Whether they admit it or not, most women will spend a good chunk of their pregnancy reading baby books, scanning Google and picking the brains of fellow bump buddies.
And too right! Pregnancy is not only a time of excitement and joy - it's a time when you're emotionally and physically changing in ways you've never experienced. Every twinge, ache or peculiar symptom is often followed by a frantic search online. Add in the need to know what 'to do' during pregnancy - what to eat, what not to eat, which exercises are safe, and so on - as well as learning about labour, birth and beyond, it can all be a little overwhelming.
At just over 38 weeks pregnant, I think I've only just figured out what was worth listening to and what worked for me during the past nine months. Although I've been very lucky to have a healthy pregnancy and, at times, felt the best I've ever felt, the way I've approached it and some simple things I've done have, I believe, made it a better experience.
I know pregnancy isn't always fun - some women suffer greatly. But working out what makes you feel better and committing to them throughout your 40 weeks can make a difference. Although they aren't really secrets, I'll share with you my top three things (out of many) that have helped me have a happier, healthier, more positive pregnancy.
Walk...and walk some more
Staying active while pregnant is one of the best things you can do. Something I've made a huge effort to keep up, even on days I've felt tired or uncomfortable with indigestion. At 22 weeks pregnant, I even jetted off with a gal pal for a few days hiking the beautiful Portuguese coastline, bump and backpack in tow.
Whether you were a fitness freak before you fell pregnant or didn't do a thing, regular brisk walking throughout pregnancy has endless benefits and is safe to do right until the end. Don't be tempted to migrate to the couch too much. Besides the physical benefits - such as helping you maintain a healthy weight and reducing your risk of developing gestational diabetes - a long walk in the countryside, a park or at the beach will boost your mood, reduce stress hormones and help you sleep better. I promise you.
In fact, upping your walking as you approach your due date can help the baby move into a good position (yes, you can find me walking on the beach most days at the moment). And in the early phases of labour, a long walk may help things progress nicely. Use gravity to your advantage!
Knowledge is power
I think I've probably read and researched more than the average pregnant woman. As a health writer, it's simply in my nature to do so. And I can't encourage it enough. Knowledge is power when it comes to pregnancy, labour and birth. Just make sure you spend your time reading and researching the right things.
Stay away from open forums that waffle on about old-wives tales and bad experiences, and stick to evidence-based information from reliable books, journals and websites. Know your rights, learn that you have a choice, and swot up on the benefits and risks of any intervention - may it be about being induced, caesareans, epidurals or simply vaginal examinations during labour.
Educate yourself about anything that will involve your body or your baby, and whatever anyone says, do a birth plan. Yes, birth often doesn't go to plan. But if you can't even state your preferences about what you want during labour and birth, let alone (and more importantly) what you don't want, you're basically ignoring your right to have a choice.
I recently read a fantastic blog by Sarah Bregel about women's rights in birth and the importance of doing your research and having a birth plan. Quoted directly from her blog, she writes: "But you know what is likely even more disappointing than maybe not getting your ideal birth? Getting railroaded into unnecessary interventions during your birth because you didn't know you could say no."
Don't be a sheep - for example, if your midwife says she'll do a sweep at your next appointment, be sure to question it. Is it needed? Could we just wait and see if things get moving on their own first? Being educated puts you in good stead for a better experience and will give you the confidence to question anything that will come your way during pregnancy and birth.
Create a supportive circle
I can't stress this enough. A lot of my happiness and positivity has come from the fact that I've surrounded myself with the right people during my pregnancy. Supportive friends and family, my HypnoBirthing tutor, my inspiring Aunt (who I have also asked to be my doula) and my wonderful midwife have shaped my pregnancy into what it is.
I've been respectful to my partner, involving him in my journey and taking the time to explain things that are important to me and why. In return, he's felt very much part of it and I've loved watching his excitement build and knowledge grow. I've seen many men get blamed left, right and centre for everything, and are battered with the 'you don't understand how I feel' stick for nine months. This won't make your pregnancy any better - it'll simply emphasise any negative thoughts and feelings you're having.
Cut out those who drag your mood down. Spend quality time with people who lift you and share your outlook. Figure out what birth you want and tailor your antenatal care to this to help build your confidence and knowledge (and remember - knowledge is power).
Besides these things, eat well, drink lots of water and do the things you won't have as much time to do once the baby arrives. Be present - stop and take notice of your baby when he or she moves or kicks. Above all, revel in the miracle that is pregnancy.