There is now plenty of opportunity to read about pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood and to talk to friends and professional advisers. Having a baby is both exciting and demanding, rewarding and frustrating, worrying and yet emotionally satisfying and fulfilling. Efficient methods and techniques help with pain and with any problems in labor. Be optimistic, be realistic and retain your sense of humor as you approach this very important period of your lives.
Taking the trouble to be prepared in advance and to plan your future is never more important than when you are having a baby. A little forethought can reduce your worries during pregnancy and in the months of baby care that lie ahead. Think about your welfare as a family and especially about what steps you can take to give your baby the best possible start. Having children is a privilege which can enrich the lives of a couple in many ways, but children do bring obligations and responsibilities. Undoubtedly the future happiness and compatibility of children is shaped by the family in which they are brought up. You should discuss as a couple how you think your lifestyles may be affected by the pregnancy and a baby-talk with friends who have been through the experience. Being three or more is never the same as just being the two of you. Your relationships and personal freedom change and you will both need to adjust and think about the future.
If you are planning to be pregnant it is worth considering some aspects of your general health even before you conceive. Although there is not yet always good evidence to support this advice there are certainly some advantages for you, and probably for your baby too, in looking after your health before you conceive as well as during pregnancy. If you have been taking an oral contraceptive pill you will usually be advised to wait three months after stopping the pill to conceive. This is because of the pill’s possible influence on the development of the baby.
Try to give up smoking as evidence is accumulating about the problems of smoking during pregnancy. Babies of mothers who smoke tend to be smaller and may develop less well. Women can be more at risk if other problems, such as high blood pressure, develop during pregnancy. It is possible, too, that the quality of the man’s sperm can be adversely affected if he smokes or drinks alcohol excessively in the weeks before conception. Since there is evidence that even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful in pregnant women the best advice is to give up alcohol before becoming pregnant.
It is important also to avoid taking any drugs that aren’t absolutely necessary before conceiving. Fertilization and the early development of a baby are controlled by delicately balanced chemical processes. It is quite easy to understand, therefore, how any additional chemicals entering the body as medication or in any other way could disturb development. Although very few drugs are definitely known to harm the baby none can be guaranteed completely safe. It is a good principle to check with your doctor about the continued use of any drugs or long-term medication. Self-medication should be avoided and this, of course, includes all herbal and over-the-counter remedies.
Before starting a pregnancy it is wise to have your immunity to German measles (rubella) checked by a blood test. German measles can be disastrous for the fetus, causing sever handicap, when contracted during the first four months of pregnancy. If you are not immune, you can have a rubella vaccination. You should then use contraception for the next three months to allow the vaccine virus to be cleared from your blood. If you and your partner are of eastern European Jewish ancestry, Tay-Sachs testing should be done.
There are very good reasons for eating a good diet before as well as during pregnancy. Don’t just assume that the addition of vitamin pills will solve any problems. Make sure you’re having plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables with additional fibre in the form of whole-grain cereals. You should also ensure that you are having enough protein but try to restrict fats and avoid too much refined carbohydrate. If you are overweight, try to get into better shape before pregnancy. Exercise and a good diet should help. Although there is no good evidence that physical fitness is required for labor, if you are fit you are more likely to recover quickly after your baby is born.