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As a time of great highs and lows, pregnancy can take its toll on you, both emotionally and physically. Pregnancy is made especially tough because you may not be able to indulge in your usual ways of unwinding or de-stressing.
For example, relaxing with a couple of glasses of wine at the weekend or even having a cigarette (if you smoke) are both out of the question for pregnant women because of the damage caused to the unborn baby. However, when you're pregnant, you are dealing with the twin stress of bodily discomfort and mental worry, and it is doubly important that you're able to wind down.
Stress can not only harm the expectant mum's health but, according to studies, also the baby's cognitive development. It is therefore essential to take some time out for yourself and indulge in a few treats while pregnant.
Exercise is a great stress buster and for most women, pregnancy doesn't mean having to give it up completely. Impact sports are not recommended but there are plenty of ways for a pregnant woman to stay active. Aqua-aerobics is a fun way to stay fit as the buoyancy of the water helps to take the stress off your joints, or if you prefer, a relaxing swim is just as good. If you are a regular exerciser talk to your doctor about how long into your pregnancy you can keep exercising; you may be surprised to find that you don't have to give up for a while.
For those who don't exercise regularly, or maybe those in the later stages of pregnancy, a walk is a good way to stay active as well as have a bit of time to yourself. Fresh air and gentle exercise have been proven to boost your body's feel-good endorphins and you will come back feeling revitalized.
Attending a relaxation class, seeing a hypnotherapist or learning how to meditate can help you cope with your pregnancy as well as help to deal with stress after the baby is born. Vegging in front of the TV is not the same as spending 15 minutes concentrating on your breathing and focusing on achieving an inner calm. Teaching your mind how to relax will help you sleep and, in time, will also allow you to access a calmer state of mind when you are facing a challenging situation. It could even help with labour.
The beautiful body
Although you can't have a sauna or enjoy a Jacuzzi while you are pregnant (it raises your body temperature too much), there are plenty of other spa treatments you can enjoy.
Acupuncture and acupressure are both helpful for many pregnancy-related complaints. Make sure the practitioner is registered and is aware that you are expecting. Massage is also possible although you won't be able to lie on your tummy. Simply stretch out on your side and enjoy a pair of soothing hands on aching muscles. Reflexology can also help to ease away the stress and strain of everyday life.
Having a rapidly expanding middle can mean that many women feel less than glamorous, especially with the added bonuses pregnancy bestows, such as varicose veins and swollen ankles. However, a facial or a manicure can be one way to make yourself feel fabulous and look great, without costing the earth.
Make time for you
When you are pregnant the single most important thing is to simply look after yourself. Don't try to be superwoman; now is not the time to prove you don't need help from anyone. Graciously accept any offers of assistance from family and friends and draw up a rota to get older children and partners to do more around the house. Some of the biggest causes of stress come from trying to do too much or be perfect. It really doesn't matter if the ironing isn't up to date or the house needs dusting; the quicker you do it, the sooner you will just have to do it again!
Pregnancy can be a challenging period in your life and nine months is a long time. Make sure you set some time aside just for you and spend it doing whatever you want. For once don't feel guilty about putting yourself first; you have a precious little bundle inside you and taking some time out will benefit you both.