The thing about preparing for pregnancy is that it’s not all gloom and doom-insert morning sickness, cankles (fat ankles), fatigue and constipation.
But it also isn’t just this glowy, magical, time that you can just float through. You can’t just walk into birth unprepared and catch your baby effortlessly in a mountain stream with river dolphins surrounded by sunbeams and rainbows.
What DO you expect when you are expecting?
If you’ve just got a positive read on that pee stick or you’re planning on conceiving in the near future, you’re probably feeling a combination of excitement and uncertainty.
If you’re anything like me, you’re already reading ALL the birthy books and staying up too late watching home births with twinkly lights on YouTube. But also, you’re low-key obsessively Googling every pregnancy symptom, too. (psst, stop it). T
The thing is, there is so much out of your control during pregnancy that you can really cause yourself a lot of stress.
So instead, focus on what you can control and how you can best prepare for a healthy pregnancy before conception through the fourth trimester.
Holistically preparing for pregnancy is like delicious apple pie…each slice is a different aspect of your total well-being, and each is important in its own right.
The journey of becoming a mother- known as matrescence (like adolescence, a term coined by Dana Raphael in the 1970s) is transformational on all levels: physical, hormonal, emotional, social, cultural, economic, and spiritual.
How to Physically Prepare for Pregnancy
Here’s how you can prepare that beautiful, growing body of yours from the inside out.
1. A Healthy Diet for Pregnancy
Do NOT restrict calories or try dieting to lose body fat while you’re pregnant. You and that sweet little bean need ENERGY from real food to make all the growing-of-a-human things happen!
(Some women may be advised by their doctors to achieve a healthier weight before conceiving. This is a separate scenario that should be discussed with your doctor.)
You are about to engage in the most energy-intensive activity of your life. To prepare for pregnancy, you need the nutrients, and you need the right amount. So obviously, you can’t just be wolfing down just anything. Make sure your diet consists of nutrient-dense foods and contains everything you need to support yours and baby’s growing bodies.
Pregnancy Nutrition Basics
Everyone is different, but I recommend getting between 2,500-3000 calories per day during pregnancy and 3,500-4,000 while breastfeeding.
The key here is:
- nutrient-dense, high-protein (25% daily intake) foods
- balanced carefully with complete carbohydrates. This should be about 20% of daily intake. Remember to avoid refined carbs as much as possible.
- and healthy fats. Fats should be about 55% daily intake. Yes, 55%. Because fats are literally the building blocks of growing a human.
Some foods to include are:
- Grass-fed dairy products (we’re talkin’ protein, fat, calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc! Stand back, kale! Dairy is the OG of superfoods! – I’ll take my bulletproof coffee with real butter and whole-fat raw cream, k thanx)
- Grass-fed beef (protein, iron, zinc, selenium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, phosphorus, pantothenate, magnesium, and potassium.)
- Fruit high in vitamin C, like oranges, papaya, and seasonally ripe fruits
- Sweet potatoes
- Leafy greens (make a delicious, mineral-rich broth with them!)
- Eggs (high in protein, fat, and countless vitamins, including vitamin K2 and the most bioavailable source of choline, which is absolutely vital for brain-building)
- Avocados (high in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, copper, vitamin E, and vitamin C…Plus, if you aren’t eating some guac every week, what are you even doing with your life???)
Protein Requirements increase throughout pregnancy
Getting sufficient protein has always been one of my biggest challenges, especially during pregnancy. I had to I really push myself to reach that 80-gram minimum (and I do mean the absolute basement level minimum). I always tried to sneak protein in anywhere I could.
During extreme body transitions such as training for a marathon, building muscle, or IDK like GROWING A COMPLETE HUMAN, 1.1 grams of protein per pound of body weight is a more reasonable goalpost to aim for. Protein needs will increase throughout your pregnancy, especially the third trimester.
“Recipe” for the perfectly balanced pregnancy snack
For each meal/snack, aim for:
- about 2 cups fresh produce tossed in good fats
- about 5 oz protein (about 30-60 grams)
- and 4 oz of a well-rounded complex carbohydrates
Using this ratio for every meal (and about half this amount for small snacks between) will help keep those ketones in check. It’s ok to start at the weekly bigger picture first if this feels overwhelming.
Baby steps, you guys…yes, pun intended.
Eating like a Hobbit during pregnancy
Yes, you will basically always be eating…
Yes, you’re basically a hobbit now.
Welcome to Elevensies.
Try meal-planning to ace those macros
Now, if you’re reeeaally ready and want to go all in: input these numbers into EatThisMuch.com and let the algorithm do its magic.
It will spit out some fantastic meal ideas and tips to help you meet your nutritional goals so you can prepare for pregnancy confidently. You can even set your goals and then automatically get recipes and grocery lists for the week.
It’s Easy-Peasy-Lemony-Squeezy….not Difficult-Difficult-Lemon-Difficult like I was making it in my ridiculously complicated Excel spreadsheet formula before I discovered it.
My Favorite Nutrition Resources
In case you’re wondering…even though I have studied nutrition in my various development courses over the years, I am not a registered dietician or nutritionist.
I am just a birth nerd. And mama who was like, really damn hard on myself to get this nutrition thing right during pregnancy.
Needless to say, I did a whole lot of reading. You can too, with my favorite prenatal nutrition resources:
The Prenatal Nutrition Library
Real Food for Pregnancy by Lily Nichols
The Postnatal Depletion Cure by Dr. Oscar Serralach
Why prenatal nutrition is more than just for growing a baby
Keep in mind, too, that you’re not only nourishing your baby, but you’re nourishing yourself. Symptoms like “mom brain,” low energy, and lethargy are signs that you’re undernourished and need to fuel up. If you don’t keep it up during your pregnancy, you could stay depleted for years to come.
You can learn more about postnatal depletion here…as your friendly neighborhood childbirth educator, I do not want PND for you, so let’s put some preventative nutrition practices in place now.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate for a Healthy Pregnancy
Drink some water, you beautiful, dehydrated human!
If you’re trying to conceive, staying hydrated will increase your chances since your cervical mucus will be of much higher quality, helping that sperm get where it needs to go! (Is mucus one of those words that everyone hates-like moist?!)
Once you are pregnant, the need for hydration only gets more important!
Your body needs water to form amniotic fluid, produce the baby’s blood, build a baby, feed a baby, and keep your digestion up to par.
Water will also help flush out toxins and waste in your body rather than letting it build up in your and your baby’s tissues.
Proper hydration will also help ward off those restless legs and/or dreaded Charlie’s horses in the middle of the night (not that you’ll be sleeping anyway because you’ll be waddling to the bathroom to pee a couple of times because #hydrationisselfcare, but I digress.)
Ideally, you want to drink half of your body weight in ounces daily. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, drink 80 ounces of water.
So, what counts as hydration?
Well, drinking too much plain water can flush out essential minerals (especially non-filtered city water…P.S. Tell your fam Mama wants a Berkey for Christmas).
You can counter this loss of minerals by drinking bone or vegetable broth, coconut water, naturally sweetened fruit juices (paired with a protein snack *first*), Liquid IV packets, or by adding a pinch of some pink Himalayan salt.
I hate to be the one to tell you because you know I love me some iced vanilla breves, but coffee is NOT breakfast. More importantly, coffee does NOT count in your hydration tracking (in fact, it counts negative, so you gotta hydrate more after caffeine takes away…don’t shoot the messenger ?)
3. How Exercising Prepares you for Pregnancy
Reject the myth that you shouldn’t lift anything or go anywhere during your pregnancy.
Giving birth isn’t for the weak. Mama, you’ve got to be strong, and you’ve got to be in the habit of moving EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
You’ve got to move your body if you want to prepare for pregnancy and acheive your birth goals.
What would happen if you participated in a marathon but never trained for it beforehand? You’d be pretty miserable, probably end up with injuries, and you would def feel like giving up on your goals pretty early on, yeah?
The same goes for birth: If you start supporting your body NOW by strengthening it, it will support you as you work towards your birthing goals when the time comes.
Here are the most important ways you can get moving:
- Walk daily (good for body and mind; your dogs will thank you…give them belly rubs for me after you return from your neighborhood stroll!)
- Strength training (think quads, glutes, calves, hips, lower back, etc.)
- Increase the flexibility and strength in your hamstrings and hip flexor muscles, and don’t forget to add balance by stretching each side equally.
- Fascia tension release with foam roller and cupping – DAILY. This is perfect as a nightly ritual to enhance your sleep.
- Focus on moderate to intense cardio activity 2-3 times per week actually shows benefits to Baby in utero. I loved my Dancing for Birth, prenatal yoga, and barre classes during pregnancy.
There are some really great YouTube videos and even some paid-for classes like Spinning Babies Daily Essentials to help you get started safely.
Exercise and gentle stretching and strengthening won’t just benefit your body but will put your mind and soul in a better place to face any doubts or uncertainties about your motherhood journey.
A Note about Kegels
One special note from yours truly (who is not a pelvic floor physical therapist, certainly does not play one on TV but actually really has a lot of pelvic PT/midwife fraaands from working in the birthy world for over a decade…):
For the love of all good things, please stop doing Kegels, especially if you have been athletically inclined for most of your life or are currently very active (i.e., weight lifting, cross fit, gymnasts, dancers, etc.)
Kegels do NOT prepare you for pregnancy or birth.
When you focus only on contracting your pelvic floor, those muscles are more likely to become hypertonic because kegels tell those PF muscles to become shorter and more rigid.
Starting pelvic floor physical therapy prenatally can:
- Help you pinpoint tension areas in your pelvic floor (just like a “knot” in your shoulder when you go in for massage therapy)
- Help you learn to activate and release those muscles on command
- Teach you how to protect and work with (not against) your pelvic floor during the pushing phase of labor.
What to do instead of Kegels
Instead of constantly telling the pelvic floor muscles to tighten, tighten, contract, and training your brain-body connection to work in tension mode, work on lengthening and releasing those muscles.
During pregnancy, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing to help build that relax-release brain-body connection necessary to lengthen PF muscles during labor and allow Baby to pass uninhibited.
Imagine your pelvic floor goes down like a piston when inhaling versus holding your breath and pushing (try while pooping.) This is actually “locking” your pelvic floor and pushing against those powerful muscles. (As an athlete, you’ve asked your pelvic floor to be strong your whole life, but now we ask it to yield, soften, release and relax.)
Preparing for Pregnancy Mentally and Spiritually
Your mind and heart play a bigger role in your conception, pregnancy, birth, and beyond than you might have imagined. In many ways, physical preparation is easier than mental. Here is how you can get the right mindset and work through those feelings of uncertainty when you prepare for pregnancy mentally and spiritually.
Learning What to Let Go as You Prepare for Pregnancy
Many of us have a hard time letting things just happen. We have our lists, our calendars, and our expectations set. When we can’t control something, it’s stressful, especially when it involves our child’s well-being.
Here’s the thing, though. You can do all the right things according to plan, and the plan…just doesn’t happen how you planned. ?♀️
Louder for those in the back:
You can’t make pregnancy, birth, postpartum, or parenting go according to strict, unmalleable plans, no matter how hard you try!
Plans that don’t always go as planned might include:
- When or how you conceive or how long it takes
- How you’ll feel
- How you “nest”
- When you go into labor
- Where you give birth
- What position you give birth in
- The sex of your child
- Your partner’s reactions or level of support
- How you’ll teach your child
You can’t plan for everything. But one thing you can definitely count on is that most things probably won’t go as planned…and that’s okay. It’s more than okay, actually.
Working with a therapist can help you learn to let go of things you can’t control.
Practicing relaxation techniques during pregnancy, allows you to trust the process, trust your body, trust your baby, and trust that you’ve done everything you could do and now it’s time to let go.
Ride the waves of labor, so to speak.
Going into your pregnancy with this mindset will save you so much anxiety and stress in the coming months and years. It’s something we all have to practice every day.
Addressing Pregnancy/Birth Trauma
If this isn’t your first pregnancy or birth experience, you may need more time to prepare mentally and spiritually, especially if you had a birth or hospital trauma.
Make a commitment to yourself and, together with a licensed mental health professional, work through any intense traumas or fears you may still have surrounding birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, NICU, or even motherhood trauma.
You’ll be better prepared for your current pregnancy and feel much more confident as your Birthing Day draws nearer.
Curate Your Birth Team
The biggest key is preparing mentally is building the right team. Surround yourself with people that trust your intuition and bring positive energy not just to your birthing space but to your entire pregnancy and that vulnerable postpartum recovery period.
If you’re looking for a program that covers everything from conception to pregnancy to birth and beyond, you’ll want to check out my course, The Birth of a Mother.
This course will give you the confidence you need to have a redemptive and reverent birth experience. You will learn how to embrace your journey into motherhood. And become a part of a community that supports and nurtures not just your (re)birth as a mother but deeply nourishes YOU as a human, a mama, and a woman.
Prepare for Pregnancy by Preparing for Motherhood
You can’t control everything on your journey to motherhood, but you can take practical steps to support your body and mind before, during, and after birth.
You can learn more about The Birth of a Mother here.
Blog summary: How to Prepare for Pregnancy
I summarized all the best parts of this blog post in a printer-friendly format so you can DOWNLOAD IT FOR FREE in my free pregnancy resource library. Print it and hang it on your fridge (and think of my voice saying “HEY YOU DRINK SOME WATER” every time you walk by. You’re welcome!)
Or check out my IG live replay from 1/5/2023 that I saved just for you!
Birth Professionals: How do you prepare your clients for pregnancy?
If you find yourself often repeating all the information I put together in this blog post, now you can order my Preparing for Pregnancy Client hand-outs customized with your brand, font, colors and logo and professionally printed on double-sided matte touch postcards for easy reference. Customize your very own Preparing Clients for Pregnancy for Midwives, Doulas, Childbirth Educators and other birth and baby professionals.