Ayurveda-Inspired Tips for Self-Care During Pregnancy

by Shannon Sexton

When I found out I was pregnant last year, I was euphoric. I’d longed to have a baby for a decade, and at the age of 40, the time had finally come. But soon I would learn that pregnancy is a practice in itself. Between the initial nausea, the hormone-fueled ups and downs, and the crushing first-trimester fatigue, I wondered how I’d survive the next nine months, much less thrive.

Despite all of my training in yoga and Ayurveda, I felt unmoored—almost as if I’d lost my place in the world, and hadn’t quite settled into a new one. I spent way too much time worrying for the first few months, instead of nurturing myself and my baby.

So I asked Kripalu Yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner Sarajean Rudman, who was also pregnant at the time, to share her experiences and discoveries along the way. Here are three of the pregnancy self-care approaches we discussed.

Build Your Own Womb

From early on in my pregnancy, I craved an environment of warmth, safety, quietude, love, and security. Sudden noises, violent scenes on television, disturbing news stories, even acupuncture needles caused me visceral pain. My senses, suddenly, were superpowered.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, my vata dosha was high. It took me a few months to register this, then protect and nurture my senses so my system would calm down.

As Sarajean observed, “The womb is the most vata-pacifying thing that exists. How can you create your world so that it’s like a womb for you, so that your own womb can grow? How do you keep yourself warm and your body safe? How do you keep yourself fed and nourished and protected? How do you incubate yourself?”

This concept really resonated with me. For the remaining months of my pregnancy, I stayed home more often than I ever had before. I cuddled on the couch with my husband; watched gorgeous nature shows; sipped hot chocolate on cold nights; listened to classical music and uplifting podcasts; took baths perfumed with rose essential oil; and savored every loving touch, every massage. It was amazing how quickly my system calmed down, how much more I enjoyed my pregnancy, and how much better I felt as an expecting mother, nurturing my baby, too.

Find Your Tribe

As an expat living in Madrid, with only nascent Spanish-language skills, I was isolated long before I got pregnant. So when the crushing fatigue flatlined me through my first trimester, I got depressed. I saw a dark pit of despair on the horizon of my heart, and around month four, it scared me into action. I knew I needed to create a vata-calming community ASAP.

Networking via Facebook, I gathered together a group of expat women in the city who had due dates close to mine. We started a group chat on WhatsApp, and we met for brunch once a month. Communicating with them, both virtually and in person, always felt like a special dose of oxygen for me.

Suddenly, there was this whole tribe of women who was going through this really sacred, yet challenging, experience—and we were all in it together. We shared our ups and downs, our fears, our research, and milestones.  “Is anyone else hyper-emotional this week?” “What kind of birth plans are you considering?” “Anyone wanna come to a prenatal swimming class with me?” “I just made it to my third trimester!”

Sarajean could relate. “Talking to other women about my anxieties, and hearing that I wasn’t alone, really helped me. We reminded each other that creating a human is being part of something bigger. Millions of women have done it for thousands and thousands of years. It’s almost like you’re in a secret sorority. Until you’re about 24 weeks and it becomes rather … obvious.”

During the course of my pregnancy, I reached out to other wise women in my life, too, including my mother and my 93-year-old grandmother. It was fascinating to hear their own pregnancy and birth stories—to note which experiences we had in common, and which were different. I also kept in better touch with my longtime female friends and mentors. They offered me practical and yogic wisdom to buoy me through the toughest days of my pregnancy.

All of these women always knew the right questions to ask, the right ways to reassure me when I was coming unglued. And perhaps most importantly, they always knew how to make me laugh.

Stay Body Positive

I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy, so staying positive about my body was a humbling venture. As my thighs thickened and my belly swelled, I felt like I was inhabiting an alien body. I didn’t know how to bend forward, dance, or do yoga in it—much less love it.

During my second trimester, I had a phone consult with my Ayurvedic doctor from the States, and shared with her how challenged I felt by this new body. Lovingly, she invited me to consider this: my body was performing a miracle. It was building a baby from scratch.

She encouraged me to connect to a sense of awe about that, and sometimes, with practice, I succeeded. I found that my pregnancy apps, which gave me a weekly report on what my body was doing, and how my baby was developing, helped me to tap into a sense of “body wonder.” I was grateful when people—my husband, my mother, even my kind-hearted osteopath—reminded me that I was beautiful in this new body, too.

When I told Sarajean this, she shared how her husband’s love and positivity helped her reframe her mindset during her pregnancy. “He said, ‘This is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen you. I wish you could stay like this.’”

Being around female Ayurvedic teachers helped too, she says. “The women who teach Ayurveda, they’re so body positive. They look at the luster of a woman’s skin, the glow in her eye. That will be the most beautiful thing for them.” Pregnancy, she says, helped her fall back in love with the power of her body.

I hope these approaches help other women feel the same, and have more nourishing pregnancies than I did for the first five months. One thing is for sure: If I get pregnant again, I’ll be following this advice from day one.

Shannon Sexton is the former editor-in-chief of Yoga International and a freelance writer, editor, and strategist based in Madrid. Her healthy, happy daughter arrived in April 2018.