My sister attended three weddings last year of her contemporaries, two of these couples have moved houses recently, and you know what they say – new house: new baby! Anyway there are some things I think people should think about before getting pregnant and in early pregnancy, and there is some useful information out there that they might not be aware of. As I probably will not know about their pregnancies until after this stage, I thought I would write some bits down. This is not comprehensive, in fact I have tried to include information that I think is useful but is not usually available or discussed.
Pre pregnancy: Thinking about starting to try for a baby
1. Be Healthy
It will be good for you and your baby to be as fit as you can before you get pregnant. Being healthy is commonsense: eat well and exercise. See any pregnancy magazine or website for foods to avoid. Also rest. Learn to listen to your body’s needs.
The healthier you are the healthier the baby will be and the easier your pregnancy and birth. Whatever you put in your body your baby will have some too – if you have too much sugar, or fat, or alcohol, or nicotine, then so will your baby. Your body will prioritise the baby over you to give it the nutrients it needs so if you don’t eat well you will find yourself depleted – pregnancy makes you tired enough without that. You will need stamina –
- To carry the extra weight of baby, amniotic fluid and placenta
- To deal with the extra work your body does in growing and creating another human being from scratch
- To cope with the extra strain on your body especially on your heart – by nine months, a pregnant woman’s heart – at rest – is working as hard as someone running a marathon, due to the extra blood the woman is pumping around her body and to the baby. My then the woman’s blood vessels have doubled in diameter to cope with the extra amount of blood.
- To keep your strength up during labour – it is not called ‘labour’ for nothing – it is physically demanding and can last for many hours.
Being healthy before you conceive is important for both parents-to-be. A woman’s eggs all develop when she is in the womb herself but sperm is made anew so it is especially important to be healthy before trying to conceive. To-be-dads-to-be need to ditch the fags, reduce the alcohol, caffeine and fry ups.
Smoking is the biggest factor in still birth, placenta problems, premature birth and small weight babies (this is NOT a good thing – small weight babies are more vulnerable, have greater problems when born, and may have greater problems being born as they have less resilience to the stress of birth.) Smoking reduces fertility for men and women.
It seems obvious that pregnant women should stop smoking – though it can be hard, there are specialist smoking cessation midwives at every hospital – it is just as important for men to stop too – especially when trying to conceive. Smoking affects the quantity, quality and mobility of sperm so reduces the chance of conception. The placenta is formed from the division of the fertilised egg, so just as the baby is half dad, so is the placenta. The quality of the placenta is vital to the baby’s growth in the womb, it ensures the baby gets the blood, nutrients and oxygen it needs. In order to have sperm unaffected by smoking you need to quit before trying for a baby – some places say one month, some say three. Ask your gp for more information. Also, second hand smoke has been linked to the same problems for the baby as the mother smoking.
2. Relax and enjoy the practice!
On average it takes between six and thirty months to conceive. Stress can reduce your chance of conceiving. The more sex you have and the more you enjoy it the better the chance of getting pregnant – better pH of fluids, more blood to womb. Learn about your body: notice changes in your vaginal mucus when you are ovulating.
If you have trouble conceiving here are some useful websites:
3. Girl or boy?
There are several theories about how to increase your chance of conceiving a boy or a girl. One is based on the idea that ‘male’ sperm travels faster but ‘female’ sperm keeps going longer; so if you have sex shortly after the egg is released the sperm has further to travel so baby will more likely be a girl, but if you have sex in the days after ovulation then there is less far to travel and the faster ‘male’ sperm will get there first. How do you know when you ovulate? On average women ovulate fourteen days into the menstrual cycle, but everyone is different. Women often notice a change in discharge (like egg white). Get to know your cycle.
Miscarriage is more common than most people realise (one in three pregnancies). Miscarriage is most common before thirteen weeks. Most of these are because although the placenta and the sac started to grow, the baby didn’t. Most miscarriages are completely spontaneous and there is no need to contact a doctor or midwife unless concerned. It is very common to grieve for the loss of your baby and the loss of the future you planned.
Bleeding does not necessarily mean miscarriage. Many women experience unexplained bleeding in early pregnancy. Most hospitals have Early Pregnancy Units which you can just ring up and usually attend that day. They may offer you a scan – either through the abdomen or the vagina. It is hard to hear the baby’s heart beat before fourteen weeks. You can decline any part of the care. Just by going along does not mean you consent to everything. You can wait it out – just like our mothers and grandmothers had to do.