Keys to a Healthy Pregnancy: Diet, Exercise, and—a Good Relationship?

A new study says a good relationship with their partner lowers a pregnant woman's risk of illness, as well as her baby's risk of illness in the first year.
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Eating right, exercising, taking your prenatal vitamins. We are all familiar with these healthy pregnancy planning initiatives. But now a new study says having a good relationship may mean more for a pregnant woman's well-being than just nightly foot rubs. Roger Ekeberg Henriksen at the University of Bergen argues that women in healthy unions actually have a lower risk of infectious disease, and that their relationship status may even have implications for the health of their babies.

"My study does not prove that the first thing leads to the second. But those who report that they are dissatisfied in their relationship more often report illnesses during pregnancy. Their children are also reported ill more often during their first year," Henriksen explained while presenting his Ph.D. thesis, adding, "If you compare the group of pregnant women with the lowest satisfaction to the group with highest satisfaction in their relationship, the first group's risk of becoming ill is more than twice that of the second group."

A similar phenomenon was witnessed with the stressed-out mothers' kids. Henriksen actually looked at eight different infectious diseases, ranging from the common cold to the stomach flu, and found kids 6 months and younger have higher occurrences of these infections when their moms were unhappy in their relationships.

If you're like me, you are probably wondering, why? Henriksen believes stress is to blame. "For a long time we've been aware of the fact that stress may have a negative effect on your health, but it's important to draw attention to the fact that social relations are at least as relevant as other factors," he says. "This applies to both partner relationships and social support from friends and family."

Of course, having a stress-free relationship can be, ahem, challenging, especially when you're pregnant. Enter pregnancy emotions and the fact that your life is about to change forever!

As Cathy O'Neil, co-author of the book Babyproofing Your Marriage, told Parents.com previously, "At times you'll feel inexplicably close, while other moments you could feel as though your partner is living on another planet." It's a feeling I can relate to very easily, after three pregnancies. Because some of the things we enjoyed doing together changed once I was expecting: cracking open a bottle of wine, going for long runs, sky diving. (Okay, that last one was just a joke. We've never done that).

But the truth is, I felt alone a lot of the time during my pregnancy. After all, I was the one battling morning sickness, fatigue, heartburn, and my newly-enormous breasts! It's like Craig Malkin, Ph.D., a psychologist in Cambridge, MA, says: "Pregnancy immediately changes the dynamic of the relationship and causes estrangement—it's hard for men to understand what women are going through, creating a divide."

Exactly.

So what can couples do to stay close during pregnancy (and after!) and keep their relationship happy, both for the overall well-being of the family, and in light of this most recent study? New York-based relationship expert, author, radio host, and advice columnist April Masini offers these tips:

  • Make your bedroom sacred. Banish technology! Give the room a makeover. When you create a haven for sleep and sex, you're prioritizing those things that are crucial to good health. The baby's nursery is one thing, but your master bedroom is actually much more important.
  • Make peace with the relationship you have with your partner. Nobody is perfect and those peccadilloes that drive you crazy, in the scheme of things, are not as important as character, commitment, and respect. If you can master this one, you're giving a huge gift to your relationship, your baby—and yourself.
  • Remember the little gestures are more important now than ever. Whether it's a wrapped brownie in a briefcase, or a love letter by the coffee pot, remind your partner that in spite of all the changes, your love and care of each other is the basis for all else.

Tamar Gur, M.D., who holds a Ph.D. in psychiatry and is an OB-GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, also offered these tips:

  • Share activities. Whether it is preparing the nursery, going through name books, or exercising, this will strengthen the sense that you are a team and in it together.
  • Share your fears. whether it's never regaining your prepregnancy body; not being good at parenting; or pregnancy-related worries, sharing them with your partner will help relieve stress.
  • Share pregnancy milestones. Even though only the mom is carrying the baby inside her, that doesn't mean dad can't share in pregnancy joys. Making a point of going to appointments together, keeping track of how big baby has gotten, and planning for the arrival can also help reduce stress and strengthen the team.

If you are considering a pregnancy, or TTC, check out these tips for how to prepare your mind and body.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.

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