What to do in early pregnancy (and what not to do)

Whether you’ve just found out your pregnant, or you are trying to Keep Calm & Carry On! in that two week wait, the internet can be a crazy place filled with crazy info on what and what not to do to do in pregnancy. Im aware of the irony that youre reading this is on the internet but as Human Biologist, as well as an Acupuncturist & Herbalist who supports women with their fertility (more on that here and here), I wanted to shed some light on whats actually helpful at this time and what really isn’t.

My two biggest pieces of advice are:

Do as much work on your health before trying to concieve

This is what is going to have the most impact the likelyhood of falling pregnant and the health of both you and your baby.
It takes two to tango! Both partners should ideally do a 12 week health challenge. Three months is around the time it takes to make an impact on maturing follicles (eggs) and on sperm. You want these guys in great shape!
Take a couple of months to tidy up your diets and your sleeping habits, drink enough water every day, cut out alcohol and cut down or ideally cut out caffeine. Reduce or eliminate gluten, sugar and dairy. Its not about being on a ‘diet’, its just about eating as much nutrient rich foods as possible and letting your gut heal. Then you can actually absorb the vitamins and minerals you’re consuming. Get blood work & sperm testing done. Get your periods fixed. Track your fertile window, ovulation & cycles accurately! The better you feel before you’re pregnant, the better you’re going to feel when there’s extra demands placed on your body.

trust your logical rational brain

You might not be an expert in the human body but I’m sure you’re an intelligent educated woman. Keep asking ‘HOW”?? How exactly does this impact a pregnancy?
If it sounds like BS, it probably is. If there’s no logical explanation provided, no mechanism of action explained, and scant evidence (women swearing by something is not evidence) on HOW something can actually affect your pregnancy hormones or uterus, its probably a myth.

In early pregnancy, the embryo is looking to set up a home easily, in an undisturbed, nutrient filled place in the uterus.

Here’s what to actually do:

  • Keep your energy high by looking after yourself - cancel plans, nap, say no to putting extra things on your plate

  • Keep your stress levels low - take a walk, get Acupuncture, do a meditation. Dial down your stress levels every single day.

Why? How does this actually help?

From an biological/survival perspective - the body prioritises keeping your brain, organs and big muscles well fed with nutrients and good blood flow (in case you need to run away from predators!).
Fertility hormones, pelvic blood flow, ovulation and pregnancy are not seen as important as keeping you alive.
So unless you have sufficient energy, nutrition and uninterrupted blood flow, the body won’t prioritise ovulation or a pregnancy.

In pregnancy, especially early pregancy, it’s about not being exhausted, (or stressed from things like dehydration or insufficient nutrients) and keeping mental stress levels to a minimum. Having sufficient energy and nutrients means the body has enough for itself and enough for growing a tiny human. Also, when you stress, pelvic blood flow is reduced. Cortisol (one of your stress hormones) and progesterone and oestrogen are made from the same stuff. So if the body needs more stress hormones, it makes less pregnancy hormones - not what you or your baby want at this time.

This isn’t an exhaustive or personalised list, but here is my general list of things to avoid:

  • Don’t test earlier than your period is due, especially if youre taking progesterone medication/gels/pessaries! Chances of false readings are higher if you test too early. Wait at least 14 days after you ovulated/had a transfer before testing. Pregnancy is going to be full of unknown moments, this is just the beginning! Just roll with this one. If in doubt, skip the glasses of wine (you’re being healthy anyway right?)

  • Don’t pay attention to your symptoms (or trawl the internet for answers!). Haha. Easier said than done sometimes I know, but try.
    Save your brain power for something else. Sometimes your symptoms are accurate and indicate pregnancy. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes your symptoms are different to previous pregnancies. You can do your own head in here. Be postive, be patient, all will be revealed.

  • Don’t smash it out at the gym or any high intensity cardio. Gentle strengthening or gentle cardio is fine. Lifting heavy things is not good in pregnancy, neither is possible knocks or falls in contact sport and neither is high intensity work outs. The reason just gentle exercise is advisable during this time, is that your cortisol levels rise with cardio. Again, this affects your hormonal balance and your pelvic blood flow decreases. Some pregnancy practitioners will say don’t do yoga or pilates until at least 12 weeks pregnant due to altered pelvic blood flow (especially if you have a history of miscarriage), some will say it’s ok. Some women are fine, some women arent. I say if you really want to do it, let your teacher advise you on what poses to avoid if you may be pregnant, just dont push your self, if you’re exhausted - stay home. But no hot yoga!

  • Don’t have spas, saunas or really hot baths. Overheating can send your body into shock, spiking your stress hormones instead of pregnancy ones and decreasing pelvic blood flow. Pools, warm baths are generally ok, so are heat packs on your back (rather than on your tummy). Its about not overheating and sending your body into shock

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  • Don’t have really spicy food. Whatever your general tolerance of spicy food is, stick with your version of medium. Why??
    You know that feeling later on when you’ve overdone the spice and your stomach is cramping badly and you’re doubled over in pain on a toilet?? That.
    That is all inflammation and distress to the body and what we are looking to avoid right now

  • Don’t get any adjustments/manual work on your sacrum (the flat boney part at the end of your spine, just above your tail bone).
    As long as your practitioner knows you might be pregnant, Acupuncture/Chiro/Osteo/Massage/Physio work on your back and bum is fine - just not your sacrum. Again, its all about the why here. The reason is: the nerves come out from your spine and go to your uterus in this spot and you do not want to be interrupting ANY flow to your uterus. Gentle work above your belly button is generally fine until 2nd or 3rd trimester.

  • Don’t get foot massages until the end of your pregnancy. Unless done by a Reflexologist or other health practitioner who really knows what they are doing in early pregnancy. I know this one is a little weird or controversial but the how/why is this:
    In Chinese Medicine & Reflexology there are parts of the foot that correlate to the whole body, including the uterus. We just want to leave that area well alone at this time. Please no shopping mall foot massages!

Basically, looking after yourself and keeping your stress levels low is the best thing you can do for yourself right now. If you’re unsure if you’re pregnant, get a blood test to confirm pregnancy hormones HCG and progesterone just after your period is due. If those numbers are on the low side, repeat in a couple of days. Sometimes pregnancy hormones take a little bit to kick in.

If you have been getting some menstrual cycles that are a little longer, have weird symptoms and unusual periods, speak to a health practitioner who works with fertility as you may be conceiving but the pregnancy isnt holding.

The journey to being a new mum can be a rollercoaster. It’s often filled with changes you can’t see or measure or 100% know or control. Thats the best bit and the worst bit. That can drive you crazy!!! But only if you let it.

Plan. Prepare. Then, all thats left to do is trust and surrender to whats outside of your control in that moment. You’ve got this!