Pregnancy is a period of physical and emotional upheavals. It is important that you learn as much as possible to allay your worries and to enable yourself to make informed choices and right decisions for you and your baby. This is where antenatal care plays an important role.
Antenatal care is care before the birth of your baby. Ideally, it includes you and your partner taking the initiative to learn about pregnancy, having regular check-ups by a doctor and attending antenatal classes. Start as early as possible to ensure that your pregnancy is progressing normally and to identify any potential problems.
If you suspect that you are pregnant, it is advisable to get it confirmed as early as possible. The realisation of being pregnant would motivate you to maintain a healthy and prudent lifestyle, in relation to good nutrition, exercise and hygiene. You would also need to be cautious of the following:
•intake of alcohol
•drugs and medications
•hazardous activities such as scuba diving
Read up on pregnancy, labour, delivery and baby care. When you equip yourself with knowledge, you would be more confident in making the right choices.
You can receive antenatal care from a midwife or a general practitioner at a local clinic. You also have the option of seeing a doctor (usually an obstetrician/gynaecologist) at the hospital where you are due to give birth.
From the beginning until the 28thweek, you will visit the doctor once every four weeks. Then, it is once every two weeks until the 36th week. Thereafter, it is once every week until the baby is born.
The first visit is usually a lengthy one. It involves:
•Providing details of your medical history and that of your family
•Calculation of the estimated date of delivery
•Recording of your height and weight
•Checking your urine and blood pressure
•Doing a blood test to determine blood group and haemoglobin
•Performing routine tests for infections such as HIV that can affect you and your baby
•Discussion of problems and symptoms
•Advice on daily supplements such as folic acid
•Other advice on diet, work and any related matters
During subsequent visits, the doctor will check on your weight to ensure it is within the normal limits. Tests will be done on your blood pressure and urine for protein to look for signs of preeclampsia which is a condition that pregnant women can get and is harmful to the baby. Women with preeclampsia suffer from swelling in the legs, feet and hands due to fluid retention
To check how your baby is growing, the doctor will measure the height of your tummy’s bump, also called the fundus.
After the 20th week, your doctor will also check on the position of the baby, its heartbeat and the amount of activity (baby’s movements). After the 32nd week, he will try to find out the position of your baby by feeling your abdomen. This is to ensure that the baby is in the correct position when you go into labour.
During visits to the doctor, you could take the opportunity to ask any questions you may have and share any concerns that may be troubling you.
Participating in antenatal classes is another avenue where you can learn about your pregnancy and be more prepared for the baby’s birth.
You will learn what is happening to your body, what to expect as the pregnancy nears its end, how to prepare for labour with special breathing and relaxation techniques and how to push and refrain from pushing. Most antenatal classes include a session on breastfeeding and its benefits. Your husband will also be taught the proper massaging methods which according to childbirth experts is recommended to ease pain and reduce anxiety in the first stage of labour.
You will most likely be taken on a guided tour of the labour ward, nurseries and postnatal area. An outline of what will happen on the delivery day, what the doctors and nurses will do and what you can request for will be given.