It's time to learn all those things they never taught us in health class - periods, pregnancy and pelvic floor!
I'm a women's health educator, a nerd when it comes to learning "all of the things", and my obsession is teaching women how to take control of their health and create a life they love!
It has been a hot minute since I disappeared off the face of the earth. Morning sickness hit me hard but I’m back and it only seemed fitting to kick off the podcast with the lessons I’ve learnt during my first trimester of pregnancy. These are the things I wish someone had told me before and during my pregnancy and I hope you find that reassurance useful. Think of it as non-traditional pre-conception preparation!
Hello, and welcome to episode 39 of The Fertility Co Podcast. Or I guess it’s episode 1 of what is now officially known as the Fertility Co podcast. We have had a name change, rolls off the tongue a little more smoothly than Mana Women’s Wellness and I decided to change the name of the podcast and the business as a whole because ultimately fertility is my jam. Menstrual cycle health, charting, preconception and pregnancy are my absolute favourite things to talk about and the new name tells you exactly what I’m all about, whereas women’s wellness is a little too broad for where I’m at right now.
But I digress, hello, I’m Rachel and it has been a hot minute! I disappeared off the face of the earth around June. Morning sickness hit me in May and I pushed through the launch of my online program Fertility School. If you joined me for the live masterclass in the lead-up to that launch, or if you watch the replay which is still available for instant access, I had my head in the toilet about 10 minutes before going live. The things I do for you guys, seriously!
So at the time I’m recording this it’s September, and by the time it arrives in your ears it’s probably more like October, so I literally took a 4 month break from podcasting and most of running this business to be honest. I had planned to take a little break – weeks not months – to work on some exciting things behind the scenes like the name change, which has a lot of moving parts in the background, but I kind of fell into a heap, was still trying to work full time as a physio through the worst of it and so most of my time was spent alternating between couch and bed while my lovely husband waited on me hand and foot and confirmed that I definitely married a good one!
So I shared my pregnancy news a little while ago on Instagram and probably sooner than I planned to. But I started getting a lot of messages, not just asking me when the podcast would be back, but asking if I was ok! I have also noticed that podcast downloads are higher than they have ever been so there are a lot of new listeners binging their way through and obviously running out of episodes. So I didn’t want to panic anyone so thought it was time to share our happy news and this is honestly an episode that I’ve been planning in my head for months!
So I want to share with you the lessons learnt from my first trimester. I promise this podcast isn’t going to become a self-indulgent week by week recap of my pregnancy and I know that not everyone here is trying to get pregnant right now. I am also mindful that there are a lot of you trying to conceive right now, maybe struggling, and the last thing you want in your ears and on your socials is ultrasound pictures and me gushing about my baby so if this episode isn’t for you, that’s totally ok.
What I want to share in this episode is more pre-conception preparation. Preparing for pregnancy beyond the obvious ways I’ve talked about in previous episodes.
To give you a taster, and because I’ve talked for long enough already – let’s dive right in.
I kid you not. As someone who has literally written a book about the pelvic floor and created a core and pelvic floor program, this one took my by surprise. I honestly thought I’d have 9 months to work on my strength and get myself in a really good position to avoid that late pregnancy and post-natal leaking that so many women experience, but…pregnancy hormones and constant spewing put a stop to that.
So basically, we know that pregnancy hormones start doing their thing pretty much straight away when you’re pregnant. Not only do they soften your soft tissues, like your pelvic floor muscles and the sphincter that squeezes your urethra tightly shut, they also have you feeling like you need to pee constantly. And of course the morning sickness. Which isn’t a quick spew in the morning and go on with your day like we could get away with after a big night when we were 20. No, for me, my nausea and vomiting lasted all day every day from about 3 days after my positive test all the way through to 16 weeks. We’re talking 24/7. I felt sea-sick lying in bed at night and spewed all day long. I wouldn’t consider it to have been hyperemesis because by some weird miracle I was keeping some food down, I won’t go into more gross detail than that, but I was able to keep hydrated and get some food in. So if you have ever experienced hyperemesis, oh my goodness you deserve a medal and a parade and a big hug because quite frankly I was miserable for months and could not imagine it being that much worse.
So how does all this dry heaving and spewing relate to the pelvic floor? Well, there’s this fun little thing called stress incontinence which a lot of women experience when they sneeze, cough, laugh or exercise. When there is too much intra-abdominal pressure, that’s a lot of force directly on the bladder, and yep a bit of wee leaks out. Turns out vomiting creates a lot of intra-abdominal pressure, so that was a thing during my first trimester.
My advice, incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your pre-conception preparation! I truly hope you are one of those lucky ladies that breezes through her first trimester without morning sickness, but if you’re not, dry heaving and vomiting takes a toll without the misery of constantly needing to change your knickers! My Modi Bodi undies saved the day for sure here, obviously designed for your period but also great at protecting you from those little leaks and I have absolutely sworn by them during my pregnancy.
So don’t be like me and think you have time on your side to improve your pelvic floor. Start incorporating 5 minutes of pelvic floor exercises into your day now – actually do it even if you’re not planning to conceive right now because this is a global women’s health issue. If you have no idea where to start, you can take my free pelvic floor quiz which is a bunch of yes/no questions that help you to decipher if your pelvic floor is currently a problem for you and it gives you a rough idea of what the problem may be. The best part is once you get your copy of the quiz, you will automatically receive a special invite to my free 3 day pelvic floor bootcamp. This is not readily accessible anymore, only for those who show interest in learning more about their pelvic floor so you have to be on my email list to get your invite. This will talk you through everything you need to know about preparing your pelvic floor for pregnancy and birth, but is also super important and helpful for all women to know about! I would of course also suggest booking in to see a women’s health physio just to have your individual pelvic floor needs assessed and to check you are doing your muscle contractions and exercise appropriately. Again, I recommend this before pregnancy because a lot of physios out there would be understandably hesitant about doing an internal assessment in early pregnancy, so get it done now!
You have likely heard me bang on before about the importance of pre conception nutrition. I recommend that you and your partner take at the very least 3 months to really prepare for conception and pregnancy. This means nutrition, exercise, avoiding toxins etc etc, because we really want to conceive with the highest possible quality egg and sperm. This 3 month window is important even if you’re going the IVF route because these lifestyle changes will help you to maximise your chances of success. It takes about 3 months for sperm to develop and 3 months for an egg to mature and even though we are born with all the eggs we’ll ever have, we can still improve quality with some pretty simple lifestyle tweaks. I want to focus on nutrition in particular though because once again, my first trimester was all about the morning sickness, and I somewhat naively thought I’d be the person to exercise daily and keep drinking my green smoothies every day. Instead, I lived on chicken schnitzels, hash browns and mashed potato…anything potato based and all of the carbs. To this day the thought of broccoli makes me queasy, which makes me pretty sad because it used to be one of my favourite vegetables.
I started reading an amazing book by a registered dietitian Lily Nichols, Real Food For Pregnancy, which rather than going through the essential nutrients you need, actually tells you the best foods to get them from. It’s a little hard to find in Australia so I bought the ebook and it’s a must for pregnant mums. My favourite part was the chapter on managing nausea and vomiting and she came out and said, if this is your situation right now, ignore every other chapter in the book and read only this one, and gave lots of reassurance to just eat what you can and don’t panic that you’re doing harm to bub by not eating what you hoped to. I found this so refreshing and it was exactly what I needed to hear when I was struggling with the guilt of not eating a single vegetable for 16 weeks – unless of course you count potatoes!
Which brings me back to this lesson of pre conception nutrition. Even though my diet was horrendous in my first trimester, I knew that I had been eating well in the lead up to my pregnancy. I knew I had been consuming all of the right nutrients and avoiding all the crappy, processed, fatty, sugary garbage and so I was able to reassure myself that the first 5 weeks or so of my pregnancy, before the nausea kicked in, I was giving baby everything it needed and building up the nutrient stores in my body. Now not all nutrients can be stored in the body, and so my prenatal vitamin was my insurance there. But I knew that bub would take whatever it needed and I could re-build my own supplies when it passed.
So my advice for pre conception nutrition is simply to eat like you’re already pregnant. Cut out the alcohol and the fried greasy food – which you will likely crave very soon – and build up your strength and your nutrient supplies as best you can. If your morning sickness never hits, then celebrate and keep eating healthy because by the time I emerged from my first trimester cocoon, after almost 4 months of eating badly, too much sleep and virtually no exercise except for going with hubby to walk the dog maybe once a week – I felt completely depleted of all energy and strength, I had no muscle tone and my fitness was gone! So the better shape you can be in before all of this hits – which hopefully it doesn’t – the better you will come out the other end!
I hope I’m not making it sound too dramatic and alarming. Now that I’m in my second trimester I am feeling great, more energy, sleeping well (snoring my head off according to my husband) and am loving getting into a regular exercise routine again.
And I guess this is a valuable lesson to prepare me for pregnancy, labour, birth and motherhood because I am admittedly a bit of a control freak, and pregnancy has very much taught me that some things are just not in your control. And I learnt this lesson right away even in the conception stage. So we conceived on our 3rd month of trying, which is totally normal but for someone who knows their cycle and inside and out and exactly when ovulation is happening, this was a learning curve. I’ll probably end up talking about this in another episode, but I got glutened 2 cycles in a row in the lead up. For those of you listening who don’t know, I have coeliac disease and even traces of gluten make me sick. Let’s just say I was accidentally given multiple non gluten free apple pies and this made my cycle the wonkiest it has ever been. And I conceived on the wonkiest cycle I have ever had, so this just goes to show that knowing your body and knowing when things happen make all the difference, but this obviously was not ideal when my cycle is usually pretty average and predictable.
And then obviously the morning sickness set in and I was forced to let go and just listen to my body and accept that whatever happens happens. I couldn’t eat well, couldn’t exercise, could barely get through my day at work as a physio and as you all know, the podcast went out the window along with all the behind the scenes plans I had mapped out for the next couple of months. And I felt a lot of guilt about all of this too. Poor Dan was my full time carer for 16 weeks – cooking, cleaning, walking the fur baby, picking up after me and being the shoulder to cry on when I felt sick and tired of being sick and tired. Not to mention I wasn’t sleeping, so he wasn’t sleeping, and all of this was an absolute shock to the system. He didn’t expect me to be so sick but he did not complain and it definitely reinforced that I picked a good one. And it probably took me towards the end of the first trimester to let go of that guilt and accept that this is how it is right now and to take it as it comes. And I think that’s relaxed me as my pregnancy has progressed and I even now when I have bad days I just tell myself that it is what it is, that this too will pass. And this is the mindset I hope to keep during labour and into motherhood and it’s a lesson that I’m glad I’ve learnt early on.
So that wraps up our first episode back. Once again thank you to all of the lovely women in this community who reached out to check in with how I’m going, to say congratulations when I shared my news and to those few who actually shared their own pregnancy news at the same time. It’s so exciting to be going through this journey at the same time and if that’s you, I’d love to hear how you are going and how you found the first trimester. Especially if it’s your first pregnancy, was it what you expected or were you like me and it was kind of nothing like you expected?
So like I said earlier, you can get your free pelvic floor quiz over at www.fertilityco.com.au/39 or clicking directly on the shownotes links. Once you get the quiz in your inbox you will also get an invite to join our free 3 day pelvic floor bootcamp.
If you want some more pregnancy specific information you can grab your free pregnancy exercise guide, and same deal when you grab that you’ll get exclusive access to a pregnancy superfoods masterclass.
And of course, if you want to get started with charting your cycle for conception or for contraception, you can join my free fertility masterclass, where I’ll walk you through exactly how to know when you are fertile during your cycle.
You can also grab the pelvic floor and core information and workout guide as well as my collection of pregnancy ebooks over at the online shop. All the links are in the shownotes or over at www.fertilityco.com.au/39 and as always if you want to chat some more, share your pregnancy or fertility journey or suggest a topic for upcoming episodes, please send me a DM on Instagram. I’m back floating around on there a little more frequently now and I love chatting with listeners.
Thanks for listening, thanks for your patience after a longer than expected hiatus and I will see you in next week’s episode, where we are talking about basal body temperature. What does it tell us? And is it useful or useless?
Ok, bye for now and don’t forget that knowledge is power!
When you truly understand your body, you are empowered to make informed decisions and take control of your health!
Until next time.
Want to say goodbye to hormonal contraceptives and their weird and unpleasant side effects?
Want to improve your chances of conceiving quickly and naturally?
You need my Fertility Roadmap– My simple 3-step system to understanding your body’s natural fertile signs and pinpointing ovulation day so that you can use this knowledge to achieve (or avoid) pregnancy.
Does your pelvic floor need a little extra TLC? Take the Pelvic Floor Quiz and find out how to start strengthening your pelvic floor today!
Want to make sure you’re exercising safely during your pregnancy? Get your Free Guide: 10 Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy.
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I'm obsessed with all things periods, pregnancy, pelvic floor and helping women just like you to navigate all of life's major milestones!
I'm a physiotherapist and natural fertility educator and my passion is teaching women how to take control of their health.