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Supporting yourself through pregnancy

Spokesperson: Jo Webber, Ayurvedic practitioner and Herbal Education Lead

Pregnancy is a special time of great change but every pregnancy is different. It's important to find a wellness routine that works for you, and supports you through these changes in your body, mood, and energy levels.

Ayurveda, the science of wellbeing that developed in India over 5000 years ago and is still widely practised today, has much to offer. According to Ayurveda, everything a woman feels and does during pregnancy can have an effect on her baby. It recommends paying as much attention to your emotions as your physiology during pregnancy. So great emphasis is placed on the mother being both physically and mentally nourished to have a healthy baby and beyond.

Here are some manageable tips to support you during pregnancy.

Rest your body

A common symptom experienced during pregnancy is fatigue. Resting during pregnancy is extremely important so try to listen to your body and really rest when you feel tired. The first trimester is often very demanding and can also be the time that only you know you are pregnant at work and in your social circle. So, give yourself permission to take time out when you can, such as enjoying regular day time naps. Ayurveda says pregnancy is one of the few times when daytime naps are highly recommended. Don't be afraid to take breaks from your social calendar too — even if no one knows why you're feeling fatigued in the first trimester. So feel empowered to start delegating more both at work and home, asking for extra help when needed, or turning off notifications on your phone to give your more headspace. Minimising travel during the first trimester is especially advised in Ayurveda as travel can be quite tiring in many ways.

Keep happy and minimise stress

So as well as resting to support your physical health, it's also helpful to minimise stress. Your feelings and thoughts, as well as your food, influence the baby. So this is a good time to prioritise whatever stress reduction techniques work best for you, be it a warm bath, spending time with friends or curling up with a good read. Interestingly, Ayurveda is very clear on the need to avoid books and movies with frightening or violent themes. Instead it advises to spend time with loving friends and relatives and keep your attention on uplifting subjects and events. Meditation has become one of the most popular ways to relieve stress and can be a healthy habit to start in pregnancy. This trend is supported by growing research which shows how mindfulness practices increases connections between the parts of the brain that help us to be less reactive to stressors and to recover better from stress when we experience it (1). Meditation can be done in many ways, beyond seated, including while walking. Why not explore some of our guided tea meditations? Enjoying a cup of tea as part of a meditation ritual has also been practiced in many traditional cultures throughout history. Making a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea can offer a simple way for you to take a few minutes out of your day- our blends such as Three Chamomile, Love and Womankind are all ideal at this time. Womankind contains shatavari, one of Pukka’s hero herbs. Part of the asparagus family, the root has been used as a traditional tonic to support women of all ages and at all life stages.

Enjoy regular massage

The ancient Ayurvedic texts are very clear on the view that warm-oil massages not a luxury, it’s essential! Our skin is our largest organ, is the first line of defence for our body and needs protection, nourishment and care, especially during the physical changes of pregnancy.  Traditionally babies and children were massaged weekly. Indeed, the Sanskrit word Sneha is translated as both ‘oil’ and ‘love’ as it is believed the effects of a good massage are akin to the feeling of being saturated with love. A specialist pregnancy massage can also be a wonderful way to unwind both body and mind. Ayurveda is also a big fan of self-massage done quietly at home. Use organic, sweet almond or sesame oil, or another high-quality oil of your choice- ideally gently warmed by placing the bottle in a jug of boiling water. Use light, gentle strokes up and down limbs and a circular motion on all joints including knees, elbows, wrists and shoulders. Focusing on your lower back can help reduce any back pain as your bump gets bigger. A light warm oil self-massage not only relaxes your nervous system, but the oil also helps nourish the skin on your belly and has been well proven by studies to reduce stretch marks. Castor oil has traditionally been used for this for thousands of years. It is advisable to wait for at least 20 minutes before taking a warm bath or shower. If you enjoy using essential oils, why not include these into a weekly self-massage, aromatherapy and warm bath ritual? Soothing essential oils such as lavender, chamomile or rose are all safe in pregnancy.

Find movement that you enjoy

Exercise is also important for pregnant women as moderate exercise help to improve circulation, reduce stress levels, and prevent pregnancy complications. The key word here is moderation though. Walking, swimming and yoga asanas are considered the best exercises at this time. So, try getting outside into the fresh air and enjoying a brisk 30 minute walk each day — but be gentle with yourself and listen to your body. As your baby develops, it really helps to seek out a Pilates or yoga class tailored for pregnancy. These help to gently align your body, helping you to deal with the increasing weight load in a healthy way, as well as develop flexibility and openness in the pelvic region. Yogic breathing exercises can also help you to remain calm and relaxed throughout the pregnancy as well as support you in labour. A key bonus of a specialist pregnancy class is that you will meet other women expecting around the same time as you. Remember to avoid any exercises where you lie on your belly or back or twist your belly. In yoga, you should additionally avoid back bends and any hot yoga routines. Do inform the teacher that you are pregnant if it's not a specialist class.

Get the best sleep you can

Most parents-to-be expect sleep deprivation after having a baby but getting enough sleep can also be an issue during pregnancy. Between finding a comfortable sleeping position to accommodate your growing bump and common pregnancy symptoms like the frequent need to go to the toilet, heartburn and leg cramps, it’s no wonder getting good sleep can be elusive. It's also common to have insomnia during pregnancy, so it's helpful to have a good routine for winding down each evening to prepare for sleep. Doing the same things at a similar time every night helps send a message to the brain that its nearly time for sleep. Activities like reading a book, meditating, or listening to a podcast can all help you relax. A gentle foot massage before sleeping is also advised by Ayurveda to help support sleep as its helps calm the mind. When it comes to herbal sleep remedies for pregnant women some key herbs to help you unwind are chamomile, valerian and lavender. These are all included in our Night Time tea blend for sleep and relaxation and are safe herbs during pregnancy. An early evening cup of herbal tea brings the bonus of feeling like a relaxing ritual. Why not check out more helpful tips for better sleep on our Sleep Hub?

Support your digestion with how you eat

Despite common belief, you are not ‘eating for two’ during pregnancy. Overeating can weaken your ‘digestive fire’ (known as agni in Ayurveda) and prevent proper absorption of food. Many women experience nausea especially in the 1'st trimester. However, other digestive upsets are also common in pregnancy due to the fact that agni is both weakened and variable, especially during the 2'nd and 3'rd trimester. It’s important to eat according to your digestive capacity, which may change daily so be sensitive to your appetite and how long it is taking you to digest. If you are experiencing digestive upsets, it can help to have smaller portions than you are used to, at more frequent intervals throughout the day to reduce the load on your digestive fire. However, these should still be in distinct meals rather than snacking and grazing- so perhaps 3 smaller main meals taken at regular times and a couple of snacks when needed. Snacking on healthy foods such as oats, fruit, nuts and seeds rather than quick sugary fixes helps sustain energy. Eating dinner early in the evening is also good advice, since a heavy meal right before bed can delay you being able to get to sleep. Now is also an ideal time to start eating a diet in harmony with your dosha (Ayurvedic mind body type). If you’re not sure what dosha you are you can explore more here.

And what you eat...

Generally, it helps to eat light and easily digestible meals during pregnancy as digestion can often feel compromised - so soups, casseroles and other easy to digest food. The Ayurvedic dish kitchari is ideal as it is nourishing but light to digest. The use of ghee (clarified butter) is also very helpful throughout pregnancy, according to Ayurveda, as it helps lubricate the body and nourish the baby. Aim to eat a colourful rainbow of at 30 different types of fruit, vegetables, grains, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds each week to ensure good levels of fibre with a prebiotic effect. Helpful digestive spices include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, mustard and fennel seeds. There is also a special mention of saffron in the Ayurvedic texts which is highly prized for supporting pregnancy and is best taken in with warm milk.Eating a well-balanced diet will give you many of the vitamins and minerals you need. The main foods to increase during pregnancy are those that are high in folate, iron and vitamin D. Folate rich foods include spinach, avocado, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, beans and legumes (e.g. peas, lentils, yeast extracts, oranges, wheat bran and fortified whole grain foods. There are many iron rich foods that can really help during pregnancy including red meat, dark leafy green vegetables, eggs and lentils. You also need good levels of vitamin C to absorb iron from plant-sources effectively, so you need to make sure that you are receiving adequate levels of both.

If you are pregnant, we advise against taking any supplements until speaking with your doctor or herbal practitioner.

Safe herbal teas in pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time when many women think about reducing their caffeine content. The NHS guidance is to limit caffeine to 200 milligrams (mg) a day during pregnancy. Their advice is not to worry if you do occasionally exceed the recommended limit, as the risks are quite small. The average cup of coffee contains about 90mg caffeine and a double espresso, the typical base for many coffee shop coffees, contains about 125mg. In comparison, an average cup of black tea contains 50 mg of caffeine. Green tea only contains on average 35mg per cup so you can definitely continue to enjoy green tea in pregnancy. However, for many women pregnancy offers a time to start exploring non-caffeinated drinks such as herbal teas.

One such herbal hero is ginger, which is a traditional herb for nausea during pregnancy in many cultures. Many women turn to ginger when pregnant, adding it to sweet and savoury dishes, or enjoyed as herbal tea. Simply slice up some fresh ginger and add boiling water and a squeeze of lemon if you like for a delicious fresh lemon and ginger tea suitable for pregnancy. Turmeric has also been traditionally used by pregnant women in Asia to support healthy digestion and circulation during pregnancy. Both ginger and turmeric are found in our warming Three Ginger blend. Peppermint is another popular herbal tea during pregnancy. Again you can make a fresh tea using a few mint leaves, or enjoy Three Mint packed with menthol essential oils for a soothing, cooling, and calming effect. Fennel tea is also popular during pregnancy as its essential oils helps to relax your digestive system, making you feel more comfortable after a meal.

All the herbs we include in our herbal teas are checked against international safety criteria for pregnancy. With this authoritative backing, our herbal teas are safe to take while pregnant. However, one potential watch out is licorice during pregnancy and its potential impacts on blood pressure. Most Pukka teas have levels of licorice that are too low to have any impact unless taken excessively. We suggest that if you are pregnant, you have less than three cups per day of Licorice & Cinnamon and Peppermint & Licorice and no more than one cup of Three Licorice tea per day to be on the safe side.

Ancient cultures recognised that how one came into the world greatly influenced one's life. Following Ayurvedic care during pregnancy is all about the choices you make during the 40 weeks. The experience of pregnancy is different for everyone, but you can use these tips to help build a wellness routine that supports your body and mind and your baby. Resting, reducing stress, stretching, massage and supporting digestion all play a helpful part. However, the most important thing to remember is that your happiness during this time is probably the most vital nourishment you can give to your unborn baby.

Supporting research

(1) Taren, A.A., Gianaros, P.J., Greco, C.M., Lindsay, E.K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K.W., Rosen, R.K., Ferris, J.L., Julson, E., Marsland, A.L. and Bursley, J.K., 2015. Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 10(12), pp.1758-1768.

(2) https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/should-i-limit-caffeine-during-pregnancy/

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