Managing your pregnancy
Pregnancy brings about an increase in the levels of many hormones in your body, particularly oestrogen and progesterone. Progesterone relaxes your muscles and ligaments to accommodate your growing baby. It also prevents your uterus from contracting until the baby is fully developed. On the other hand, oestrogen is responsible for the growth in the size of your uterus and breasts, as well contributing to fluid retention.
While these hormones are critical to a successful pregnancy, they are also the main reasons behind the various discomforts that you might experience.
The normal weight gain for an average-size woman during pregnancy is between 11kg to 16kg. The weight gained should be approximately one quarter of your pre-pregnancy weight. Based on an 11 to 12kg gain, the extra weight is distributed to the following:
- Baby - 3.5kg
- Placenta - 0.5kg
- Amniotic fluid - 1kg
- Growth of the uterus - 1kg
- Increase in blood supply - 1kg
- Breast tissue - 0.5 - 1kg
- Storage of fats and protein as reserves - 3kg
Ask your doctor how much weight you should gain during pregnancy. Your weight will be recorded during all your antenatal visits to ensure that it stays within the normal level.
Pregnancy hormones cause your breasts to grow, in preparation for breastfeeding. They become tender and bigger, requiring a good supportive bra. It is wise to invest in a properly fitted maternity bra which is specifically designed with wide shoulder straps and drop-feeding cup to accommodate the changes in your breasts.
Use only warm water to wash your breasts and nipples to prevent dryness. Flat or inverted nipples do not hinder breastfeeding unless they are severely inverted. Inform your doctor on your next visit as you will need extra help to prevent difficulties later.
Your teeth and gums become more sensitive to bacteria during pregnancy so it is important that you maintain your dental health. The standard routine of flossing and twice-daily brushing, and regular check-up must be continued. Neglected dental care may lead to dental complications that could affect foetal development.
Let your dentist know that you are pregnant. In this way, treatments can be planned to be carried out at appropriate times to reduce possible risks to your baby.
Take daily showers and wash your hands regularly to minimise the risk of infections. Infections are of particular concern when you are pregnant. Skin infections and rashes especially cold sores, boils and fingernail infections can be very harmful to your unborn child. Therefore, they should be treated promptly.
Exercise during pregnancy helps to relax your body and mind. It also alleviates many of the common problems of pregnancy as it improves the way the lungs expand and assist in blood circulation.
Swimming is the ideal exercise. Other suitable activities are walking and yoga. It is advisable to avoid strenuous exercises and those that would put you at risk of fall or injury. These include contact sports like basketball and in later months, exercises that involve balancing such as biking.
Smoking produces carbon monoxide in the body and this poison is carried in the mother’s blood in preference over oxygen. As a result, the baby receives less oxygen and less nutrition too. Smoking also reduces the level of those hormones needed to maintain the pregnancy to full term and this could cause a preterm delivery.
If you are around second-hand smoke, also known as passive smoking, the harmful effects are similar to the above.
It takes a lot of will-power to quit smoking. If you are a smoker, you will need help and support. Discuss with your doctor on ways to stop smoking. In addition, talk to your partner to enlist his support.
Alcohol is harmful to your unborn child because it will pass from your blood to its blood. It can cause malformation of the foetus and retardation of its growth.
It is preferable that you do not drink at all when you are pregnant. If you have consumed alcohol while you are pregnant, inform your doctor as early as you can so that he will monitor your baby’s health more closely.
High blood pressure
A disorder unique to pregnancy is preeclampsia, a condition where a woman has two or more of the following symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Swelling of hands and feet
- Presence of protein in the urine
Preeclampsia can be fatal to both the mother and the foetus. It can prevent the foetus from getting enough blood and oxygen as well as cause damage to the mother’s organs. There is also the danger of preeclampsia developing into eclampsia, a serious complication in which the mother can have seizures.
If you have higher than normal blood pressure, bed rest may help to reduce the pressure. Sometimes, it may be necessary that you stay in the hospital so that you and your baby can be monitored closely. The only cure of preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. Hence, your doctor may decide to induce labour early.
Bleeding during pregnancy
Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy has many causes, some more serious than others. Whatever the cause, it should be reported to your doctor immediately. If you are bleeding in the first half of a pregnancy, you should wear a pad and keep it to show your doctor. Bleeding may be a sign of miscarriage, but not necessarily so.
Bleeding in the second half of pregnancy should be regarded as serious. You ought to go straight to a hospital.
If you have a normal low-risk pregnancy and your work is not too stressful or physically demanding, you can work right up to the time when your baby arrives. However, as you will experience more fatigue and back pain towards the end of your pregnancy, you may want to take a little time off before the due date.
Sex during pregnancy
Sex during pregnancy is safe and can be continued through most of it. However, if you have a history of miscarriage or premature labour or experienced other complications, you should ask your doctor for his or her opinion.
Your interest in love-making will vary according to your physical and emotional state during the pregnancy, which are affected by the pregnancy hormones. Fatigue during the first and third trimester is likely to dampen your interest while you may enjoy having sex in the second trimester as the fatigue takes a breather and your increased body size is still manageable.
Fasting is acceptable when you are pregnant unless it causes you to feel very weak or there are complications in your pregnancy. In such a case, you may want to consider postponing the practice until a more suitable time.
It is generally safe to travel during pregnancy. Nevertheless, you will need to follow the safety rules more stringently compared to others.
Car seatbelts must always be worn, with the lap belt placed below your stomach and the shoulder belt stretched across your chest, above your stomach. When travelling in a bus or train, always hold on to the hand rail if you need to walk to the restroom. Take frequent stops during long journeys to walk around and do stretching in order to keep the blood circulating.
Some airlines may require a letter from your doctor if you are over 32 weeks pregnant.