Early Pregnancy Unveiled: A Midwife's Perspective on Signs, Symptoms, and Wellness

Early Pregnancy Unveiled: A Midwife's Perspective on Signs, Symptoms, and Wellness

Hello and welcome to a journey through early pregnancy and beyond!

Before we delve into the intricacies of recognizing those telltale signs of pregnancy and nurturing a healthy journey, allow me to introduce myself. I'm a Certified Nurse Midwife practicing on the serene East End of Long Island, NY. My fascination with the miracle of pregnancy and birth began in childhood when I watched my mother impart wisdom through childbirth education classes in our very own living room. 

Now, as a mother of two wonderful children, Dax (10) and Aurora (7), I bring both professional expertise and personal experience to my practice. Guiding individuals through the full spectrum of pregnancy care isn't just a job for me – it's my life's passion. So, let's embark on this journey together, exploring the wonders of early pregnancy and the path to a healthy, fulfilling journey ahead.

Early Pregnancy: Signs and Symptoms

Navigating the early stages of pregnancy can be both exciting and overwhelming. While some signs may seem obvious, others can be subtle, leading to uncertainty and questions. Let's unravel the mysteries of early pregnancy together.

The earliest sign of pregnancy is a missed period (if you have regular cycles). This can also be followed by: breast tenderness, nausea, and vomiting sometimes associated with food aversions, and other common discomforts - which are all typical. The previously listed symptoms characterize probable and presumptive signs of pregnancy. 

A diagnosis or confirmation of pregnancy occurs when fetal heart tones are heard or an ultrasound shows evidence of a pregnancy. A positive urine pregnancy test alone is not considered diagnostic because there are a few other conditions that can elevate the presence of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) levels.

Staying Healthy During Pregnancy

Health in pregnancy is a foundation for your birth and postpartum experience. Staying healthy helps pregnant individuals stay in a lower-risk category. Some come into pregnancy high risk and those who may become high risk at some point. None of these recommendations come with the implication that if you don’t adhere to this information you will have poor outcomes.

Health is not only a physical construct, it includes the mind-body connection as well. Mental health influences our pregnancy and how we navigate the postpartum period, also known as the 4th trimester. As someone who struggled deeply with postpartum mood disorders, I speak openly regarding my experience and how the need for exceptional care and social support are important to plan for. Though I do not cover postpartum care in this article, I encourage you to prioritize your postpartum care with the basics of a healthy pregnancy in equal parts.

Nutrition

Food is medicine for our bodies; it supports all of our systems including our minds. Protein intake supports growth and healing, aids in glycemic control, and can reduce hypertension. Iron-rich foods can reduce anemia and boost our blood stores in anticipation of birth-related bleeding. Making good choices in nutrition supports the growth of your baby, and their brain, improves birth weight, reduces prematurity, and more. We know we want healthy babies and that comes with a healthy mother.  

Mindfulness of healthful weight gain will serve you well on your journey through your pregnancy, your birth, and your postpartum recovery. When pregnant you only need an extra 300 calories a day. Optimize your health by ensuring these extra calories are not empty carbs but rather dense protein sources.
So here is the breakdown of what ideal nutrition looks like daily:

 

A smoothie recipe that packs a punch:

  • Frozen fruit of your choice (I love bananas, mangos, pineapples and berries)
  • Greek Yogurt (17g of protein in 1 cup!!!)
  • OJ (increases iron absorption)
  • Spinach and dandelion greens (great sources of iron)
  • Protein Powder (I like Garden of Life Vanilla flavor)
  • Chia Seeds (more protein)
  • Ground flax seed (easier to absorb if our gut doesn’t have to breakdown the seed shell)
  • Nut butter (cashews have the highest protein)
  • Beet juice (surprise more protein)

Movement and Exercise 

Even when not pregnant we all know that moving our bodies is helpful for a healthy body and mind! Stay active, sign up for prenatal yoga, add a brisk walk to your daily routine, take the stairs instead of the elevator, dance, swim; get that heart rate up, and increase your physical stamina. 

As your baby grows and your uterus rises out of your pelvis, your center of gravity shifts, this is when posture matters the most! Don’t succumb to “the waddle”. Keep your head up, drop your shoulders, straighten your back, and tuck your pelvis. Not only is this better for your lower back, neck, pelvis, etc… it is also a big factor in optimizing the baby’s position before birth. Use good body mechanics, squat when reaching for something low, and lift with your arms and legs, NOT your back! 

Uses for Plant-based Medicine in Pregnancy Health

Throughout history, midwives faced accusations of witchcraft due to their botanical expertise and their provision of "medical care" to their communities. Embracing plant-based medicine across all its forms in my practice, perhaps I'm considered a witch too! Honoring our ancestral wisdom, midwives acknowledge the power of herbs in promoting healthy pregnancies. Neglecting the role of plants in our well-being would be a disservice. Below, I present a roster of safe and nurturing herbs that are readily accessible and profoundly beneficial. If this piques your interest, delve further into this realm using the resources provided at the end.

  • Chamomile is excellent for digestive disorders, combined with ginger can aid in reducing morning sickness. It is also high in calcium.
  • Dandelion greens/teas are high in vitamin A, calcium, and iron. They can support healthy blood pressure, and reduce fatigue and exhaustion too.
  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea is a wonderful tonic, rich in vitamins and minerals, which strengthens and nourishes the uterus to promote normal contractility. It also increases the flow of milk and restores the body system in the postpartum.
  • Probiotics are excellent for digestive health, vaginal health, and research indicates they are effective in reducing the colony count of Group Beta Strep (GBS). I drank Kombucha daily during my pregnancies and consumed probiotics in live culture forms and capsule form. I was determined to not have GBS.

Childbirth Education and Doula Support

What do these things have to do with a healthy pregnancy? 

Knowledge empowers us to articulate our desires and advocate for our preferences. Childbirth education is the starting point. Consider options like the Bradley Method, Hypnobirthing, or Lamaze. While in-person classes offer valuable interactions with other expectant parents, virtual options can offer just as much while suiting busy lifestyles. Personally, despite being a childbirth educator and labor and delivery nurse, my husband and I attended childbirth education sessions for both pregnancies, proving their worth.

Regarding doulas, their benefits are unequivocal. Research reveals their positive impact on birth outcomes, including lower rates of low-birth-weight babies and birth complications, and increased breastfeeding initiation. Doulas also contribute to reducing primary cesarean sections, aligning with the national effort to decrease surgical births. One physician likened doula support to an essential medication saying, “ “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” My doula remains a profound connection, ensuring my birth wishes were respected and upheld.

Choosing your Provider

Choosing the right providers during pregnancy profoundly affects your health. Ensure they align with your values. Consider their proximity, practice setting, affiliated hospital's stance on physiologic birth, and availability for high-risk scenarios. Also, inquire about newborn resources in case of complications. Vet your providers thoroughly. While expertise is crucial, prioritize someone who embraces a shared-decision making approach, fostering autonomy and informed choices throughout your care journey. Remember, it's your body and your birth.

Some questions to ask as you choose your provider: 

  • What is their schedule of care and allotted time for visits? 
  • Are they able to care for you if you are, or become high risk? 
  • Furthermore, what resources are available for your newborn if complications arise?

Lastly, I leave you with a list of resources used to develop this article. I share these routinely with my clientele!

Books:

  • Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years. Susun S. Weed
  • Herbal Healing for Women, Simple home remedies for women of all ages. Rosemary Gladstar
  • The Birth Book. William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N.
  • Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin, C.P.M
  • Real Food for Pregnancy. Lily Nichols
  • The First Forty Days, The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother. Heng Ou

Podcasts:

Websites:

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