So you are pregnant. Congratulations! A lot is written about pregnancy and birth but what are the main things you can do to prepare yourself physically and mentally for the arrival of your baby?
Before the birth, one of the most important things you can do for your physical wellbeing is to get as much rest as possible, particularly in the third trimester. During your pregnancy your body naturally encourages you to sleep, but most pregnant women find themselves frequently waking up during the night, either to go to the toilet or because the baby is restless.
This in itself is good training for when your sleep becomes disrupted during the first few months of your baby’s life. This period can be quite intense, as newborn babies generally need to feed approximately every three hours. If, for example, it takes 45 minutes for your baby to feed and another 45 minutes to settle the baby, that means you only have 90 minutes to sleep before starting the process again.
This amount of sleep deprivation can affect your emotional and physical wellbeing, so it’s important to be healthy and rested during the pregnancy. If possible, try and nap during the day and schedule other times that you can devote to relaxation.
It’s also really important to eat well during your pregnancy, as I am sure you are aware. A healthy, nutritious and well-balanced diet will help you and your baby have the best start. It’s also important to get into the habit of eating three meals a day and drinking plenty of water, as you will need to continue this practice if you will be breastfeeding your new baby. It is also important to take a pregnancy supplement before and for the duration of your pregnancy.
You should also try to do some regular, gentle exercise during your pregnancy. This is a great way to increase your energy and fitness levels, which helps with the labour and delivery and those first few months with a new baby. It also increases endorphins, which naturally make you feel better and can help you sleep better at night. But remember, it’s important to consult your doctor if you are doing any sort of exercise, especially later in your pregnancy or if there are any complications.
Another thing that is really important but is often not thought about is to stock up your pantry and fridge. It can be very difficult to get out of the house in the first couple of weeks and really, that last thing you will want to be doing is to tackle the supermarket with a new baby and not much sleep. So have the pantry filled with basic supplies and also try to have some pre-prepared meals in the freezer for those times when you just cannot find the time to cook. I also think the best gift given to new parents is a meal so tell your family and friends, if they ask what they can do to help, that a meal would be the best thing ever!
It is also a good idea to learn about babies. A lot of people go into pregnancy with very little experience with babies and small children. So read some books but remember that there is so much information out there so try to stick to one or two so you don’t get overloaded with information. You can also ask your friends and family what books or advice they used and what they would recommend.
It is difficult for a pregnant woman to take in too much information about life after the delivery of her baby. A lot of people tell me I should be giving pre-natal talks to women, which I think would be a great idea. But I really believe that most woman are very focussed on the pregnancy, labour and delivery and so really won’t retain any other information. It is once you get home with your baby that you realise how much you don’t know about this little person. So if you can, go to the talks at the hospital, do the pre-natal classes and take some extra ones if you can. Also read one book on raising babies before you have the baby.
Some suggestions for exercise while pregnant
- Walking – even gentle walking can be beneficial for both you and your baby.
- Yoga – this is a great pre-natal exercise and most yoga centres offer pregnancy classes. There are also yoga DVDs available so you can do it at home.
- Aqua aerobics or water aerobics – most swimming centres offer regular classes.
- Swimming – either at home or at the local pool. Swimming is a great exercise as it relieves the heaviness you might be feeling in your body.
- Gentle aerobics – most gyms offer pregnancy classes or there are lots of DVDs available.
REMEMBER when exercising:
- Always check with your doctor first that it is okay to do the kind of exercise you want to do.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid getting too hot.
- Don’t let yourself get too exhausted. The exercise should be refreshing but not punishing.
- Don’t exercise every day. Three times a week is plenty – you need to have rest days.
- Don’t’ do any exercise that requires you to lie flat on your back after three months.
- Don’t try to set any personal bests. Your body is busy doing other things at the moment so always stop when you feel fatigued.
How can I mentally prepare?
The most important thing to know is that your life will not be the same once this little person arrives. A lot of women like to think that their lives will not change that much after having one baby but this is really not the case. I think you need to know and accept that things will be different but different in a good way.
Before the birth most parents experience excitement, fear and anticipation. The fear and anxiety can be alleviated by being prepared. But it is also good to know that things might not go according to your plans. I tell woman that it is a great idea to have a birth plan but you also need to have acceptance that it might not happen that way and you need to then let go of your expectations and go with it.
It is a great idea to talk to your partner about how you are feeling so you are both aware of what is going on for each other. Share your feelings and your anxieties. When you bring your new baby home things will change between you and your partner. It is no longer just you two, there is another person to consider. And this person, although the littlest in the house, will demand the most attention. So talk about this beforehand. Discuss how things like night feeding and nappy changing will work.
This will be the most amazing time of your life – so you need to enjoy it! Babies are only babies for such a short time that, even though when you are in the middle of the sleepless nights, sore breasts and disarray you think will never end, it will be over before you know it and you will have moved onto the next stage of parenting and dealing with a whole set of different issues!
Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.