This week is National Women's Health Week -- an event sponsored by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) and promoted by several organizations that support women's health, including Lamaze!
We like to think that we're always promoting women's health, but this week we want to spend some time talking about small steps you can take toward optimal health during pregnancy. Why "small" steps? Well, because right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing anything that takes extra effort or diverts from our typical habits feels big. And usually, working on bettering our health involves changing at least a couple of our habits. Thankfully though, improving your health isn't an all-or-nothing approach -- little changes to even a couple of things can have a big impact!
National Women's Health Week outlines 10 key ways to improve your health:
- Talking to your health care provider
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting and staying active regularly
- Eating heart-healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks
- Taking care of your mental health
- Finding healthy ways to manage stress
- Practicing good sleep habits to improve your mental and physical health, and boost your immune system
- Monitoring alcohol intake and avoiding illicit drugs, including drugs that are not prescribed to you
- Trying to quit smoking and vaping
- Slowing, stopping the spread of, and protecting yourself from COVID-19
Simple, right? Just do the 10 things and you'll be super healthy! Of course, it's not simple -- that's why we're writing this post! We want to provide you with simple, achievable ideas that help you go in the direction of better health. We're going to break down the list take a closer look at what you can do.
Simple Steps Toward Good Pregnancy Health
Talk to your health care provider - If you're attending regular prenatal appointments, you've got this mostly covered. You can take it a step further by:
- bringing written questions to prenatal appointments so you don't forget anything important
- calling your care provider's office with nagging concerns or questions, even (especially) if you've already polled your friends and Google
Maintaining a healthy weight - "Healthy weight" looks different for everyone, so the first thing you need to do is determine what your healthy weight should be for pregnancy. If you entered into pregnancy as a "plus size" person, check out this sound, evidence-based resource at Plus Size Birth. You should also talk to your care provider about weight guidelines.
Get and stay active - If you aren't already getting regular exercise, try adding a simple, low-impact activity, like walking. Walk 3-4 times per week for at least 20 minutes each time. Add more time and/or days when you work up to it and when you feel up to it.
Eat heart-healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks - For the best nutrition advice that's tailored to your specific needs and lifestyle, contact a registered dietitian who also has experience in prenatal dietary health. If you're unable to do work with a dietitian, take a closer look at your daily diet and figure out what it's missing most, like more water, veggies, fruit, etc. Make an action plan for adding in the missing ingredients. For example, drink one additional glass of water per day and/or add one vegetable and/or fruit per day. Start small and build up!
Take care of your mental health - The simplest and most effective ways to boost mental health are 1) go outside and 2) connect with family and friends. Yes, even when the weather isn't nice (bundle up!) and even when we have to social distance (text, call, video chat, or visit from a safe distance). Try to get outside for at least 15 minutes every day and reach out to at least one loved one every day for laughs and support.
Find healthy ways to manage stress - Stress is big right now. We're all under more stress than normal. In order to start to manage your stress, you first need to know what's causing it. See if there are ways you can change what's causing your stress in order to make it lower. We can't always change the source of our stress, but we can usually change how we respond and react to it. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through meditation. There are many free meditation apps that show you how to begin a simple (and short) meditation practice. Spend 5-10 minutes a day in guided meditation and start to feel the positive affects in your life.
Practice good sleep habits - Getting enough sleep is so important yet often, one of the more difficult health benchmarks to achieve. For a lot of people, the time we go to bed is one thing we can control, so if your goal is more hours of sleep, start by moving up your bedtime by 15 minutes. Do it until it's a habit that sticks. Then, if and when it makes sense, move it up by another 15 minutes. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night, if possible. Some people find that they need even more to feel rested. Take a look at how much sleep you get on the weekends when you're able to sleep later. If you find you're sleeping closer to 9 hours on weekends, that might be your optimal sleep time.
Monitor alcohol intake and avoid illicit drugs - During pregnancy, it is recommended that you do not partake in any alcohol or drugs. If you're having trouble quitting alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, it's critically important to talk to your health care provider as soon as possible to find support for quitting.
Try to quit smoking and vaping - As with alcohol and drugs, pregnancy is safer and healthier when you are not smoking or vaping. If you're having trouble quitting, reach out for medical support to stop.
Slow, stop the spread of, and protect yourself from COVID-19 - This unique, new health recommendation addition is important during these times. Continue practicing the COVID-19 health recommendations, including wearing a face mask when out in public, practicing social (physical) distancing, and limiting the amount of time spent in public places, when possible.
When you take a look at the recommendations along with the healthy things you may already be doing, it may only take just a few changes or additions to improve your health habits. Some things, especially diet and exercise, are harder to change than others. You may find it helpful to link up with an accountability partner -- someone who you can check in with regularly and someone who is also working to make health changes. Schedule daily or weekly check ins to encourage each other!
TagsHealth and well-being Healthy Pregnancy National Women's Health Week