Whether you’re expecting your first baby or adding to your family, pregnancy is a transformative journey, both physically and emotionally. Taking some time out from your everyday activities to look after yourself, and be fully present, can bring a wealth of benefits, from reducing anxiety and increasing connection with your unborn baby, to keeping common pregnancy aches and pains at bay. There are also some beautiful pregnancy and postpartum rituals that can help you honour the transition you are experiencing and mark this new chapter in your life.
In this article, you’ll find some great suggestions for how you can look after yourself from the first trimester right through to after the birth of your baby:
- the first trimester and onwards
- as of the second trimester
- the weeks before the birth
- after the birth
The first trimester
Get outdoors to boost your mental well-being and stay active
Keep up your usual physical activity for as long as you feel comfortable, including exercise like running, yoga, or walking to and from work. Being active will give you more energy, help you to sleep, improve your mood, can help strengthen your central core muscles … which will help you cope better with labour and help you get back in shape more quickly after giving birth.
Being outdoors in nature, and enjoying it fully without distractions, is also known to be good for mental well-being. Why not gather some wild flowers as you walk for a real mood boost!
Eat well to get all the nutrients you and your baby need
While you don’t need actually ‘eat for two’ in terms of quantity, it’s worth paying some extra attention to what you’re eating while pregnant. Belgian care providers can be a little over-concerned about weight gain, but the main thing is to ensure you eat a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and fewer foods that are high in fat and/or sugar. Make sure too that you’re taking a folic acid supplement. This might also be the time to learn to make some premium mocktails, as you still have quite a few months ahead without alcohol.
If you’d like some support in eating well while pregnant (and during your postpartum recovery), reach out to dietitian Sofie De Niet, who’s known for her holistic approach and practical, pragmatic advice.
Tip for the third trimester: If you’d like to prepare for the best possible recovery after birth, contact nutritional consultant Harsh Agarwal of Naturogya, who offers a postnatal nutrition programme based on naturopathic principles – Harsh’s programme starts around 9 weeks before your expected due date, to give time to craft a realistic programme that takes your personal situation into account.
Start a written or photo diary to look back on
Nine months goes surprisingly fast, and before you know it, you might realise you don’t remember that much about what it was like to carry your baby. Writing down how you’re feeling can be therapeutic too, as you deal with the ups and (hopefully not too many) downs of pregnancy – from the excitement of seeing your baby for the first time on ultrasound, or buying your first maternity clothes, to deciding on a name and wrapping up your work before your maternity leave.
Buy yourself a special new notebook, or keep it in a Google Doc, whatever works for you!
As of the second trimester
Do prenatal yoga to look after your physical and mental health
Prenatal yoga is a gentle form of yoga that keeps you in shape during pregnancy, explores positions that can be useful during labour and birth, and bring awareness to the importance of calm breathing and relaxation for a low-stress pregnancy and birth. Most prenatal yoga teachers ask that you begin after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Here are some of the prenatal courses you can find in English in Brussels:
- Emily Gold runs prenatal yoga classes that combine strength-building poses to help you feel empowered throughout your pregnancy as well as specific breathwork, meditation and restorative yoga poses to help reduce stress and help you remain calm and mindful.
- Sophie Girard-Sequeira runs yoga for pregnancy and birth classes that combine the benefits of yoga with effective physical and mental preparation for labour and birth.
- With her prenatal yoga classes, Irene Ibbe gives you the opportunity to reconnect with the changing shapes of the pregnant body whilst helping to maintain strength and posture.
- Sophie Wulk of Yoga Everest offers prenatal yoga to support your body, mind and well-being during pregnancy.
- Johanna Tilly (see Johanna’s village profile and Facebook page) offers individual and group prenatal yoga classes.
Get a massage to ease discomfort and stress
A soothing massage – performed by an experienced professional who knows you are pregnant – can work wonders during pregnancy. It can help raise your levels of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making for a happier and de-stressed you – which can only be beneficial for your baby too!
Massage can also be a great way to deal with some common pregnancy issues, like sciatic and pelvic pain.
In Brussels, you can find prenatal massage on offer at the following:
- Layakari – prenatal ayurvedic massages, intended to release tension, relax your mind, strengthen your immune system, and more (site in English)
- Serendip Spa – various treatments, including massages to ‘ease discomfort in the body and encourage emotional balance’, ‘ease circulation of the lower legs and feet’, or to ‘detoxify, boost the immune system, to balance hormones and relieve fluid congestion’. (site in English)
- We Yoga – yoga teacher and ayurvedic practitioner Irene Ibbe offers a relaxing and draining massage with warm oil on the whole body (site in English)
- Terra Sensa – various massages, all aiming to relieve (site in French)
Some doulas also offer prenatal (and postnatal) massage, including:
- Julie Denil and Sophie Fraschina of So Cocoon (English- and French-speaking)
- Aline Bertrand (English- and French-speaking)
- Alix Ulrix (English- and French-speaking)
- Laurence Verdonck (English- and French-speaking)
- Nadège De Bonté (English- and French-speaking)
- Sandrine Tirlo (French-speaking)
- Nathalie Denaeyer (French-speaking)
- Maëliss Layeux (French-speaking)
Is pregnancy massage safe?
The United Kingdom’s National Health Services (NHS) states that ‘pregnancy massage is one of the safe complementary therapies you can use during pregnancy’. It’s generally advised to wait until the second trimester to be massaged, and you should avoid massage if you’re considered at high risk of placental abruption or premature labour.
If you’re in any doubt as to whether or not pregnancy massage is advisable for you, discuss it with your care provider.
In the weeks before the birth
Prepare to welcome your baby with a Blessingway ritual
Gather with friends to honour your pregnancy and your journey into motherhood. Unlike a traditional baby shower, which focuses on your baby, this ritual is all about you. It brings together your closest female friends to offer words of wisdom around preparing for birth and the postpartum period and often includes a small ceremony to mark the occasion.
But don’t worry, many doulas will organise and facilitate the whole ritual for you, so you can enjoy this special time with your friends:
- Nadège De Bonté (English and French)
- Cindy Gutierrez Silva (English, Spanish, French and German)
- Julie Denil and Sophie Fraschina of So Cocoon (English- and French-speaking)
- Aline Bertrand (English and French)
After the birth
In many cultures, the 40 days (or roughly six weeks) after birth are seen as a special time for both you and your baby – for you to rest and recover from the intense physical and emotional experience of bringing your baby into the world, to give time and space for bonding, and to get breastfeeding off to a good start if you decide to breastfeed. It’s a time when you should accept as much help as possible – whether from your partner or those in your circle of friends or colleagues – and prioritise your well-being.
Limit the number of visitors to your home
Self-care is not only about what you do, it’s also about what you don’t do. There are probably lots of people who are excited about the birth of your baby, and who want to come to visit you at home. But early and regular visits to can be very tiring, and bring unnecessary stress at a time when you probably just want to be snuggled up in comfy clothes with your baby.
In the first few weeks after the birth, try to limit visitors to those who can offer you the most support – like bringing home-cooked meals, taking your dog for a walk, doing some grocery shopping etc – and let others know politely that you’re laying low for a while to rest and cocoon.
Hire a postpartum doula
Postpartum doulas are trained in providing physical, emotional, and informational support after birth – basically, in mothering the mother so she can recover as best as possible and bond with her baby. As Sophie Fraschina, from A Doula in Belgium, explains: “We help with practical things such as cooking and helping around in the house, and we listen to the mother as she shares her experience, observations, worries, concerns, questions etc. We do our best to embrace her in a warm, maternal cocoon so she feels supported and comforted at such a time of intense change.”
For more about finding a doula who can support you in the early postnatal period, see our dedicated page about doulas.
Do postnatal yoga with your baby
Postnatal yoga is a lovely way to bond with your baby and take care of yourself at the same time. It can help you embrace and celebrate your postpartum body, boost your mood and energy levels, and ease common postpartum discomforts. It’s also a great way to meet other new mums and start to build a supportive community. Most postnatal yoga teachers ask that you wait until 6 weeks after the birth.
In Brussels, you’ll find postnatal yoga offered by Emily Gold, Sofie Girard-Sequira, Irene Ibbe of We Yoga Brussels, and more. Read more here.
Mark the end of one chapter and the start of another with a powerful rebozo ritual
Originating in Mexico, this ritual is used to mark a significant transition in a woman’s life – like the transition into motherhood. It typically takes place around 40 days after birth. The traditional shawl that is used is sometimes referred to as an ‘extension of loving hands’.
The rebozo ritual is performed by two women and lasts around 2.5 to 3 hours. Although the exact formula may differ, it often includes a herbal bath, a healing meditation, a four-hand massage with essential oils, and a ‘wrapping’ of the body with rebozo shawls at the seven key points of the body.
In and around Brussels, rebozo rituals are offered in English by:
- Paulina Hernandez of De todo corazon, with doula Amandine Schneider or psychologist and psycho-corporal therapist Céline Penneman (English- and French-speaking, site in French)
- doulas Julie Denil and Sophie Fraschina of So Cocoon (English- and French-speaking, site in French)
- midwives Clara Mussche and Anaëlle Wartelle of Naissentiel (English- and French-speaking, site in French)
- doulas Nadège De Bonté and Laurence Jonckers (English and French)