupressure points during labour: http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/media/cms_page_media/133/Acupressure.pdf
For a 1:1 session with Rebecca it costs £60 per couple.
8) Put Your Puffy Feet up with Reflexology: Relaxation and ‘Moving Things Along’
If you love your feet being touched then reflexology is for you. It’s a clever form of foot massage, whereby different parts of your foot link to different parts of your body. The practitioner simply massages using a light touch to various points to help work on different aspects of your body, whether you have tension, aches and pains or any other specific complaints.
Research has shown that regular reflexology during pregnancy not only helps women to feel more comfortable so they can enjoy their pregnancies more, but they also experience shorter birthing with less intervention. Maternity reflexology can also be very effective in preparing you for labour. If you are ‘overdue’, alongside focusing on a really relaxing treatment, a pregnancy qualified reflexologist can use some lovely techniques to help prime you for labour and encourage the body to do what it needs to do to get started.
If you live in Norfolk, check out maternity reflexologist specialist Sarah Groves: www.fgt-norfolk.co.uk. A 50 minute session costs £30.
9) Find a lovely Doula: Extra support pre, during and post birth
Doulas support women and their families during pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood. This support is practical and emotional but non-medical in nature. We have a lovely doula called Steff who belongs to Doula UK, an organisation that provides information to parents, the media and health professionals with regard to doulas. It’s becoming increasingly common for women to use a doula in addition to receiving pregnancy care from a midwife.
Like our lovely doula, birth doulas provide flexible and continuous support before, during and often after the child is born. They may also help with other children, encourage a partner with support while your child is being born, nurture and support the mother, and give support to help establish breastfeeding. Apparently, having a doula present: shortens first-time labour by an average of two hours, decreases the chance of c-section section by 50% and decreases the need for pain medication.
10) Not keen on baby showers? Have a Blessing Way
I’m not a huge fan of traditional hen dos or baby showers, although I really value the intention and thought behind it. An alternative way to celebrate your pregnancy, birth and the journey to follow, is to have a Blessing Way. Some of my friends kindly arranged a lovely afternoon at one of my favourite outdoor spots in Norfolk – by the lake near the grounds of Blicking Hall, to do just that. A Blessing Way is known as a “Mother Blessing” – a mother’s right of passage into motherhood and focuses less on buying gifts and more on nurturing the mother on her journey.
After we had lovely pub lunch, my friends led me to a secret spot under a giant oak tree near the lake where they had placed blankets, cushions, flowers and candles. Each friend read me a poem, a verse or some words they’d written and presented me with one or more beads, which I threaded onto a bracelet – the idea being for me to wear this when I go into hospital, to remind me of the day and my friend’s support.
They then henna’d (an Indian plant-based vegetable dye) my belly with hot air balloons, hearts, trees, moon, stars and other iconic symbols. Being the summer solstice, we also made flower garlands for our heads so that we looked like authentic woodland nymphs. When in Rome! It was a warm day and there was summer rain all afternoon but we were shaded by the oak tree which made it all the more magical.
I realise I’ve gone to town a bit on my pregnancy, as is my nature to do so, and I don’t think all of these are essential. I was planning to do my reiki first and second degree and the counselling course before I even found out we were pregnant, but if there are any readers or friends out there planning to have a child soon then I would certainly recommend hypnobirthing as an essential. When you’re pregnant you’re limited to what medication you can take and so it’s also good to know that things like acupuncture, shiatsu, pregnancy massage, reiki and reflexology can provide you with a “pick-me-up”, relief and other physical and emotional support should you suffer from any pregnancy fatigue, aches and pains.
20 Weeks – 30 Weeks – 37 Weeks
Without intending to sound like Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars in 1999 – I’d like to say a big thank you to the support cast who’ve helped me through my pregnancy. We have no idea how things will go for us in the coming weeks, it’s a exciting yet mysterious time – this in between state – but I think we’ve tried our hardest to welcome our little one into the world and as Jackie our hypnobirthing teacher says: “If things don’t go to plan (for a natural birth) and you end up needing a helping hand, then it doesn’t matter. As long as you and the baby are both well, that’s the main thing”. That’s all we can hope for.
So, thank you to everyone for all the advice, support and enriching experiences from the last few months! That includes you (in order of appearance): Jackie Heffer-Cooke from The Orange Grove Clinic (specialists in alternative therapies in pregnancy and otherwise), Diana Cooper, Julie Beales, Steff Firth, Andrea Rippon, Rebecca Garatey, Gary Moore and Sarah Groves. Now that I’ve started to suss out pregnancy, there’s just the small matter of parenting another small human. I’m presuming there’s a manual out there somewhere!
Norfolk Contact Info: For hypnobirthing, reiki, shiatsu, pregnancy massage, acupuncture, yoga, baby yoga and heaps of other alternative therapies for pregnancy and otherwise go to The Orange Grove www.theorangegroveclinic.co.uk
Reiki Practitioner Diana Cooper: www.reikidiana.co.uk
Shiatsu Practitioner Gary Moore: www.gary.moore.shiatsusociety.org
Introduction to Counselling Theory and Person Centred Practice, Introduction to Counselling Skills with Who Are You Now? Speak to
Andrea Rippon: Tutor www.whoareyounow.co.uk or 07814 735970
Pregnancy Acupuncture and Acupressure Specialist Rebecca Geanty: www.norwichacupuncturerooms.co.uk
Maternity Reflexologist Specialist Sarah Groves: www.fgt-norfolk.co.uk
Doula Steff Firth via Doula UK email@example.com
Jess Wilkins Photography: www.jesswilkinsphotography.co.uk 07795026925 Member of the British Association of Newborn and Baby Photographers https://www.facebook.com.jesswilkinsphotograpy
Useful UK-wide web links:
Reiki Association: www.reikiassociation.net
Article on reiki during pregnancy: www.reiki.org/reikinews/Pregnancy.html
Doula UK: www.doula.org.uk
Hypnobirthing (The Mongan Method): www.hypnobirthing.co.uk
Pregnancy Acupuncture and Acupressure: www.acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz
Download link for safe acupressure points during labour: http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/media/cms_page_media/133/Acupressure.pdf