Pregnancy is the most exciting, as well as the most crucial time in every woman’s life. Proper nutrition and peace of mind during this period is critical to ensure the well-being of both mother and child.
Pregnancy brings with it a surge of excitement for a couple and their loved ones. But it also brings a mixture of emotions, and these are not all pleasant. If you are concerned, then you are not alone. Worry is normal especially during a woman's first pregnancy. If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, it can be much harder. Nonetheless, this is also the time when a lot of care is needed for both the mother and the baby yet to be born. While the world is dealing with the Corona Virus scare, taking care of the expecting mother's health and well-being becomes even more important.
Ask any parent, and they will tell you there are almost indescribable changes that come with raising a baby. There are hormonal variations and lack of sleep, as well as shifts in everyday habits and relationship to one's partner's lifestyle. There are difficulties and stressors, as well as incredible joys, passion and development opportunities. Having a baby is embarking on a new journey into uncharted terrain that parents need to learn how to navigate, and it can be challenging. With this transition, approximately one in seven mothers will struggle and develop a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety. While this can be scary, it is important to know that mental health concerns can be treated, and mothers should get the support they need in order to address them.
Since our culture insists that motherhood is supposed to be such a happy time and there is a general stigma about expressing mental health issues, mothers sometimes feel frightened and ashamed of having some negative feelings after being pregnant or raising their baby. They may feel alone, frustrated and uncertain about what to do to begin feeling better. A first step for a mother who has a mental health problem is to speak to her doctor, nurse, midwife or paediatrician. Hopefully they can give some referrals in their area. If a parent or loved one is worried about how the expectant mother is doing, they should communicate about it with her. It can be enormously helpful to have an opportunity to address what she may feel and try to help her communicate with a professional.
The foundations of lifelong physical and mental health are being laid during this period, and proper nutrition is central to healthy stress and emotion-regulation systems. Diet during pregnancy – and even before conception – is a significant aim for maintaining physical and mental health to the future. The nutritional status of a woman before and during pregnancy is an important determinant of health outcomes in the mother and her new born. Gestational weight gain and postpartum weight retention increase the likelihood of future overweight or obesity and rely on the nutritional pre-gestion status and food intake and eating habits during pregnancy. Eating habits during pregnancy may be the cause or effect of changes in mood during pregnancy, in particular depression, which raises the risk of postpartum depression.
As a Mother of two and a medical practitioner for 17 years, where I also consult pregnant women, I have observed that during this time, your body needs additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It is very important for pregnant women to understand their body, and take proper guidance when it comes to diet, exercise, and rest. Maintaining a healthy diet not only keeps infections away it also helps in keeping the mental stress at bay. At no other time in life is nutrition as important as before, during, and following pregnancy. It is rightly said – ‘You become what you eat’ and for women, who are expecting or are planning on having a baby it is very important that they eat healthy and fresh foods. A healthy diet feeds the unborn child's overall growth. This also increases the expecting mother’s immunity. A healthy immune system makes an expectant mother less likely to experience infection or illness.
A good quality diet during pregnancy is made up of a variety of nutrient rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and high fibre cereals, fish, good quality meats and vegetable oils such as olive oil. A lower-quality diet consists of more processed foods; sugary snacks, highly processed cereals and processed meats. Importantly, both of these dietary patterns are independently related to the mental health of children, suggesting that while many mothers are careful to eat good quality foods, junk foods consumed on top of a fairly healthy diet may still have a negative impact.
During pregnancy, it is advised that women should eat everything, but what is often ignored is that everything should be consumed in moderation. The guidelines for eating well for a healthy pregnancy are simple and easy to follow. When, where, and how much a woman eats is flexible, and should be governed by necessity of the body. Apart from making Dietary changes, working with a therapist on a one-on-one basis can be a great way to handle stress, cope with depression and alleviate anxiety during pregnancy. It can also help to find a support group where you can share your thoughts with other mothers who know what you are going through. Talking to a social worker or psychologist will help you cope with financial problems, questions about raising a child or other pressures in your life.
(The author is an eminent medical practioner and healthcare entrepreneur)