Pregnancy is an exciting and life-changing experience for many women but it can be a time of great concern and anxiety for many, with many changes taking place in the body and the daunting thought of childbirth looming large.

Before you get pregnant

If you are trying for a baby, there are a number of things you can do to make conception more likely. Firstly, you should make positive changes to your diet and lifestyle; increase the amount of healthy foods you eat, try to exercise regularly and try to give up smoking and drinking regularly. The best time to try and conceive a baby is around a week before ovulation; this usually occurs around 12 days after your period has ended.

How do I know if I’m pregnant?

The most obvious sign of pregnancy is a missed period, although this may not be an accurate indicator if you don’t have a regular cycle. Other symptoms of pregnancy include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tender, swollen and larger breasts (similar to symptoms before a woman’s period)
  • Frequent urination (especially during the night)
  • Constipation
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Food cravings or a lack of interest in foods and drinks you usually really like

If you display these symptoms you should take a pregnancy test; these are widely available at chemists and pharmacies as well as supermarkets, GP surgeries, NHS walk-in clinics and community contraception clinics (they are free of charge at NHS centres). Although most results prove correct, it is advisable to take at least two tests as they are not 100% accurate. If your test is positive, you should arrange to see your GP; they will then start to organise your antenatal care.

Antenatal care

Antenatal care is designed to prepare you for the birth of your child and offer support and advice during your pregnancy. You can attend antenatal classes in your local community and make friends with other expectant mums. During your pregnancy you will usually have two scans, one at 8-14 weeks and the next at 18-20 weeks; the first scan is often called the dating scan as it predicts the date the baby will be born and the second scan is used to detect any abnormalities or problems. After the scan you will be able to take a photo home to show relatives and friends. The scans are not painful and you shouldn’t worry about them. Women that have had a miscarriage in the past or those that have certain health conditions may have additional scans to monitor the baby’s progress. During the first phase of your pregnancy you will also be offered the chance to have a screening test for certain inherited diseases.

Labour and childbirth

Childbirth is often a source of extreme worry and anxiety for most expectant mothers as there are a number of risks and it is a notoriously painful experience. Labour can take many hours and is an emotionally and physically draining experience but health professionals will do their best to make it as smooth as possible. Signs of labour include regular abdominal muscle contractions, backache, a ‘show’ (discharge of mucus and blood), the waters breaking and nausea. Experts recommend that you go to hospital once the waters have broken and the contractions are around 5 minutes apart; you should ring before you leave home and remember to take your medical notes with you.

During the initial stages of labour the cervix will gradually dilate to allow room for the baby to come out; once the cervix has dilated to 10 centimetres, there should be enough room for the baby to be born. The initial stage of the labour may take several hours; women that come in when they are only in the very first stage of labour will often be sent home until they are further dilated. Once the cervix is fully dilated and the baby is starting to come the midwife will advise you when to push’ they will also offer you pain relief and offer support and encouragement. Once the baby has been born, it will be weighed and then passed to the parents, providing all is well and the baby and mother are both healthy. If there are problems or complications, these will be dealt with as quickly as possible. After the baby has been born the umbilical cord will be cut and the placenta will be delivered.

After the labour is over, the mother will often feel exhausted and emotionally drained; there will usually be a confusing mixture of excitement as well as relief and exhaustion. The mother and baby will be monitored carefully to ensure they are both healthy and then they will be allowed to go home. Most mothers are discharged within 48 hours of giving birth.

Postnatal care

After you have taken your baby home you will be visited frequently by your health visitor; they will ensure you and your baby are healthy and discuss your baby’s progress with you. You can also ask any questions you might have and discuss any concerns you might have with your health visitor. You can take your baby to be weighed regularly and your GP practice will contact you when you need to take your baby in for their immunisations. If you have any concerns about yourself or your baby you shouldn’t hesitate to contact your health visitor or your GP.

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