For most parents prenatal care begins in their doctor's office. Conditions that could affect your pregnancy, such as diabetes, will be identified when your medical history is recorded. An internal examination will help determine if you have any pelvic problems. This will also reveal the presence of fibroids (benign fibrous growths) that sometimes cause problems during labour. Blood and urine analyses may determine other medical problems. Screening for HIV, vaginal streptococci, and lack of immunity to rubella could prevent serious problems later. An ultrasound may be done to rule out abnormalities of the baby or placement of the placenta. This can also provide early diagnosis of twins or triplets. Visits to the doctor also give you a chance to establish a rapport with your caregiver and to discuss the pregnancy and birth options you may want to explore.
Your role in a healthy pregnancy cannot be overstated. Good nutrition and fitness not only make you feel good, they have an impact on your labour and recovery after the birth, and on the health of the baby. Avoiding harmful substances such as alcohol, cigarettes and certain drugs will help safeguard your baby from physical or psychological abnormalities. Information about lifestyle choices can be obtained from your public health centre, hospital, library, TV and radio shows and certainly from prenatal classes. You can make a remarkable difference to your child's health even before birth.
Childbirth education classes exist in most communities. Most parents attend classes during their first pregnancy and may attend refresher classes with the next pregnancies. If you have sound information about pregnancy and birth, you will have greater confidence handling the birth process. Practical skills, such as relaxation, breathing, comfort strategies and position changes can make labour easier for both you and your labour support person. Prenatal classes help you to help yourself. Besides being informative, they allow you to meet other parents in the same situation and can lead to wonderful friendships.
The great reward, the joy of it all, is the baby.
The baby makes everything worthwhile. However, with this happiness comes the realization that the baby takes a great deal of care, maybe more than you realized. What is more, the baby has to be fed . . . constantly it seems.
Research has shown breastfeeding as the best method to feed babies and there are many resources to help you. Look for special classes that help prevent breastfeeding problems at your public health centre or hospital. In most communities, La Leche League teaches and supports nursing mothers. It is listed in the telephone book. In some areas there are even private lactation consultants. From the time of the birth, your family doctor, hospital and community health nurses can help you to establish sound feeding practices and answer many questions.
Acquaint yourself with the Well Baby Clinics at your public health centre. Qualified nurses will examine, weigh and measure your baby, do immunizations, answer your questions and
sometimes refer you to others if you have problems specific to your baby. Your family doctor will regularly examine your baby for medical problems and will be a great resource to you.
Does all this make you feel forgotten? It certainly can. It can be quite overwhelming. You will need to plan for time for yourself, to absorb the changes in your life, to nurture your own relationships, to do things without the baby, to let your life return to normal. Look for exercise programs to help you to regain fitness and energy levels. In some of these you take baby with you.
Many health centres have discussion groups for new mothers and many churches have Moms and Tots groups where you can meet and discuss concerns with others like yourself. There are books on any subject you can imagine. Talk to family and friends for different useful ideas.
Above all, trust your own instincts. Remember, no one knows your baby better than you do. Every day your baby will reveal a few more characteristics to you . . . different from those of any other human being. When babies are born, families are formed and an exciting phase in life begins. Prepare for it and enjoy it.