When I got pregnant, I wasn't quite prepared for the queasy stomach, the first-trimester tiredness, or the weird mood fluctuations. But once I got beyond those challenges, I realized that being pregnant offered some pretty cool benefits. We often focus on the negative aspects of pregnancy, forgetting all the ways in which these nine months can be downright good for you.
"For the first time in your life, what you eat affects another human being," says Melinda Johnson, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Indeed, being pregnant may motivate you to make smarter decisions. "Pregnancy can be a wake-up call -- you're more likely to eat healthfully," says Marjorie Greenfield MD, author of The Working Woman's Pregnancy Book. She says that most pregnant women in her practice begin to pay closer attention to their nutrition once they understand how it affects the baby. And the really great thing is that your body helps you out in this endeavor. For example, you feel awful in the morning if you don't eat, so you're more likely to start your day right by having breakfast. As your pregnancy progresses, you tend to be hungry often yet fill up quickly, so you get in the habit of eating small, frequent meals. This is ideal, nutritionists say, for keeping your blood sugar stable and your metabolism stoked. Pregnancy is also one of the few occasions when it's OK (actually, vital) to gain weight -- a foreign concept for many women! While it's not a free pass to wolf down a whole bag of doughnuts, it is a time when you can get away with some minor indulgences.
Even if you're not a gym rat, there is something about being pregnant that makes exercise fun -- even novel. I, for one, loved the fact that I didn't have to suck in my stomach while on the cardio machines at the gym! In fact, the desire to exercise simply because it's healthy for your baby can be very freeing. When you're working out for two, exercise may not feel like drudgery. After all, it's not about losing weight (unless your doctor advises this); rather, it's about helping your body to grow a healthy baby. Another plus: prenatal yoga, Pilates, and other group classes are great places to meet and bond with other moms-to-be.
Pregnancy before the age of 30 can lower your risk for breast cancer. Researchers aren't exactly sure why, but they speculate that a key factor is changes in breast tissue caused by pregnancy. A hormone produced during pregnancy, hCG, stimulates breast cells to mature, which actually causes permanent changes in your mammary glands. This change may help prevent cancer.
OK, not really. In fact, thanks to surging hormones and crossed brain wires, you may feel like a complete ditz at times. But you do get smarter when it comes to safety, cutting out all of those risky behaviors from your youth, like drinking, smoking, driving like a maniac, and not wearing a seatbelt. Plus, you have a doctor on call 24/7. All of the constant monitoring and testing may start to feel tedious toward the end, but at no other time will so many people be so invested and interested in the state of your health.
Once you start to show, it seems as if the whole world is suddenly in love with you. You get a seat on the subway, get to cut in line at the bathroom, and even get special parking at Babies "R" Us. People carry things for you, hold doors, bring you chairs to prop your feet, and offer you glasses of water. There are days when you might not be in the mood for such fawning (and all the advice), but by and large, it's a nice break from reality.
Those breathing and relaxation techniques you learn in childbirth classes have a much wider application than labor. "These kinds of skills can be useful the rest of your life in helping you get through stressful situations," Dr. Greenfield says. Not only that, but the months leading up to birth (not to mention the delivery itself!) can be a wonderful bonding experience for you and your husband.
Sure, there may be times during your pregnancy when you feel clumsy and awkward, especially as your belly swells and you can't see your feet. But watching your body adapt and change -- and, of course, giving birth -- is also pretty amazing. For her book, Dr. Greenfield interviewed more than 100 women, and one thing she found over and over again was that pregnancy made women feel proud of their body and its abilities. "It's really powerful to grow another person inside of you," she says. There's no arguing with that!
Originally published in the September 2009 issue of American Baby magazine.