Whether you're having your first baby or becoming a mother again, this is an exciting time in your life. You want to make it a healthy time, too. That's why it's important to understand your pregnancy and take good care of yourself during the coming months.
Once you're pregnant, regular checkups are key. Your health professional will want to monitor your baby's growth and watch for problems that can only be detected by checking your blood pressure, urine, and blood regularly.
Anything you do that harms your body harms your fetus. Take special care to avoid tobacco smoke, alcohol and drugs, chemicals, radiation (as from X-rays), and sources of infection. Keep your body temperature from getting too high [over 100.4º (38º C)] by treating any fevers with acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and avoiding exercise or activity that overheats you. Also avoid high-temperature hot tubs and saunas.
Take extra-good care of yourself while you're pregnant. Everything healthy you do for your body benefits your growing fetus. Rest when you need it, eat well, and exercise regularly.
Your first prenatal exam gives your doctor or certified nurse midwife important information for planning your prenatal care. You can expect to have a pelvic exam, your blood pressure and weight checked, and a urine and blood sampling during this first office visit. The laboratory tests of your urine and blood are used to confirm your pregnancy and to tell whether you're anemic or have signs of infection.
At each prenatal visit you'll be weighed, have your abdomen measured, and have your blood pressure and urine checked. While these quick office visits may seem simple and routine, your health professional is actually watching for a number of serious complications that can occur during pregnancy.
During your second trimester, you can have your blood tested for signs of birth defects (triple screen test). If you have risk factors for birth defects, you may want to use fetal ultrasound or amniocentesis, if you haven't opted for chorionic villus sampling late in the first trimester. Early in your third trimester, your blood sugar is checked (glucose tolerance test) for gestational diabetes. Near the end of your pregnancy, you will be screened for infections that could harm your newborn.
Like pregnancy, labor and delivery follow a typical sequence. However, your labor and delivery is likely to be different from any other woman's. Similarly, if you have given birth before, your next childbirth may be completely different.
Early labor starts with uncomfortable, unpredictable contractions that begin to open (dilate) the cervix. This phase can last two to three days, especially during first-time labor. Contractions then become stronger and more frequent, gradually dilating the cervix from 3 cm (1.2 in.) to 10 cm (3.9 in.). This phase, called active labor, is when you want to get to your hospital or birthing center. As active labor progresses, you may decide to use pain medication, especially if you have back labor.
As you near the time when you push the baby out (transition), you may become anxious, irritable, nauseated, or exhausted. "Pushing" to deliver your baby could take from a few minutes to two to three hours. While the average first-time mother takes nine hours of total active labor to deliver a baby, some take much less time. After your baby is born, your contractions will continue until you deliver the placenta.
In the hours after delivery, your body will begin recovering, while gearing up to breast-feed your newborn. During the first postpartum weeks, your body will slowly heal and readjust to its nonpregnant state. It is normal to feel emotional during this time; hormonal changes can shift your mood without warning, for no apparent reason.
It's easy to get overtired and overwhelmed during the first weeks after childbirth. To best handle the physical demands of recovery and newborn care, make sure that you get as much rest and help as possible. If you have trouble with "baby blues" that last more than a few days or you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, call your health professional right away. Postpartum depression requires immediate treatment.
Many families appreciate some extra support as they deal with the grief of an incomplete pregnancy or the loss of a newborn. If you are dealing with a loss, when you are ready, please consider contacting a pregnancy loss support group in your area. You may have already received information about these groups from the hospital or your doctor. If not, there is a national organization called SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc. that offers many local groups as well as excellent information, resources, and support.
To find out more:
For more information, visit the "Pregnancy and Newborn Education Center" at the March of Dimes Website.
For more than 60 years, the March of Dimes has worked to improve the health of babies through research, community services, advocacy, and education. At the organization's Website, you'll find helpful information about planning for pregnancy, what to expect during pregnancy, and caring for your newborn.
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