You may be feeling hefty and sluggish, but gentle exercise can help increase your energy levels and ease your aches and pains. “Keep active as much as possible, but adapt your exercise to suit your stage of pregnancy. Your body tends to slow down at around 30 to 35 weeks so it’s important to listen to it and take any niggles into account,” says Rachel Berg, founder of Pushy Mothers (pushymothers.com).
Go for a swim or brisk walk and do squats and lunges to help build your stamina for labour. “Swimming’s great because you can go at your own pace, your joints are protected and your bump’s supported. Make sure you get horizontal – backstroke is a good position – to avoid back pain,” says Rachel. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
Join a prenatal yoga class. “The gentle stretching will ease tension in your body, help you sleep better and release endorphins. Plus, it’s an ideal way to meet like-minded mums-to-be and help calm any nerves you might have,” says Rachel.
“Towards my due date I went for a long walk in the evenings to avoid the daytime heat. And I found that Wii Fit step aerobics were gentle enough to do in the final weeks of my pregnancy too.”
Rachel Killoran, 26, from Dorset, mum to Charlie, 13 months.
“Giving birth is likened to running a marathon, so ensuring you’re well nourished is really important,” says Susannah Lawson, nutritionist and co-author of Optimum Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy.
“In the last week or so before you’re due, start eating slow-release carbohydrates, like brown rice, vegetables and beans, to fuel your muscles, as well as lots of protein, found in eggs, chicken and fish,” advises Susannah. Now’s the ideal time to do this, as you have time to get the food and cook it without work interfering.
Susannah also recommends eating zinc-rich foods, like lamb chops, beans and peas, or taking a 15mg zinc supplement. “In the last few weeks of pregnancy you transfer a lot of zinc to your baby to prime his immune system,” she explains. Most prenatal supplements contain the recommended dose of zinc, along with other essential vitamins and minerals. “If you haven’t been taking one throughout your pregnancy, don’t feel it’s a waste of time in the last few weeks because it really isn’t,” Susannah says.
Snack on walnuts and pumpkin seeds, which are high in GLA, a type of omega-6 essential fatty acid. “GLA supports the production of substances called prostaglandins, which prepare your cervix and uterus for birth. Or you can take 500mg of starflower oil or evening primrose oil in a capsule each day for the last two weeks,” says Susannah.
Me-time will take on a whole new meaning in another few weeks, so take time out to enjoy the stuff that’ll soon come second to caring for your new baby. It’ll also keep your mind and body active if you get out and about. “Nothing really prepares you for that overwhelming feeling of responsibility you get when you bring a newborn home,” says health visitor Sharon Fernandez.
The first six to eight weeks can be the hardest, while you adjust and get into a routine, so spend your time now relaxing. Sharon suggests going to the cinema, out for a meal or reading a favourite book, as there probably won’t be time to do these things after the baby arrives. She adds: “Spend some couple time together because that may go on hold for a little while, too.”
Hypnobirthing practitioner Anouska Longley agrees. “Any kind of activity that can help you relax, like watching a movie that’ll make you laugh and creates a joyful feeling, is good during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Distract yourself and try not to dwell on the sense of not knowing what to expect and what might happen.”
“Relax and attempt to stay calm by doing some breathing exercises and engaging in positive affirmations about your pregnancy and the labour,” says Anouska.
“I’ve found cooking and baking very relaxing over the past few weeks. After feeling anxious for so long, I’m becoming really calm about the birth now and just can’t wait to meet our baby.”
Sophie Curtis, 27, from Essex, 38 weeks pregnant
Write your birth plan
“Taking some time to write a birth plan and visualising how you want the birth to go is really important,” says Anouska Longley, NHS counselling psychologist and hypnobirthing practitioner (birthsense.co.uk). “Doing a bit of research on what interventions to expect and when intervention is necessary helps you feel more informed and in control. Expect the unexpected though, because sometimes things happen which challenge your birth plan.”
There’s no set formula, but you’ll probably want to include who you want with you during labour, what positions you’d like to try, what pain relief you’d prefer, and how you feel about having an episiotomy, forceps delivery, or a caesarean. Talk to your partner about how he sees his role, too. “It’s about three people having a relationship, so it’s really important that both parents feel they’re involved in the process,” explains Anouska.
Feather your nest
Lots of women experience an almost uncontrollable urge to clean the house from top to bottom and get the nursery just right.
Before you go into overdrive, think about what really needs to be done. “Make a hit-list of essentials for making your home safe and calm. Buy good blackout curtains or blinds for the nursery and your own bedroom, fit smoke alarms and baby-proof electrical sockets with covers,” advises Laura Henderson, property expert and author of Tricks and Mortar: The Little Book of Property Wisdom.
“Don’t get too hung-up on how beautiful the nursery looks, babies aren’t fashion-orientated, so buy sensibly and don’t get carried away by status anxiety,” says Laura. “Your baby’s more concerned with you keeping the temperature 16 to 20ºC, and having somewhere quiet and dark, so he can learn when it’s time to sleep and time to play. ”
“Get someone else to do the painting and air the room for a few days, so you’re not breathing in any fumes. Avoid harsh cleaning products too – go for eco-friendly ones instead,” says Laura.
“I’m doing lots of DIY and gardening to distract me from the thought of giving birth. I’ve also bought a brand new washing machine to prepare for dealing with all my baby’s bibs and baby grows.”
Hazel Ridsdale, 32, from Bedfordshire, 39 weeks pregnant
Getting you and your little one dressed and out of the house by lunchtime will soon be a major achievement, so use this time to get ahead. “Make extra portions when you’re cooking now, so you’ve got things like pasta sauces, shepherd’s pie, fish pie and even jacket potatoes ready in the freezer. Stock up all you can, especially if you want to breastfeed, because you’ll need to be well-nourished and stress-free to make sure your milk flows as it should,” says nutritionist Susannah Lawson.
Christmas might seem a long way off, but time will soon fly by with a newborn to look after. “Go shopping, buy a big batch of cards and write them out in advance so you’re well prepared. When Christmas comes, you have the presents to one side and stamps to hand, so no more nightmare last-minute shopping trips,” says health visitor Angela Davy.
Get to grips with your baby’s car seat before you bring him home. “Make sure you know how it goes in and out. The first few times can be stressful,” says health visitor Sharon Fernandez (thebabybook.co.uk).
Work your pelvic floor
During pregnancy, the weight of your little one and the softening effect of the pregnancy hormones on your ligaments and joints can put your pelvic floor muscles under pressure. From around 36 weeks, you’ll probably need the loo more often, as your baby’s head engages and moves down into your pelvis.
“You might experience some incontinence in the last few weeks, so it’s important to keep up your exercises. A conditioned pelvic floor will also give you power to push during labour,” says Rachel Berg from Pushy Mothers.
To work your pelvic floor, tighten the muscles you use to stop your flow mid-pee, and then relax. Do 10 to 20 quick repetitions. Then count slowly from one to five, squeezing a little tighter with each count, before gradually relaxing the muscles.
Pelvic tilts will help strengthen your tummy muscles and ease back pain. Repeat this simple exercise around 20 times a day:
- Get on your hands and knees.
- Tighten your tummy muscles and squeeze your bum as you arch your back up like an angry cat.
- Hold for a few seconds and then relax back down to a flat back position, but make sure you don’t let your back sag.
“I bounced on my birthing ball for hours on end. The midwives told me my little one was in a good head-down position quite early on and I’m sure the ball had something to do with it.”
Karli Harrison, 27, from Lancashire, mum to Alana, 9 months
How to do perineal massage
The perineum is the area of skin between your vagina and your anus that stretches to accommodate your baby’s head as he’s born. By massaging it from around 32 weeks, you can stretch the tissue and encourage blood flow to the area, which then increases its elasticity for the birth.
Wash your hands and put natural oil, such as almond or olive, on your thumbs and around the area of the perineum.
Put your thumbs about 3 to 4cms inside your vagina and press downwards and to the side at the same time. Do this for around two minutes. You may feel a slight stinging sensation, which is a bit like how it feels when your baby’s head is crowning.
Circle your thumbs to massage the oil down to the base of your vagina. Keep this up for three to four minutes, remembering to avoid the opening where you pee.