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Preparation is everything

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Whether you’re still in the planning stages or already pregnant, IRENE BOURQUIN’s advice is: Start where you are! Here are her tips for giving your baby the best possible beginning

Before you embark on the exciting roller-coaster ride that is pregnancy, you’ll need a plan. A three-month head start before conception is a great idea. As there are two of you making this baby, this truly is a partnership in every sense of the word—working together toward the common goal of ensuring the best possible start for your baby.

Three months before
Stop contraception! If you’re younger than 35 and you’ve been trying to fall pregnant for over a year, talk to your doctor about investigating next steps. Older couples who have been trying for six months or more should do the same.

Already pregnant?
Well, let’s start right here! These are some steps to improve your lifestyle—and include your partner in this. After all, it takes two to tango.

Put out the smoke
You have the best possible motivation in the world to throw away the cigarettes— and that includes e-cigarettes. There’s much controversy surrounding e-cigs, which are not regulated and still contain nicotine. Research shows that the biggest contributing factor to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, or ‘cot death’) is smoking. Kick that habit once and for all. You’ll thank yourself forever.Beware of second-hand smoke too, as it’s known to cause babies harm both in utero and after birth. It has even been known to cause heart disease in later life. The good news is that there’s help; there are many programmes available to help you quit smoking. A number of medical
aid schemes even offer rewards for couples who go through the steps to give up cigarettes. That’s a win-win situation! Other methods to help quit smoking include hypnosis, acupuncture, counselling, medication (not for the
pregnant mom), mouth sprays and bio-resonance therapy.

Food for thought
Good nutrition is essential—for you and your family. Mom, take a calcium supplement, and eat foods containing
magnesium and potassium. Reduce your salt intake. Maintain a healthy weight. Fit, lean and healthy should be your family motto. Your health, and that of your baby, is the number-one priority, so ensure you eat a balanced diet. If you’re underweight (or still in your teens), find a good dietician who will guide you through your pregnancy healthily.

Fruit, veggies, lean meat, nuts, eggs and plenty of water are the order of the day during this incubatory time. You should steer clear of soft cheeses, game meat and raw fish for the duration of your pregnancy and nursing. So, what about colas, fizzy drinks, caffeine, chocolates and tea? They can be consumed, but in small doses. Caffeine is a stimulant, and a recent study has shown that more than two cups of coffee per day can adversely affect your pregnancy (miscarriage, pregnancy loss, lowbirthweight baby). And you definitely don’t want your baby wired up on caffeine when he or she arrives! Avoid alcohol, as the effects on the fetus are devastating. It causes irreparable harm, so medical experts throughout the world advise women to abstain completely from drinking throughout pregnancy. One glass of bubbly to celebrate your baby’s birth is fine. To be on the safe side, however, use Milkscreen by UpSpring to test the alcohol level in your breast milk. I don’t need to tell you that illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana (dagga), and methamphetamine’s/ crystal meth (tik) are extremely dangerous for all involved—but particularly for your unborn child. Ask your doctor or caregiver for specialized information on treatment programmes.

Stay active
Walking along the beach or through your favourite park, swimming, easy yoga… most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy, as long as you exercise with caution and don’t overdo it. The safest and most productive activities are swimming, brisk walking, indoor stationary cycling, step or elliptical machines, and low-impact
aerobics (taught by a certified aerobics instructor). Most gyms run special exercise classes for pregnant mums. Remember to advise your exercise coaches and workout buddies that you’re expecting.

Supplemental info
You should start taking folic acid preferably three months before becoming pregnant, or as soon as you find out that you’re expecting. An amount of 400mcg daily, plus folate in the diet, can help reduce neural tube defects (birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord) by as much as 50% to 70%; it even reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure, with high levels of protein in urine and often swelling of the feet, legs and hands) during pregnancy. Green leafy veggies and well-cooked liver are good sources of folate. Zinc—found in quality peas, beans, chicken, soya beans, bran, spinach and mushrooms—can lower the risk of pre-term birth, which is associated with poor eating habits. Have your local clinic or pharmacy check your iron levels. Necessary for red cell production, iron can be found in eggs, citrus, dry beans, meat and whole-grains.

Special treatment
Only take medicines prescribed by your doctor. Even aspirin and cold & flu remedies should be avoided. Get advice
should you suffer from allergies such as hay fever. Herbal medication and natural remedies need to be brought to your doctor/caregiver’s attention. Most are fine but, for example, while St John’s Wort is a great product when used under doctor supervision, it can be dangerous when combined with certain other medicines. Speak to your doctor/caregiver about any pre-existing medical conditions you may have: how treatment will continue, and how you’ll be monitored throughout your pregnancy. If you have high blood pressure, cardiac or kidney disease, visit your doctor to ensure you’re stabilised on the correct treatment and that you’ll be carefully monitored while pregnant. Ask for specialised information on medication for depression and anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder; those with bipolar I and II require expert advice from a professional who’s well-versed in these illnesses and how they will affect pregnancy.

Support crew
Whether it’s a gynaecologist, midwife or doula, find and get comfortable with your choice of birth support. Do research, ask for references, or enquire by friends or acquaintances. It’s your body, and you have to be very comfortable with these folks, as they’ll be taking care of both you and your baby.

The moment of tooth
A dental check-up should be done preferably prior to falling pregnant. Dental care during pregnancy is really important, as gingivitis (gum disease) has been associated with early labour.

Watch out!
Beware of toxoplasmosis—a condition caused by a parasite found in cat litter, raw and uncooked meat, as well as unsafe drinking water—which can be very harmful to the fetus in utero. The earlier in your pregnancy the infection occurs, the more serious the outcome for your baby, such as stillbirth or miscarriage. Babies who survive birth are still likely to have serious health problems. There are medications that can help reduce the severity of the infection,
but prevention is always better than cure. Strong chemicals and pesticides in the home and garden must be used only by your partner. When decorating baby’s room or renovating your home, read the paint labels: Only use lead-free paint, and be careful of the fumes.

Money matters
The dreaded paperwork! This is an excellent way for dads to help out. Make sure your medical aid, and doctor and
hospital visits are sorted out well in advance. Birth is not really the time for financial surprises—your hands will be full with other matters!

Keep calm and enjoy your pregnancy
Easier said than done, but make the time. Try to find 30 to 60 minutes daily when both you and your partner simply sit or lie or walk or dance together. Consider it connection time. Look at the stars, talk, and release the day—which might’ve been rushed with traffic, work, household chores, family responsibilities…
Just STOP and breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth, becoming mindful of everything around you. Breathe in and tighten your toes and then relax. Next, your legs, pelvic floor, moving up to your arms and fingers, chest, shoulders, lips, face. It works wonders every time. Find humour on TV and at the movies; laughter is a powerful tool for coping with stress, particularly during pregnancy. Laugh out loud—it’s infectious! Whether you have the luxury of planning ahead for pregnancy, or you find out quite by chance and it’s a bit of a
surprise, all the above steps will stand you in good stead. The power is in your hands. There’s so much that can be done— starting where you are—to secure the best possible beginning for your baby. All the above information and more can be found in Irene’s book, “Practical Pregnancy, Birth & Early Parenting Guide”, published by Pearson. Visit her website for even more useful advice and tips: IreneBourquin.co.za.

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