By Kimberly Denitz-Zuleger
From the moment you share with the world that you are pregnant, you are inundated with information on how to care for your baby or what to do in labor.
“Definitely get that epidural,” says the stranger in the Target line.
“Don’t forget to sleep while you can,” your aunt says.
Just about everything you can imagine will be thrown at you, from pacifiers to co-sleeping, whether you want the advice or not.
With that said, here’s an interesting truth that many of my doula clients share with me: almost no one offers advice on how to care for yourself during pregnancy. It’s all about how to survive labor, the feeding and sleep schedule, or which items to purchase. No one stops you on the street to remind you to take the time once or twice a week to check in with your body and mind.
Maybe that looks like soaking in a pool and letting the weightlessness invigorate you.
Is anyone calling to make sure you’re doing your cat/cow every day–connecting with that belly and letting it hang down, while taking pressure off the sacrum, the tailbone, helping relieve your blooming body?
As a doula, I work closely with my clients to help them navigate the changes they experience through activities that resonate with them specifically. Many women find walking to benefit them, both physically and mentally. Others may enjoy a Vinyasa flow yoga class, as they like to breathe deep and move more. Some may prefer a salsa or Zumba class. I once had a client Zumba her baby out. It was truly memorable!
Finding activities that support your evolving figure can help you maintain a sense of control, as well as offer the tools to embrace these changes. Instead of feeling disconnected as this new life (or lives) forms within you, these activities allow you to stay in your body and grow stronger. Maintaining a sense of strength and awareness during these physical changes undoubtedly transcends into labor. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. My clients who are in tune–checking in with their bodies, asking questions, understanding the changes, welcoming even the unpleasant ones (ugh, sciatica!)–will take these emotions with them into labor, which helps them groove through the hardest and best parts of pregnancy- the birth!
As you navigate the varying stages of pregnancy, your needs fluctuate drastically. The first trimester may be about nausea. During the third trimester, you may find that all your energy has dissipated, and you must find a new way to support your changing body. Being gentle with yourself, and listening to your body’s needs during this journey, is easier said than done. By giving yourself some grace to flow through the myriad of changes, you will find it all easier to accept (you may even find it enjoyable and pleasurable)!
On the topic of pleasure, sex is always brought up when I’m working with a family. It’s obvious that all these changes in pregnancy will bring some newness to a sexual relationship, should you be in one. My suggestion surrounding sex is always the same:
Do it, and do it often if you’re feeling it.
If you’re not, don’t.
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing, friends. Do what works for you. And of course, always check with your care provider if you have any medical questions surrounding sex during pregnancy.
Masturbation is also a-okay and supports a connection only you can have with your body. As you are navigating all these changes, you may find that your partner is too. He or she may have reservations about sex or may be really excited.
It’s all incredibly personal & dynamic.
I do find in my practice that discussing navigating sex with a changing body really opens up some beautiful conversations surrounding intimacy-such as love, self-love, and empowerment. It serves a partnership well to embrace these changes and helps support a deeper connection going into the labor–which is the ultimate goal.
Something to try? Ask your partner to take some photos of your changing body each month. It’s an intimate and often fun activity that can be really sweet to look back on! Or hire someone to shoot your changing body! You won’t regret looking back on the journey through photos. Check out www.birthwithoutfear.org for some great photo ideas, videos, and stories.
Celebrating these temporary changes, accepting the newness of it all, finding perspective, and staying active benefits a whole mind/body connection. I encourage my clients to dig deep to talk about what they are feeling. Pregnancy is a dynamic, incredible process. We hold years of feelings, emotions, and energy within us. What advice works for one person may not work for another, but the common goal would be finding a place of peace with the changes that are happening.
For pregnant individuals with a history of trauma, the connection to their changing body can bring up an incredible amount of emotion. We often take time to peel back the layers and find activities that help open the transformation that needs to take place. Doing so creates a sense of security and strength, amidst a growing body and partnership. We know that moving the body undoubtedly offers reprieve from negative feelings like anxiety and/or depression. With that said, sometimes a weekly swim is not enough and that’s when other options come into to play to help navigate pregnancy. Therapy, meditation, spirituality, acupuncture, and in some circumstances, medication, are all examples of things used to support this journey. Our bodies are so unique, so this means that finding just the right combination of support to move through these nine-ish months looks different for everyone.
What I know for sure is that finding a good support system, people that lift you up, that offer gentle support (rather than pushy advice) is key. Listening to your body, and being gracious with your ever changing shape, will most certainly be a time you will not forget. Grab a friend (pregnant or not) and go try on some new and comfortable things to wear. Maternity wear has progressed so much. Both Target and Old Navy have great options that will help you feel comfortable in this new skin.
And when it comes to the changes in your breasts, there are going to be a lot! Your nipples may darken, breasts will become larger prenatally, and once your milk comes in, that’s a whole new story! I always recommend clients finding a really comfortable bra to wear during pregnancy, especially ones that make you feel good. This new shape is something to celebrate, and that includes your breasts. If you’re like me–anything over a C/D or even bigger, (I was a DD at birth), I really like Hot Milk. They’ve got some pretty stuff, that has bigger sizes for us voluptuous ladies. The good news is there are definitely options out there to support however you’re feeling. Feeling special, comfortable, and even sexy is totally possible during pregnancy!
Above all, remember this: your journey is unique to you. Do not compare yourself to others. Trust your instincts, follow your heart, and guide your body through this time with grace and love. You’re worth it.
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Kimberly Denitz-Zuleger is a mother of a 17, 16, and 3-year-old. She has a thriving private doula practice in Santa Barbara County and works with Carriage House Birth in L.A. County. Kim holds a degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences, as well as an EMT certification. She is a co-leader/board member for the International Cesarean Awareness Network (Santa Barbara chapter), an avid skier, actor, and writer. Kim spends her free time traveling as much as possible, going to the gym, reading, and taking long, but totally interrupted baths, because mom life never ends.