A to Z of a healthy pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time to celebrate your body – and look after it, so that you can have the healthiest pregnancy, labour and baby possible. Here’s our A-Z guide.
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Antenatal classes 

These classes are formed especially to help prepare you for the birth of your baby and early parenthood. Here you will learn what it feels like to be in labour, the process of birth (whether you are having vaginal birth or a caesarean), pain-management techniques, muscle-strengthening exercises, different birthing positions, breathing techniques and after-birth advice on things such as breastfeeding and looking after your newborn baby.

Basically, a good antenatal class will guide you and your partner through the entire process with knowledge and practise, making you more comfortable and confident about this stage of your lives. It is also a great place to meet other pregnant ladies to relate to.

Must read: 15 questions to ask your medical aid before you fall pregnant

Ball play with pilates

Pilates is a form of exercise that aims to strengthen your core muscles, improve your balance and posture and gives you more flexibility. If you have never done pilates before, you can still do it during your pregnancy – it is actually the best time to start.

There are pregnancy-specific pilates classes that will focus on the muscles and joints that are most important for your changing body. You may find that your growing tummy throws you off balance a bit, pilates is a great way to stabilise that.

A lot of the exercises are done using the pilates or exercise ball, which for pregnant women helps to support your body during the exercise techniques.

Cutting down on caffeine

You may be feeling tired, and your natural instinct may be to grab a cup of coffee. Too much caffeine can cause complications, like your baby having a low birth weight and health risks. You don’t have to cut it out completely, but if you are having 200mg a day (which translates to 2 cups of coffee or tea), you are having too much.

Remember it’s not only coffee and tea that have caffeine, but also green tea, some energy drinks, chocolate (sorry about that) and most fizzy cold drinks. Opt for caffeine-free.

Read: A doula's story

Doulas

Imagine if your partner knew everything about birth. From what is going on with you medically to the best ways to manage your pain. Picture them knowing what questions to ask the doctor or midwife when you can’t, how to help you put together a ‘wish list’ for how you want your birth to go, the exact massage technique that will help you get through another contraction. This may be wishful thinking, but it is not impossible.

A doula is someone that is trained to do all of the above. They will be with you before the birth, during and directly afterwards. They will not replace your partner, but will help both of you face labour and birth. A doula is not a doctor or a midwife, you will still need one of those, but is someone with advanced knowledge on the process that focuses on you and your wellbeing.

Environmentally friendly 

Having a healthy pregnancy means that you need to make sure the environment that you live and work in is healthy too. You need to look carefully at your home and work and try spot things that might not be best for you or your unborn baby to have around.

It is important to insist on being in a smoke–free environment, one that is free of any hazardous odours or chemicals. Also important are things like the comfort of your chair at work, your mattress at home and work surfaces that are not the right height that may make you strain any of your muscles.

Folic acid 

Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps protect your unborn baby from certain nervous system defects such as spina bifida. The most crucial time for you to supplement your diet with folic acid is during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when your baby’s nervous system is developing.

A lot of food already has folic acid in it, such as pulses, some fruit, yeast (your breads) and green vegetables. Chat to your caregiver about how much folic acid you should take, depending on the stage of your pregnancy. They will give you a folic acid measurement in ‘mcg’. As a comparison, one medium potato has 80 mcg, a bowl of bran has 100 mcg and an orange has 54 mcg.

Read: 11 things to do when finding out you're pregnant

Gynae not GP

When it comes to choosing a caregiver during your pregnancy, many women feel that seeing their usual family GP is enough. While a GP’s expertise range to many things, while you are pregnant you need to have a caregiver that specialises in pregnancy and birth.

Gynaecologists have specialised in pregnancy and birth, with some additional study to specialise in caesareans as well (obstetricians). While you may see your GP during your pregnancy, they will need to refer you to a gynaecologist for any complications and for certain scans.

Humidifier 

Humidifiers aren’t only useful for a sick newborn, but also for you while you are pregnant. Pregnant women often suffer with dry eyes and the occasional nose bleed, as well as flu and chest infections. Using a humidifier will help lessen these symptoms and illnesses.

You can also get humidifiers that sanitise the air, removing pollutants and harmful odours. Getting a humidifier now will also stand you in good stead for the first time your newborn gets sick.

How to: Enjoy a healthy third trimester

Iron 

A sufficient amount of iron in your blood will ensure that your body will get all the oxygen it needs. In pregnancy, this is very important, as your baby is relying on the iron to get enough oxygen too. You should be getting no more than 14.8mg of iron per day.

You can get this by eating iron–rich foods, such as red meat, fish and poultry as well as dried fruit, wholegrain bread, pulses and green leafy vegetables. If you are a vegetarian or suffer from anaemia, talk to your caregiver about whether your iron levels are high enough, or if you do need to take a supplement.

Jabs 

If you are planning on falling pregnant, you need to make sure that all your immunisations are up to date. Once you are pregnant, you can not get immunised, so if you have not got your shots for certain illnesses, it is important to stay away from people who have or might have those illnesses. If you have other children, make sure they and your partner are up to date with their shots, which will minimise the risk for you and your unborn baby.

It is suggested that if you are traveling to a country where you need vaccinations while pregnant, rather don’t go. If, however, you have to, get a letter from your doctor stating that you are pregnant and cannot have the vaccinations.

Kegel exercises 

Kegel exercises should be done to strengthen your pelvic floor while you are pregnant. Your pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments and tissues and supports your bladder, bowels and uterus. During pregnancy it stretches to accommodate your growing uterus. It also affects your vaginal muscles, which is why having a strong pelvic floor will help you in having a vaginal birth.

To do these exercises, you need to know exactly where your pelvic floor is situated and how to use it. It is the same muscle you would use to stop your urine mid-stream. You should feel them pull in and up.

Try lying down, closing your eyes, and contracting the muscles without using your stomach, legs or buttocks. Hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat this a few times every day (though not when you are on the toilet, as stopping your urine mid-stream can cause bladder infections).

Also: How to do Kegel exercises

Love

Love isn’t just about romantic movies and flowers, it also involves some pretty strong chemicals that can affect you in pregnancy. Scientists say that when in love, you give off a chemical called oxytocin. This chemical is associated with mother/infant bonding and the ‘let–down reflex’ in breastfeeding.

Another hormone that is released into your body when you are in love is endorphins. They are known as the body’s natural painkiller, and helps to destress you. So if you spend your pregnancy loving your baby, partner and others, it will help you be more relaxed, and may even help with pain management during labour. Who knew?

Midwife

A midwife is a trained nurse that specialises in pregnancy and giving birth. Many women choose to use a midwife as their caregiver not only because they can be less costly, but because they also offer emotional support and can come to you for home births. They should also stay with you throughout your entire labour.

If there are any complications, or an emergency c–section is needed, they will have to call for a gynaecologist.

Nutrition

When people talk about eating for two when you are pregnant, the don’t mean having a second helping of cheesecake, but rather eating enough nutrients for you and your growing baby. It is vital that you stick to a healthy eating plan when you are pregnant.

There are many eating plans you can go on, we suggest you discuss them with your caregiver first. But as long as you are eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each a day, iron–rich foods, and good carbohydrates – you will be doing you and your baby a service.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to having a healthy pregnancy. These are found in fish oil, so eating oily fish such as salmon and sardines will help you get them. You should eat these types no more than twice a week though as they can contain too much mercury.

You might want to consider taking fish oil supplements (ones that don’t contain the retinol form of Vitamin A). Omega3’s are known to reduce the risk of pre–eclampsia, boost baby’s nerve and brain development and increase birth weight.

Probiotics

Probiotics are a friendly sort of bacteria found in some foods. It helps improve digestion and ups our immune system. During pregnancy, both your gut and immune system can be compromised, so making sure you take a good probiotic is beneficial to you and baby. You can get them in certain foods like natural yoghurt, yoghurt drinks and soya drinks. If you feel you are not getting enough, talk to your caregiver about taking a probiotic supplement.

Important: How much does baby cost in the first year?

Questions

The saying ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’ can never be truer than while you are pregnant. Having knowledge about what your body is going through, what to expect from the birth of your baby and after, will help you cope more than not knowing. Your caregiver is there for you to ask questions.

Every time you see them, make a list of questions that you and your partner want to know. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, you must ask. Other great places to get advice are during your antenatal classes and also online forums where you can chat to other moms on the internet. Not everyone is a trained professional, so if you get advice over the internet, first check with your caregiver to see if it is accurate.

Relax

Relaxing while you are pregnant is easier said than done. But it is important that you try to get rest and relaxation. Stress plays havoc with your body, and therefore with your unborn baby too. It may help to take 15 minutes of your day to sit down in a quiet place, put your feet up, close your eyes and concentrate on nothing more than your breathing. Even if your only time to do this is while you are sitting on the toilet.

It’s also important to get enough sleep, so if you can take a nap during the day do so. If not, try getting your 8 hours' sleep every night. If you find that people are offering you help because you are pregnant, to carry something for you or your partner offering to rub your feet, do not turn them down. Accept all the help you can get.

Seatbelt 

Road safety when you are pregnant should be the same as when you are not pregnant. It may feel strange trying to put a seatbelt on over your very pregnant tummy, but it is important to do so. The bottom strap of the belt should run underneath your bump, and the other strap across your chest as usual. Wearing a seatbelt in this way will not harm your baby if there is a collision, but will protect you and therefore your baby.

Tests

When you first find out you are pregnant, there are a number of tests you need to take. They will test for your blood group, whether you are rh negative or positive, haemoglobin levels, your immunity to German measles, for hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS.

It is important to get all of these tests done, as the results will help your caregiver give you the healthiest possible pregnancy. Near the end of your first trimester, you will also be tested for the likelihood of your baby having Down's syndrome (this is done along with a Nuchal Translucency scan).

Ultrasound 

Some of the most memorable moments in  your pregnancy will probably come with the ultrasound scans that you regularly get. You will usually have a scan between 10–14 weeks, 20 weeks and if your doctor suspects any complications, at 28–40 weeks.

A scan is not only there for you to see your baby, but for the doctor to monitor the baby’s growth and vital developments. Two very important scans are the anomaly scan at 20 weeks and the Nuchal Translucency scan in the first trimester – both scans look for any kind of anomalies and also where your placenta is lying.

Must read: Decoding ultrasound scans

Vitamins

There are many multivitamins, and a lot of them cater to pregnant women. Some say that as long as you have a healthy diet and are getting your vitamins from a food source, the only supplements you need to take are folic acid and vitamin D.

But it’s hard to tell whether you are getting all the vitamins you need in your food, especially as processing and cooking of food often depletes them. To be on the safe side, you can take a pregnancy multivitamin that will include your recommended allowance of vitamins that you need. Chat to your caregiver about which one you should take.

Water 

We all know that drinking water is important for your health. When you are pregnant, it is vital. Water helps carry nutrients to your baby, reduces water retention that may be causing your body to swell and keeps you from dehydrating.

You should be drinking 8 glasses of water a day, with a little more if it is a hot day. If you battle to get this amount in, try carrying a water bottle with you during the day and sipping on it gradually. Soon it will become a habit and you won’t want to leave the house without it.

X-rated fun

If you are worried about having sex while you are pregnant, don’t be. Sex is perfectly safe for you and the baby while you are pregnant, as long as you make sure, like with any exercise, you get the go-ahead from your caregiver and don’t over-exert yourself.

You may need to be a bit creative with positions as your bump grows. Sex isn’t just safe, it is good for you. That oxytocin chemical that was mentioned earlier is released in abundance during sex, leaving you happier, more relaxed and healthier.

Near the end of your pregnancy, your caregiver may suggest you do not have sex, as it has been know to release a hormone that can induce labour, if your cervix has begun to soften, so chat to your caregiver about it.

Yoga

Yoga during pregnancy is a great way to help your body weather the changes and prepare you for birth. It doesn’t matter whether you have done yoga before or not, when you join a pregnancy yoga class, all the movements are created especially with you in mind.

The slow stretches will increase your flexibility, strengthen core muscles, improve balance and posture and prepare you for different birthing positions. It not only helps you physically, but is also a way to learn breathing and relaxation techniques and put you in a more meditative frame of mind.

Zzz ...

Getting sufficient sleep while you are pregnant is important for you and baby’s health. You may be having trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons including: being uncomfortable, not being able to sleep on your stomach, night-time trips to the toilet, night sweats, and backache.

Try getting used to sleeping on your left side early on in your pregnancy, as this promotes good blood flow. Sleeping with a pillow between your knees and one supporting your back will ease your back pain too. Try not to drink any liquid half an hour before you go to bed, and empty your bladder before sleeping. Night sweats and strange dreams may be waking you up too, so keep a glass of water next to the bed to sip on, and know that any strange dreams that you are having are more than likely hormone induced.

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