The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Pregnancy

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Nausea! Swollen ankles! Heartburn! Oh, and all the tests! While there are plenty of concerns that accompany each pregnancy, remember: This is an amazing time in your life. Enjoy it.

After years of planning, Susan and Steve got the word — they’re pregnant! After hugs, kisses and tears, they went to buy a promising book to guide them through the next nine months of Susan’s pregnancy. This is their first and they want to learn and do everything they can to ensure the delivery of a healthy, happy baby.

Don’t let your first OB appointment leave you feeling anxious and unsettled. So many things could happen over the next several months. If you do, your enthusiasm can fade and be replaced by worry turning one of life’s most extraordinary adventures into a fearful experience, full of anxiety and apprehension.

With all of the advances in modern medicine, many times doctors can lose sight of the overall experience and in being cautious, can convey that pregnancy is a condition in which danger lurks around every corner. It’s no wonder that many women spend their pregnancies in an avoidance mode rather than an enjoyment mode.

Testing One, Two, Three

What has prompted this shift in thinking? It has to do with pregnancy being viewed primarily as a medical condition. Technology and testing is readily available and has allowed us to better understand what is happening in the womb and to make adjustments to help bring healthy babies into the world. Unfortunately, it can also cause concerns in expectant parents that are perhaps unnecessary. As you go through the various tests that accompany pregnancy, it’s important to know that most of them are precautionary measures, and a request to have them done does not mean your physician suspects a problem. In most cases, you and your baby are going to be just fine.

Technology also helps your doctor minimize risk to you and your baby. If you’re asked to go through a battery of examinations, the wisest approach is to assume the best, unless you’re told otherwise. If you’re concerned, get information on the reason behind doing the test. Ask if the test is optional. Do not let exams or fear of their results spoil this incredible time in your life. You may find that some of these tests are actually fun, like the ultrasound for example. Most couples find it thrilling to see the first pictures of their baby tossing, turning and growing inside of mom’s tummy. And, of course, you will always remember the magical moment of first hearing your baby’s heartbeat.

Another reason for undergoing various rafts of tests is that as couples delay childbearing until their mid- to late-30s or early 40s, women discover that their bodies are going through natural maturation processes that carry a few more risks in pregnancy than if they were in their 20s. The good news is that millions of women in this age group experience easy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies.

Gaining Clarity

If you perceive pregnancy as something to be feared and at the very least, endured, it will become just that. If, however, you view it as a positive and exciting experience, you’ll find it to be one of the most wonderful events you can imagine. Each pain, kick and movement associated with this new life growing inside reminds us of the miracle it actually is.

Nothing compares to that moment of witnessing a new life with all of its potential entering our world. When you experience the power of that miracle, you see and understand things that you never saw or understood before. You see the world in a new light, with new eyes.

The Time of Your Life

If you’re pregnant, the first order of business is to make a conscious decision to enjoy the experience. The second is to make a commitment to your health and your baby’s health. We are all products, to some extent, of our environment, the world in which we live, the foods we eat, the air we breathe — even the things we love. Your growing baby is the product of his world, which for your child’s first nine months is your body. Just know that each pregnancy is experienced differently from mother to mother — and even if you’ve been pregnant before. Not every normal pregnancy will be accompanied by nausea or fatigue. Some women feel great during the early part of pregnancy.

When the second trimester arrives, you generally begin to feel better. Energy and appetite improve. You’ll recognize the anticipated first signs of the baby moving. Commonly, the movements are described as a fluttering butterfly or bubbles of gas. Your body will begin to alter so that the outside world can finally appreciate the physical changes associated with the pregnancy.

The early part of the third trimester tends to go smoothly. There are new feelings of bloating and cramps, as well as swelling of the feet — don’t worry, it’s just temporary and you’ll see your toes and shave your legs again. This part of pregnancy is also accompanied by back and pelvic pain — baby is just settling into position — and can make for a great reason to enjoy a pregnancy massage. Remember to slow down during the last few weeks as you and your baby prepare for delivery, too.

You control the quality of your unborn baby’s world. Keep healthy habits, regular exercise and a healthy diet comprised of well-balanced meals to make sure that your infant gets all the vitamins, minerals and nutrient-rich foods he needs (including a good calcium source). Vitamins are an option to supplement your diet, but they do not take the place of good nutrition. One very important vitamin is folic acid. Folic acid, found in green, leafy vegetables and meat, helps prevent birth defects and is advised even before pregnancy starts. You need about 400 micrograms each day. Today many foods are supplemented with this vitamin, so even if you have an unplanned pregnancy, chances are good that you have already consumed an adequate amount of folic acid in your diet.

What else can you do to make your body a healthy place for your baby to grow? If you are a smoker, you should stop. The reality is that smoking can be very harmful before, during and after pregnancy. It increases your risk of a tubal pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirths and small babies. If you smoke while breastfeeding, it decreases your milk production and slows your infant’s growth. Remember, if family members smoke in your presence, you’re exposed to secondhand smoke. When it’s your baby’s health at risk, remove yourself from the exposure. Don’t stay in the presence of smoke to be polite.

What about drinking during pregnancy? Many women worry about alcohol consumed very early in their pregnancy when they’re unaware of being pregnant. Moderate alcohol consumption during this time should not cause harm. For the remainder of pregnancy, there is no established safe amount of alcohol that can be ingested.

Having an exercise routine in place before becoming pregnant is an excellent idea. It is easier to stay motivated to exercise during pregnancy if you’re active in the months beforehand. Exercise also helps your body stay strong for the work (the delivery) that is to come. When working out, it is OK to use arm weights, but be careful about working your abs. Pulling your abdominal muscles inward is fine, but excessively pushing the muscles outward may cause the muscles to weaken and separate in the center of your abdomen.

This Magic Moment

The delivery is the main event of your pregnancy — a momentous time when you meet your child for the first time. It is important to not be too rigid in your expectations of how your labor will progress. Nature occasionally throws us surprises — all part of the thrill of childbirth! Remember, the goal is to have a healthy baby and a healthy mom when the delivery is over.

After delivery, the body goes through a myriad of physical and emotional changes. Not everyone loses weight at the same rate. Not everyone is successful at breastfeeding. And contrary to recent media attention, not everyone experiences postpartum depression. The majority of women do well following delivery and despite often being sleep-deprived, enjoy this special time at home bonding with their babies.

Through it all, it’s important to remember that every pregnancy is different and every birth unique. Life is the most precious of gifts that any of us can receive and to bring a new life into the world is among the most beautiful experiences that life can hold. How we think, feel and pursue this amazing journey is a matter of choice.

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