PREGNANCY, CHILDBIRTH AND parenthood are profound life events for new mothers, inevitably shifting their once “self-centred” living to one that is intended for the efficacious development of the infant and for fruitful parent-child bonding.
There is much to say about the changes a woman goes through during a pregnancy. Going into mum-mode is not easy. Physiologically, the body braces for a flood of hormones that induce the size of brain neurons in some regions, and make structural changes in others. This is how the maternal circuit is set up, to regulate responses to stimuli or threats, and to magnify the ability to empathise and multitask.
Biologically, however, bewilderment sets in; stretch marks and skin pigmentations suddenly appear. Loss of hair and sometimes, even minds too are reported. With each childbirth, a woman’s body loses a little bit of its elasticity but this also is a humbling reminder of women’s ability to create and sustain Life within them.
The first few weeks after childbirth are often fraught with confusion and self-doubt for new mothers. Caring for a new-born forces to the surface an identity crisis, e.g. “will I still be my own person?”, and demands a complete reshuffling of priorities to balance a family, a career and life.
Curiously, poet and novelist Finuala Dowling found that her writing ambitions only gained clarity once she got pregnant. “I realised that I had wasted a decade wishing I could be a writer but producing very little beyond two failed novels and some stories. In 1993 I sat down with my growing belly and, with an almost overpowering sense of time running out, wrote a story that went on to win a prize.
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“Later, knowing that my daughter woke early, I would wake even earlier to write the chapters of what would become my first novel. I think becoming a mother teaches one how to use all the available time.”
Trending antenatal education typically focuses on labour and birth procedures, but fails to prepare would-be mothers with basic parenting skills, or how to better connect with one’s partner after having a baby. Couples are known to experience increased clashes of conflict when the demands of new parenthood get too overwhelming.
The African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” may seem unrealistic in this era of working parents and single mothers, but it cannot be denied that mothers are in need of a support system; a community to mind each other’s ever-roaming children and within which, the joys and pitfalls of everyday life are shared. Above all, this system is pivotal in acknowledging women’s essential contribution as mothers.
As a mother of two – a toddler and an infant – I personally feel that the core of who I am has not changed. But I have grown. My heart is fuller and it overflows with pure, unconditional love for my boys. It is regenerating to see the world through their eyes. I am taught to live in the moment by my children, with daily escapes to fantasy worlds filled with imaginary creatures. Life is better, more beautiful and infinitely more enjoyable with my sons in it.
Why Pregnant Women Should Sleep on Their Left Side
Much needed shuteye can be quite elusive during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. Rising progesterone levels and the body having to accustom itself to the additional weight during the first trimester can cause intense fatigue. This in turn leads to sleep deprivation.
On top of accommodating a growing abdomen and having sleep punctuated by backaches, heartburns and shortness of breath, finding a relatively comfortable sleeping position can seem impossible. Experts recommend that pregnant women avoid sleeping on their backs during the second and third trimesters. Supine position rests the entire weight of the growing uterus and foetus on the back, intestines and vena cava – the main vein that carries blood back to the heart from the lower body.
This pressure aggravates backaches and haemorrhoids, makes digestion less efficient, interferes with blood circulation, and may cause hypotension (low blood pressure) and dizziness. Less-than-optimal circulation can also reduce blood flow to the foetus, upsetting the transfer of oxygen and nutrients. Several studies have also confirmed a correlation of the supine position to increased chances of stillbirth.
Therefore, during these trimesters, pregnant women are encouraged to sleep on their sides. The left side is much preferred over the right however, for the reason that laying on one’s left helps keep the uterus off the liver, which is located on the right. The position also maximises blood flow and nutrients to the placenta (which means less pressure on the vena cava), enhances kidney functions for better elimination of waste products, and manages the swelling of limbs.
Sleeping in any position is generally fine during the early stages of pregnancy, but it is wise to start practising side-sleeping sooner rather than later for an easier transition. Simply slipping a pillow between the legs may ease discomfort in the hips and lower body.
For a fitful sleep, yoga and swimming are two excellent antenatal exercise options. Some find relief in journaling, meditating, guided imagery, deep breathing or even, having a prenatal massage.
It is advised as well that smartphones, TV screens and laptops be avoided an hour before bedtime to maintain sleep hygiene, as the blue light triggers the brain to stay awake. Instead, unwinding with a warm relaxing bath, a good book or a soothing music playlist is recommended. To relieve heartburns, one should refrain from eating just before bedtime, and avoid fatty and spicy foods. Cutting down on caffeine and other liquids will also help reduce visits to the bathroom and so, ensure a better night’s sleep.
Priyanka Bansal is an Indian expat living in Penang. Owing to her artistic bent of mind she loves writing, painting and crafting. She is also a passionate hiker with a mountaineering degree. On the academic front, she holds a postgraduate degree in public health nursing with 8 years of lectureship experience.