Pregnancy essentials: My list of must-haves + must-dos

So. I’m a Mum! *Jazz hands*

When I first found out I was expecting it was pretty early days – I was only 3-4 weeks pregnant. And like most people, I wanted to wait until the 12 week mark to share our happy news with close friends and family. And jeez, what a wait that was… 9 long weeks.

It was the pits dear reader. The pure pits.

So I did what any other geek would do and I filled that time researching and reading absolutely everything I could about pregnancy and babies. I covered a lot of ground. And actually, throughout my pregnancy I constantly had a book on the go, and found myself stepping deeper and deeper into mum research. There’s just so much to know, and I’ve always found babies and motherhood interesting – pregnant or not pregnant, so I enjoyed the process too.

Anyway, I wanted to share my findings and advice, because I would have absolutely loved to have stumbled across a post like this during pregnancy and I hope that it will help you whether you are expecting, just curious or hoping to be with child soon. Any questions please leave them in the comments, I’m at your service (although please forgive any delays #newmum).

1// Download The Bump app

There are a lot of pregnancy tracking apps out there, but for me, the best one is The Bump. Aesthetically it is king, and it’s also got a super cool 3D “inside the womb” element that allows you to have a really good look at what your sprog will look like at every stage of pregnancy. Download it here.

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2// Join a Facebook group via one of the pregnancy forums

You think you won’t but you will: You Google everything. And you spend hours reading chats between women discussing the most ridiculous things. But it’s all part and parcel of being pregnant, and I promise you will regain your cool after the early phase is over. I found a post about a secret Facebook group for women due in March 2017 in the What to Expect Community boards and decided to request to join it. I don’t even have a proper Facebook, so it was very out of character – but I am so glad I did it. There were only about 450 women in the group, most from the U.S and most wildly insane (sorry gals!), but it was so comforting to scroll through their posts and either be reassured that someone else was going through X Y Z too or take solace that at least my situation wasn’t as bad as some people. You can ask questions, share as much as you want – or be a creep like me and just stalk silently from the sidelines: Either way, I recommend this.

3// Pass the time by sorting out everything you’ll need for the baby and getting a registry together

As I said before, one of the most challenging times for me was that wait between finding out I was pregnant at 3-4 weeks and being able to share the happy news with close family and friends at the 12 week mark. It was torture. Especially as I was acting quite out of character – all I did was sleep and eat my body weight in carbs. However, I tried to use this time wisely (when I wasn’t sleeping or stuffing my face with French fries!) and I researched absolutely everything we would need and want for the baby and created a digital baby registry for us to keep tabs on everything (you can obviously also use it to share with friends and family for gifts).

I discovered babylist.com and can’t recommend it enough. You can add a smart ‘Add to BabyList’ toggle to your browser and easily add items (plus their direct links) to one digital list. It’s an OCD dame’s dream.

Note: I’ll be sharing a post featuring my baby list must-haves very soon for those interested.

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4// The websites to add to your bookmarks bar 

I enjoyed discovering Nine in the Mirror purely for its interviews with interesting women on pregnancy. Using this and The Tot’s one-on-ones I found some good books to read and products to buy – it’s also so comforting to read other women’s tales. I’d really recommend diving head first into both. Nine in the Mirror also has an amazing range of pregnancy-suitable garms for those interested – but since I felt like an absolute disaster for most of my pregnancy, there was no way I was buying designer clothes for the occasion. The Tot is also a wonderful resource for the very best must-have baby products and brands. Nasiba and Mira have impeccable taste and are really hot on environmentally-friendly, organic products so this website was a savior when it came to filling my baby list too.

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Pregnancy blogs wise I loved discovering Pregnant Chicken. She does that whole “no nonsense advice” thing that’s good to read as sometimes mother and baby material is just so full of fluff. To be honest, at times I found her “too real” (I’m the sort of prude who doesn’t need swear words in my blogs) but there’s no doubt that she’s one of the best and her pregnancy features are both hilarious and informative.

Also – I just want to note here that googling the ABC Kids Expo and whatever year it is, (eg “ABC Kids Expo 2017”) is absolutely something you should do. This Las Vegas event brings together the very best baby brands (new and established) all under one roof and you will always find super informative articles about “the next big thing” in this arena. Pregnant Chicken’s rundown for 2017 (here) floated my boat in a major way.

5// The books to download to your Kindle

So – if I had to categorise myself, I am probably more of what they call “a crunchy mother” than anything else. Which kind of makes me cringe. But whatever… In short: I am kind of a hippy. Therefore the books I read leaned towards this school of thought. If you are the complete opposite, some of these books definitely won’t be for you…

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Gentle Birth Method by Dr Gowri Motha

This was one of the first books I read. I didn’t follow everything to a tee by any means, but I did try my best to take her advice (which seemed smart to me) as much as I could. For example: Since wheat and sugar are bloating, and pregnancy makes you bloat, Gowri suggests following a wheat-free and sugar-free diet throughout pregnancy. There is no way that I was going to do that 100% for various reasons, but I did do it as much as I could. And I was mindful of it. She also follows the Ayurvedic teaching, which is something I have always been interested in – so I loved seeing how it applied to pregnancy and learning all about the holistic things I could do during the 9 months.

One of the very best takeaways from this book however, for me, was the treatments. In the Gentle Birth Method she gives a step-by-step guide to these fabulous massages that she advises you have your partner perform on you regularly. Now I love a good rub, and I also loved that my hubby had to oblige as it was written in black and white. So I’d say get it for the massage guides alone. They are fabulous and they really helped.

Plus, if you have the willpower, I imagine following Gowri’s advice to the letter will lead to a beautiful, fairytale pregnancy. I will try harder next time Doc!

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Okay, disclaimer: This is probably one of the crunchiest books out there. And at times it was too crunchy even for me (gems like “I knew her cervix was dilating because I could feel my own pulsing”). But I still got a lot from this book. The first section is full of birth stories – and I do believe it’s really important to read honest, positive birth stories and really try to erase the fear of birth society has installed in us. You don’t have to read them all, but it’s nice to learn all about natural births (literally every single one is different) and although at times Gaskin really crosses over into hippy fluff vibes, I agree with 95% of what’s she saying. This is an essential read if your dream is to give birth naturally without drugs, it will empower you.

Not In Your Genes: The real reasons children are like their parents by Oliver James

This isn’t strictly a pregnancy/baby book but I found it fascinating to read this when I was pregnant. Basically it’s about how much of a humongous influence parents have on their children, and how genes have virtually nothing to do with our personalities and potential personality disorders – which are all shaped and created by our experiences and our nurturing. I found James borderline boring at times and thought it was in bad taste that he used case studies of dead famous people, however, the general message of the book and the takeaways made this a great read and I do wholeheartedly recommend you check it out.

Gentle First Year: The Essential Guide to Mother and Baby Wellbeing in the First Twelve Months by Dr Gowri Motha

I read this as I entered my third trimester, which was really perfect timing. As you get closer and closer to your babies guess date, you’ll probably find yourself less interested in pregnancy itself and more interested in motherhood and baby essentials. I sure did. Having read and loved her Gentle Birth Method (featured above) book I was excited to read Dr. Gowri’s take on the first year and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s full of useful tips, tricks and information and of course being the crunchy mccrunchinson I am, I love her natural approach to motherhood.

First Time Parent: The Honest Guide to Coping Brilliantly and Staying Sane in Your Baby’s First Year by Lucy Atkins

This was the last book I read before I gave birth. It’s crammed full of practical advice and lots of useful information: It will really help if you are a first time mum. Plus its not at all crunchy. I am actually re-reading it now, as a refresher and will likely keep referring back to it as Lola grows since just like Gentle First Year (above), there are sections for different ages and stages of development throughout your baby’s first year. Of all the books I’ve listed here I would probably say this is the must-read for everyone – and it’s a great one to encourage your husband to get stuck into, too.

Other books that I didn’t read, that I wish I found time to and you might like to check out:

  • Birth and Beyond: The Definitive Guide to Your Pregnancy, Your Birth, Your Family – from Minus 9 to Plus 9 Months by Dr Yehudi Gordon
  • The Nursing Mother’s Companion (Sixth Edition) by Kathleen Huggins

5// The Supplements

Please don’t take synthetic supplements or folic acid. Because your body doesn’t know how to absorb and use synthetic forms of vitamins and minerals and synthetic folic acid is associated with tongue tied babies.

This might hurt your head a little as you’ve probably been told to immediately start taking folic acid by your GP, family or friends. Or someone may have suggested a leading prenatal brand that contains synthetic vitamins and minerals. These people aren’t lying to you – they just aren’t giving you the best advice because for whatever reason they don’t know or its not in their interests to know (and sadly it’s not common knowledge for some nuts reason).

You should take folate not folic acid. Folate is the natural stuff. Folic acid is the synthetic stuff. You should especially avoid folic acid like the plague if (like me) you have MTHFR issues. (If you are unsure/don’t believe me, please just do a little reading on it and decide for yourself.)

Unfortunately, most prenatal vitamin concoctions are built up of synthetic vitamins and minerals (including folic acid). So you really have to search to find a good one. I used Cytoplan’s ‘Pregna-Plan’ because they are derived from whole foods and vegan. I figure when a supplement is derived from whole foods your body is much more likely to know what to do with it – because it does the same thing with the food you eat, every single day. The folic acid in Cytoplan’s prenatal is as ‘L-methylfolate’ (i.e. what you want!) and the vitamin B12 is as Methylcobalamin (also good). Other whole food prenatal vitamin options you could pick from are The Honest Company (here), New Chapter (here) and Mega Food (here).

If you feel your diet is rich enough in vitamins and minerals and you don’t need a prenatal vitamin, I would suggest just supplementing with the recommended 400-800MCG of folate per day and I really rate the Solgar brand (here).

Personally, I didn’t start to take prenatals until the last month of pregnancy and I wish I had started earlier as it may have helped with the sickness and troublesome issues I had during the pregnancy (looking back). So my advice would be to take them – try them for 2-3 months, and see. You can always stop. I am still taking the Pregna-Plan now because I am breastfeeding and I continued to take all of the (Solgar) supplements prescribed by the cutting-edge DNA test I took last year (in slightly adjusted amounts, after factoring in the extras given thanks to the prenatals) throughout my pregnancy too.

Tip: Your apps and favourite websites will probably remind you which vitamins and minerals are important during certain stages of pregnancy – for example: Vitamin B6 is thought to help with sickness and nausea during weeks 9-12 (hello! mine last until week 20 *rolls eyes*) – so Google the foods rich in these essential vitamins and minerals and make a point to eat more of them during that period. If they are local and organic – all the better. This will be the very best nutrition for you and your baby.

6// The Pregnancy Bathroom Cabinet Survival Kit

I tried a plethora of belly creams and oils during my pregnancy and concluded that my favourite was definitely Mama Mio’s The Tummy Rub Butter. It’s really rich and nourishing but easily absorbed into the skin and I just wholeheartedly recommend it. I also used Mama Mio’s Pregnancy Boob Tube and loved it. You can’t really go wrong with Bio-Oil and I also slathered that on when I could be bothered.

Word of warning: I didn’t have any stretch marks, what so ever, for 90% of my pregnancy. So I got a bit complacent about applying the creams – then BOOM. In the last few weeks or so I noticed some on the underside of my bump and my thighs. Killer. And I really wish I had been more religious about applying the cream – it might have helped prevent them. Maybe…? And if I could do it again, I’d apply it every single day – twice – just in case. 

I was gifted Neal’s Yard Mother’s Balm and really surprised to find that I didn’t rate it, because I adore Neal’s Yard. I found it too sticky and oily, and could not imagine rubbing that into my belly every day. I did however use this as a massage oil/balm, or rather my husband did, and it was ideal for that purpose. You could also use coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil or sweet almond oil for massage purposes.

I’ve always loved baths but I found them especially comforting during pregnancy and I used epsom salts and mineral sea salts on rotation – especially when I felt particularly puffy or achey. I found a lot of people think that epsom salts are for after pregnancy, but their benefits can be enjoyed during pregnancy with great success – also, do some research about how much salt you should be adding: Because I guarantee you it’s a whole lot more than you would think.

Tip: An epsom salt bath for the feet is just what the doctor ordered when your feet are achey or puffy. Dissolve half a cup of epsom salts in warm water (just enough to cover your ankles) and read one of your books whilst you let them work their magic. Heaven.

I stumbled across all sorts of nonsense about avoiding baths whilst pregnant because of miscarriage risk and I feel it’s all just fearful hogwash. I think it’s pretty common sense that you shouldn’t sit in a boiling hot bath for very long any time – let alone when you’re pregnant, but I (along with plenty of other women) enjoyed daily medium-hot baths filled with epsom salts and never had a single problem. I believe the key is if you are sweating – it’s too hot, get out. Of course I won’t judge anyone who wants to be cautious and avoid them, I am just saying: You don’t have to suffer if you are a bath lover like me. Go right ahead. Dip those chubby little toes in. I did.

Note: The epsom salts I use can be purchased on Amazon here.

I think it was about week 14 or so when I started experiencing heartburn and (sorry) trapped burp vibes. It always came on in the evenings, and this annoying symptom was responsible for me throwing up more times than I can count. This where my love affair with Rennies started. As soon as I felt a hint of the burn or uncomfortable feeling I would suck a Rennies tablet. Now they are a little “un-crunchy” granted, but it’s all about balance and they helped me a lot. They also aren’t that bad in terms of ingredients and I never had more than 3 in one day. Like I said before: Whatever helps, you go for it Glenn Coco!

A big pillow to raise your feet and legs up is something I definitely recommend. I took the pillow off of the couch in the spare room and regularly slept with it beneath my podgy feet. Likewise, compression stockings were a savior – and an absolute essential for flying when pregnant (I’ve been using them long before I was smuggling a baby anyway). I never got round to buying a pregnancy pillow so I can’t really say much on them, but they do look super comfy and if you are in the market to get all the goods: Go for it. But also know that a few extra pillows under the bump or wherever you need them will work just as well.

Last but definitely not least, I think every pregnant woman deserves as many massages as she can get. At times I honestly considered employing someone to just massage me 24/7. As I mentioned above, I really rated Dr. Gowri’s massage techniques (you can see some YouTube tutorials here) but I also enjoyed quite a few salon massages too. Reflexology and acupuncture for pregnancy are also highly beneficial and totally recommended. In short: Just try to pamper yourself as much as you possibly can – you will never ever regret too much pampering (although you will likely regret too little: Trust me). In Dubai I loved going to The Nail Spa to get foot reflexology and a head, neck and shoulder massage. And I really recommend booking a lady called Eva from Azza Beauty for at-home visits. You can whatsapp 055 802 3800 to make an appointment.

Tip: In Dubai people get really funny about massaging pregnant women. They seem to think it will induce labour – which is totally ridiculous. Do you know how many overdue women would scoff at that idea! Nothing induces labour in a healthy pregnancy bar a ready baby and a ready body. Be firm that you are fine to have the massage (and they can avoid the 1 or 2 pressure points associated with the womb) and don’t tell them your pregnant until its super obvious – that’s what I did. 

7// The anti-nausea arsenal

Unfortunately I was really unwell for a big part of my pregnancy and suffered with nausea and sickness (including actual vomiting) big time. I found the following things helped me with this until it began to pass around week 20:

  • Ginger, lemon and honey water. Recipe: Simmer filtered water, fresh ginger (about 2-thumb knobs), a squeeze of lemon and honey on the stove. Leave it to bubble away gently for around 20 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold. I would make big batches of this and keep it in the fridge.
  • Regular snacking. I found that eating something regularly really helped to control my nausea. I went to bed with satsumas and crackers on my bedside table and just a small bite of each would help ease the dreaded feelings. Foods that I found helped with sickness were: basically all fruits, Mini Cheddars, any crackersice lollies and sour things like gherkins and sauerkraut.
  • The great outdoors and fresh air. Even though you feel like hell and probably can’t imagine anything worse – a light walk outside can do wonders for sickness. It’s something about fresh air. If you need to be close to the toilet just open a window. Every little helps.
  • Sea sickness bands. I don’t know if this really worked or if it was a mind thing but I would recommend purchasing one (so cheap) if you get desperate like I did.
  • Go gentle. On several occasions I threw up purely because I laughed too hard or I unintentionally aggravated my nausea by doing too much or getting up too fast. It’s such a bore, but going gentle will do you the world of good.
  • Avoid large meals. I don’t know why they call it morning sickness because I (like many women) got mine in the night. During one particularly ghastly period of my pregnancy it actually last all day. Whenever it happens for you, I’d suggest avoiding large meals. I was throwing up nightly, immediately after dinner. So I decided to skip dinner (and eat a lighter meal around 4pm, and eat most of my calories during breakfast and lunch), and voila my vomit sessions dwindled. See what works for you.

I just want to add that this is just a totally and utterly miserable time and if you are going through it: I feel your pain. It’s especially tough if, like me, not that many people know you are actually pregnant during it (i.e. If it occurs pre week 12 or whenever you decide to tell your nearest and dearest). Just please be kind to yourself. Don’t be ashamed to cry or to think thoughts like “I don’t know if I want to be pregnant anymore”. Go through the (e)motions. Do things to elevate your mood – whether that’s at-home beauty treatments, Friends on repeat or a good cheesy movie. What soothed me was ploughing myself head first into mama and baby research: It kept me focussed and I love to learn, so it kept my brain buzzing.

Plus just try to keep in mind that everything sort of goes in waves: For example, at the very beginning of my pregnancy my symptoms were just unreal tiredness and a hunger like a lioness. I craved all bad, fast foods (and I ate them). And I slept. A lot. But it didn’t last forever (thank god). Another time I had tons of energy and craved super healthy raw foods. Likewise the sickness and vomiting didn’t last forever, and symptoms came and went like the wind. Just try to be strong and you will get through it. And when in doubt – take a nap. (Uh. Naps. I miss you)

8// How to deal with annoying people and comments

When you announce that you are expecting it is quite probable that you will find yourself upset/irate/confused/shocked or all of the above by some people and their comments, at some point during your pregnancy. Because for some reason people seem to think that pregnancy is free-for-all with regards to dishing out unsolicited advice and opinions.

It’s a rocky road. And with all of those surging hormones and nasty symptoms – quite frankly, it’s the last thing you need…

The key thing that helped me handle these irritations was to think about why the person was saying what they were saying. Most of the time there is one of two answers (1) they are ill-educated / have zero clue what they are talking about and, (2) they are trying to somehow justify something they feel guilty about or regret… When you keep these two things in mind it’s much easier to feel empathy for the offender rather than anger.

Tip: Don’t let the muggles get you down! And cry if you have to… It always makes you feel better.

So, to summarise everything:

  1. Must-have: The Bump pregnancy app.
  2. Must-do: Read as many books and websites as possible to help pass the time during early pregnancy (and that super frustrating stage where you can’t tell anyone) – but most importantly to educate yourself on this life-changing thing that’s happening to you.
  3. Must-do: Use BabyList or something similar to start to keep track and note of things you love, want and need.
  4. Must-do: Discover other women’s journeys and stories. They are comforting and sometimes just plain hilarious. Use blogs, websites, forums and Facebook groups.
  5. Must-have: A natural folate supplement and if you feel you need/want it: A natural, whole foods prenatal multivitamin.
  6. Must-do: Try all of the tips and tricks (including mine above) for nausea if you suffer with it and do what works for you. Nothing will cure it unfortunately, but there are little things that can help soothe you a little and they are worth their weight in gold.
  7. Must-do: Educate yourself on the foods that are rich in the various nutrients you need as a pregnant lady and eat them as often as possible. Use organic, locally-grown produce where possible.
  8. Must-do: Pamper yourself and be pampered as often as you can. Through massage, naps, mani/pedis, reading – whatever floats your boat.
  9. Must-have: A good belly and bust cream to keep your stretching areas hydrated and help prevent stretch marks. I absolutely adored the Mama Mio products.
  10. Must-have: Rennies for heartburn and trapped wind or whatever works for you if you suffer with this.
  11. Must-have: Footwear that is 0.5 or 1 full size bigger than your usual shoe size if and when you feel swell/expand/grow. Meh.
  12. Must-do: Buy little and often for your pregnancy wardrobe as and when needed. Don’t assume you will stay one size, it all goes up and down – trust me.
  13. Must-do: Start thinking about what you might like to wear after birth, and preparing a list or buying a few things as you go.
  14. Must-have: A nice oil for massage purposes and tutorials for Dr. Gowri Motha’s massage treatments your husband or friend can follow. (But to be honest: Any old rub will do).
  15. Must-have: Epsom salts and mineral salts for baths, if you love them as much as I do.
  16. Must-do: When you are given unsolicited advice, offensive comments, upsetting remarks try to ask the two questions: 1. Has this person ever been pregnant? Do they have anything to back up what they are saying? 2. Why is this person saying this? Is there a hidden agenda of making themselves feel better about certain outcomes and choices?