Pregnancy on a budget

Everyone talks about how expensive babies are, but my partner and I found that actually we were spending more money starting with pregnancy. I’m seven weeks into my second pregnancy and have been giving a lot of thought to where we spend our money and where we can find cheaper alternatives this go round.

Two things I would not cut corners on are high-quality vitamins and my acupuncture visits because they have a direct impact on my health and the health of my baby.

Below are a few ways to consider cutting back that will contribute to your overall wellness. If you’re looking for other ideas, you also can read about nine healthy habits for pregnancy and childbirth, all of which are either inexpensive or free.

YouTube prenatal yoga and barre classes. I’ve found several really safe, free workouts on YouTube that I did throughout my pregnancy. In my third trimester, I worked hard to do my daily squats. This video from FIT by Larie was challenging but never felt like I was straining my body or overexerting myself. She offers really good cues for how to safely do the exercises and great modification options. I also did this Yoga with Adriene video many, many times. That said, I’ve done barre classes for years and am trained in yoga, so I have a strong foundation in proper form and how to listen to my body. I do not recommend beginning yoga, barre, Pilates or any other exercise during pregnancy without first consulting with you doctor or midwife.

Library books. It’s easy to spend a small fortune on books about pregnancy. I bought SO MANY books based on online reviews without really knowing what would work for me. I highly recommend visiting your local library to flip through their selection, narrow down your list and rent the books that resonate with you. You can takes notes as you read them and consider purchasing the most helpful ones if you think you’d like them as a reference later. I’ve listed a few of my favorites here.

Foam rolling. According to FitBump founder Kira Kohrherr, “Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release in which pressure is applied to certain body parts to relieve pain. At a base level, foam rolling increases circulation, which oxygenates the muscles. The fluid that is transferred through the motion brings oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, which is ideal during pregnancy.” I can say firsthand that foam rolling was a great alternative to massage during my first pregnancy and helped reduce aches and pains in my back and hips during my third trimester. I didn’t have any swelling issues, but foam rolling can help alleviate that as well. Here’s a link to a simple video with 5 ways to foam roll during pregnancy. Be sure to check with your doctor or midwife if you’ve never used a foam roller before and read about the two areas to avoid (because they could trigger contractions).

Mental health. I’m a big fan of therapy and can’t say enough about how it can help prepare men and women for the enormous transformation into parenting. But not everyone has the time or resources to seek counseling or therapy. As an alternative, I highly recommend journaling and/or talking to a close friend that you trust about how you feel about pregnancy, labor and becoming a parent. Articulating your expectations, fantasies and fears can be incredibly powerful. This is especially important if you’ve experienced sexual trauma or other unprocessed emotions that could come up.

Midwife Pam England, author of Birthing from Within, advocates that pregnant women and their partners create art to explore their emotions and misconceptions about birth. She writes, “Four things stand out from my work helping mothers explore their art. The first is that pregnant women unconsciously accept scientific and/or television images of birth. Few women acknowledge or even know what their own image of birth is. Yet it is their images, whether ignored or acknowledged, that will determine how they prepare for and experience pregnancy and birth. Second, while exploring their birth art women often realize the value of spiritual and psychological support from other women during pregnancy and labor, and begin to seek or welcome that support. Third, during the quiet, reflective process of making birth art, mother become more aware of their unborn baby. They report more maternal feelings and a greater sense of bonding. And finally, women express gratitude to be heard, acknowledged and given time to reflect on their inner process.” Her book includes birth art prompts, suggested art materials, examples and tips on how to get started.

My pregnancy nighttime routine

Nighttime sleep doesn’t always come easily, especially towards the end of pregnancy. I’d never struggled with insomnia until the end of my third trimester. So, through trial and error, I created a nighttime routine to help signal to my body that it was time to rest and to make myself as physically comfortable as possible.

8:00 pm: warm milk with molasses. I love having a warm, cozy beverage after supper. Since molasses is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium and other trace minerals, I started mixing it with warm milk over the stove (about a cup and a half of milk to a tablespoon of molasses). So relaxing and good for you as well!

9:00 pm: warm shower. I’ve always preferred to shower at night, but especially during pregnancy. It really helped put me in bedtime mode, and the warm water relaxed my muscles.

9:20 pm: tart cherry juice. I’ve written about tart cherry juice and its incredible sleep properties before. Every night, immediately before bed, I mixed about two tablespoons of tart cherry juice with warm water to help me sleep. I swear it works like a charm!

9:25 pm: heating pad. My neck, shoulders and upper back are my problem areas and where I hold tension. I kept this neck and shoulder heating pad plugged in beside my bed and fell asleep with it on low every night. It helped relieve my discomfort and felt so soothing.

9:30 pm: pregnancy pillow. This pregnancy pillow helped support my growing belly and aching back and hips during my last two trimesters. Highly recommend.

2:00 am: stretching. Inevitably after falling asleep, I would wake up several hours later with back and hip pain. The only thing that made me feel better was light stretching. My go-tos were a forward bend (with my hands on the edge of our bathtub), cat/cow, a deep squat, butterfly, head to knee pose and a figure-four stretch. That combination really worked for me.

4:00 am: Ensure Plus Nutrition Shakes. At least once during the night, I would wake up hungry. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, I kept a stash of Ensure Plus Shakes by my bed for convenience. They have 27 vitamins and minerals and 16 grams of protein. That was amazing for me because I struggled to get enough protein in my diet, and during pregnancy, you should aim for at least 50-75 grams of protein per day.

9 healthy habits for pregnancy and childbirth

One of the most important decisions during pregnancy is where you plan to deliver. When I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t give much thought to it. I automatically assumed that I would give birth at the hospital where my OBGYN practiced. During the first couple of weeks of my second trimester, my husband and I made a cross-country move. In the time it took to pack up, move and unpack, I had completely changed my mind. It’s a long story, but suffice to say that I discovered the Free Birth Society podcast, and the birth experiences it shared really resonated with me. It nudged me to stop to consider my personality, my circumstances and what scenario felt most peaceful and supportive to me.  I’ve never loved clinical settings (despite the fact that my mom worked at a hospital for 30 years and my father still does). I’m soft spoken and not great at standing up for myself and was worried that my wishes would go unheard in a busy maternity ward. Plus, COVID-19 was a factor.

Ultimately, my partner and I decided to try for a home birth. I had the luxury of going part time at work for the last part of my pregnancy, so I was able to fully commit to studying and preparing for labor. At the time, I thought it was important to learn as much as possible because of the homebirth and the added responsibility you take on when you choose that path. In hindsight, I think it’s equally important for birthers who choose a hospital birth. It’s essential for your ability to advocate for yourself and for your baby and to make the best decisions for you.

The following is a summary of what I learned: ways the experts recommend that you take care of your body during pregnancy and in preparation for labor. This list is a combination of advice from my midwife, advice from the prenatal books I read (listed here) and what worked for me.

  1. Herbal teas. My midwife recommended NORA tea, named for its ingredients: Nettle Leaf, Oatstraw, Raspberry Leaf and Alfalfa Leaf. I purchased the individual herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs and brewed a quart every day beginning about halfway through my second trimester, although you can begin anytime after 16 weeks. The  tea can improve the strength of contractions, release of the placenta after birth, lactation and bleeding postpartum. My midwife prefers NORA tea to the more mainstream Red Raspberry Leaf tea, although I used that too in a pinch. NORA tea is a bit of an acquired taste; I added the herb Lemon Balm to add some variety of flavor towards the end of my pregnancy. This article provides an in-depth description of NORA tea’s benefits as well as the recipe I used.  
  2. Dates. A small study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests that eating six red dates per day from 36 weeks onward appears to result in shorter, easier labors. Noor dates are preferable; if you use Majool dates instead, then reduce the number to 3 per day.
  3. Squats. According to Ina May Gaskin, the most well-respected midwife of our time, squats are critical to a healthy pregnancy. In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, she says, “I suggest daily squatting as part of your morning routine. Start with ten on the first day and increase that number as the days pass. Three hundred a day would not be too many. I have noticed that first-time mothers over thirty tend to have shorter labors since I began sharing the virtues of squatting.”
  4. Yoga. Prenatal yoga was so beneficial to me, particularly in alleviating the late-pregnancy aches and pains. Yoga can help with the baby’s position in the womb, which is critical for a healthy delivery. In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, she says: “Good posture and movement will make it less likely for your baby to settle into a more challenging position in the final weeks of pregnancy.” If you decide to do yoga during pregnancy, it is vital to find an instructor who understands the pregnant body so that he or she can guide you with appropriate modifications and prevent injuries. Regardless of your fitness level, there are certain poses (like twists) that are contraindicated for pregnancy. Your body also produces a hormone called relaxin that loosens your ligaments, giving you a false sense of flexibility, which can lead to strained muscles. Bottom line, find an expert to help you navigate these changes and strengthen your body in preparation for labor. (You might also consider YOGA Birth Method which includes yoga poses appropriate for each trimester and during labor as well as breathwork suggestions for each phase of labor.
  5. Perineal massage. Between 34 and 36 weeks, you can begin a daily massage of the tissues between the openings of the vagina and the anus. Prepping this area for labor can help reduce tearing, reduce the number of stitches and soften existing scar tissue. My physical therapist shared this animated how-to video with me, and I found it really helpful. I used sesame oil mixed with a couple drops of geranium oil.
  6. Walks. Make time for 30-minute walks outside every day. It’s good for the body and the soul.
  7. Nutrition. One of the most important ways to prevent complications and improve your health during pregnancy is to eat a nutritious diet. Drink water, limit preservatives and ensure that you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables, particularly dark, leafy greens and orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes and yams) since they contain important vitamins that you need during pregnancy. You also should aim for 50-75 grams of protein per day. The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth is a great resource for meal planning because it explains what nutrition your baby needs each week based on its development. Ultimately, listen to your body. Your cravings are clues that tell you what your body needs more of.
  8. Stress. Chronic stress impacts every system of the body; a growing fetus is no exception. If you don’t already have a daily practice like yoga, breathwork, meditation, walking in nature, devotional or journaling, I highly recommend starting one now.
  9. Hollywood labor. In Western parts of the world, all we know of labor is what we’ve seen dramatized on tv and in movies; as a result, our associations with birth are fear and pain. Unlike our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who were accustomed to home births, we’ve likely never seen birth up close. In Birthing from Within, Pam England addresses the misconceptions and fear that first-time parents have of labor and childbirth. Midwives, including my own, stress the importance of reframing the pain of labor and instead, focusing on the intensity of the sensations and working with them, not against them, to birth your baby. I highly recommend that you watch videos or read accounts of actual births to reset your expectations. (The Free Birth Society Instagram account and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth are both good resources.)

I cannot stress enough the value I’ve found in the midwifery model of care and how it contributed to my pregnancy, labor and childbirth. The advice is so logical, holistic and accessible, and it spans not just physical health but emotional health as well. If you have the option and the resources, I highly recommend hiring a midwife or doula to support you during your journey. The attentive, supportive care you receive helps you feel healthy, strong, confident, prepared and empowered every step of the way.

The act of releasing: Letting go of the pelvic floor

The pelvic floor is having a moment. People are talking about it more openly and it’s being addressed in fitness magazines, in yoga classes and maybe even prenatal workshops if you’re lucky. But truly, it deserves so much more attention. I feel so strongly about this topic because:

  1. I’ve struggled to find useful information.
  2. There are so many misconceptions about it.

One concept that totally changed my understanding of the pelvic floor is that you have to soften to strengthen.

Early on in my pelvic floor journey, the majority of advice I found was about strengthening the muscles – that learning how to clench them can prevent incontinence and other issues, particularly after childbirth. Great, sign me up! But as I did more research, I realized that most of us (women and men, believe it or not) actually clench our pelvic floor muscles too much.

“The pelvic floor is one of the body’s primary stress containers,” explains Lauren Roxburgh, a fascia and structural integrative specialist. “That pit in the base of your stomach is your pelvic floor in permanent clutch.”

Because most of us operate in a fairly consistent state of fight-or-flight, our pelvic floors are always on. And even worse, since most of us don’t regularly think about our pelvic floor, we certainly don’t know how to relax it. As a result, we have to find mindful ways to release that web of muscles and let it rest. Otherwise it becomes overworked and stressed to the point that it can’t do its job effectively. (Sounds like anyone you know?)

The first way to help release the pelvic floor is simply to find it. Karly Treacy is a Los Angeles–based vinyasa teacher, and her description of the right way to do a Kegel has been the only guide that worked for me:

Picture the pelvic floor muscles between your two sitting bones. Inhale, and as you exhale, draw the muscles together as if they were the two halves of an elevator door closing to meet in the middle. Once this door is closed, lift the elevator up and then release. Next, imagine the pelvic floor muscles between your pubic bone and tailbone. Inhale, and as you exhale, draw those muscles together in the same elevator-door fashion, lift the elevator, and then release. Now, draw all four elevator doors together at once, meeting at one point in the middle, then lift and release. Repeat 5 times, and rest. Aim to repeat this Kegel practice 2 to 3 times a week.

Once you’ve connected with your pelvic floor, I recommend checking in throughout the day to see if you notice any tension. The first few times I did this scan, I was SHOCKED. I was basically clenching any time I was in the car – whether I was driving or not. Work stress also triggered it.

Now, I do a quick body scan throughout the day and give myself permission to release my pelvic floor. (By the way, this applies to other stress centers, like the neck, too.) The simple act of reconnecting with the body and letting it release can have a profound effect on how you feel…physically and emotionally.

In the same way that deliberately slowing down your breath can have a measurable effect – like slowing your heart rate and helping you feel calmer – releasing your pelvic floor muscles can help let go of the lingering emotional fear and stress built up there. Try it and see what you think.

And if you want to get really crazy, this yoga sequence really helped me connect with my pelvic floor — especially feeling the difference between it and my abdominal muscles.

Want better sleep? Try these 6 lux nighttime rituals

It’s my firm belief that a nighttime routine should be indulgent, nurturing, relaxing and easy to maintain. Your routine should feel like a beautiful splurge at the end of your day, but also manageable to stick to… not just another item on your to do list.

For people who struggle to fall asleep, a nighttime routine can also be extremely functional. Your body naturally wants to keep to a routine, and the more you can create external cues that it’s time to wind down for bed, the more success you’ll have. Based on what I’ve seen, people who struggle with sleep tend to adopt one of these activities, like dimming the lights for an hour before bedtime. I think choosing just one in isolation is stopping short. The power of the routine is its cumulative effect. Try stringing them together to see the full power of a nighttime routine in all its glory! This is the sequence that works for me.

  1. Set a daily reminder.

I encourage you to pick up your phone right now and set a daily reminder to begin your nighttime routine. I start mine about two hours before I plan to actually go to bed, so that I’m not rushed. The reminder will help you adopt the routine until it becomes a habit.

2. Dim your lights.

Begin simply by turning down the lights. If your overhead lights don’t have dimmer switches, try lamps or candles instead. I like to dim the lights two hours before bedtime as a visual cue for my body. It should go without saying, but try to minimize screen time at this point in your evening.

3. Treat yourself to a ritual bath

I realize that baths aren’t for everyone, but for me, they’re the definition of luxury and relaxation. I highly recommend incorporating ritual baths – baths taken with a special purpose – into your routine. Every step of preparing and enjoying your bath should be carried out very deliberately with an intention in mind. Set the intention based on what you need physically, emotionally or spiritually at that moment. Check in with yourself. Do you feel tense? Overwhelmed? Exhausted? Is your to-do list running in an endless loop in your mind? Your intention doesn’t have to be fancy; it’s about acknowledging how you feel now and how you want to feel and giving yourself permission to change. A lot of times my intention is simply to let go. Set your intention while you prepare your bath – dim the lights, light a candle, add bath salts, start a playlist or a meditation – and then revisit that intention while you soak.

4. Prepare a warm drink.

Following my bath, I prepare a warm drink to enjoy as I’m getting ready for bed. Again, some people don’t enjoy warm beverages, but they’ve always been incredible calming and nurturing for me. I have a few favorite warm drinks in rotation at the moment; I choose them based on how I’m feeling physically and emotionally. If my day has been hectic, and I feel scattered and overwhelmed, I choose something grounding like a ginger tea or a golden milk. If I need a little extra self love, I might opt for something rich like cacao with rose petals. If I’m running low on time (or have already brushed my teeth), I’ll just drink warm water. Don’t forget your intention from the previous step. P.S. I recently got some heart-shaped tea spoons, and they’ve made this nightly ritual even more delicious.

5. Incorporate essential oils.

I’ve recently started incorporating essential oils into my daily routine. (I bought a diffuser and am LOVING it. More on that later.) I like to add a couple of drops of essential oils to the body oil I use at bedtime. You could use a diffuser in your bedroom or just apply a couple of drops of essential oils to the bottoms of your feet.

Some popular nighttime oils are:

  • Frankincense helps with anxiety, stress; “king of essential oils;” instills peace, comfort and relation
  • Rose helps with stress, tension, grief; “queen of essential oils;” brings in divine love or self love
  • Lavender helps with agitation, anxiety; the Romans used lavender in their baths for its calming and curative powers
  • Ylang Ylang – helps with stress, tension, anxiety; use it when you need a dose of childlike playfulness (can cause irritation on the skin, so test a small patch first or dilute with oil or lotion)

6. Try guided meditation, yoga nidra or relaxing music.

When I’m stressed, I clench my hands while I’m asleep…until my hands go numb. Needless to say, I’ve tried different techniques to drop this habit. A friend suggested yoga nidra, and it’s the only thing so far that works. Not everyone can find 20 minutes for a yoga nidra practice, but if you can, you might just fall asleep on the spot. I also really enjoy guided meditations and love the Live Awake podcast. (You can find it on SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts.)

Remember, these are just my suggestions. Try them for yourself and notice how you respond. The success of your routine is less about what you choose and more about being consistent with a system that works for you. If lavender makes you feel energized instead of relaxed (as it does for me), then adapt. Once you land on a routine, implement it every evening, preferably at the same time.