by Dr. Ellie Rayner a practicing Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and founder of The Maternity Collective. She is the only Obstetrician to offer private and group, expert-led Antenatal, and Hypnobirthing Classes both Online and face-to-face. She is passionate about providing parent-centered, evidence-based care for all pregnancies and supports all methods of birth. Follow Dr. Ellie Rayner @maternitymedic for the latest evidence-based information on pregnancy, birth, and women’s health issues.
Congratulations on your pregnancy. Whether this is your first or a subsequent baby, you probably have lots of questions about how to make the most of this time and feel your best. Pregnancy is a period of tremendous change which can be exciting, but it is also completely normal to feel overwhelmed or uncertain during this time. Here I have covered my top 8 ways to have a more Positive Pregnancy and feel confident as you approach to birth and your new family life.
- Adjust your lifestyle
Reducing or stopping smoking, reducing or stopping drinking alcohol and stopping any recreational drugs are all important steps to take towards a healthy pregnancy. Stopping smoking is the single most important thing you can do to improve your long-term health and it is one of the most important things you can do to improve your future baby’s health, growth and development. It is never too late to reduce or stop smoking and you will start to feel the benefits straight away. Your maternity healthcare professional will encourage you to stop smoking and provide you with free support to help you or your partner quit.
Alcohol passes through your blood to your baby via the placenta and can cause developmental problems, so the safest thing to do is to avoid alcohol where possible. Doctors are still unsure how much alcohol is safe to consume so the general advice is to stop drinking completely whilst you are pregnant.
- Stay active and maintain a healthy weight
Keeping active and eating well are both important aspects of any pregnancy and have both short- and long-term benefits for both you and your baby’s wellbeing. Regular exercise can give you more energy, improve your mood and sleep and can help reduce your risk of developing raised blood pressure or pregnancy diabetes (gestational diabetes). Women who are active before and during pregnancy can have an easier labour and are better able to cope with some of the strains that pregnancy naturally places on our bodies. If you are overweight, this can affect your fertility, cause additional health problems during pregnancy and even affect the future health of your child. It is a common misconception that you can’t exercise in pregnancy and walking, jogging, at home aerobics or yoga are all safe to undertake. If you didn’t exercise very much before pregnancy, you can still start now with 15 minutes 3-4 times a week and increase as you feel able.
- Don’t google
During your pregnancy you are likely to have lots of questions and uncertainties. Try to seek out reliable information from healthcare professionals or use recognised resources or organisations, as these are less likely to be biased and will contain up to date and evidence-based information. Unfortunately, there can be lots of misinformation, particularly online regarding pregnancy, labour and birth which can lead to confusion and increased anxiety and may interfere with your wellbeing. It can be difficult to know what correct information is and what is relevant to you or your pregnancy/situation and some sources may be out of date or factually incorrect. Check with your healthcare professional if you are unsure about anything you have read online.
- Undertake regular self-care
Try to focus on your own wellbeing and be kind to yourself regularly during this time, particularly in the run up to the birth of your baby. Pregnancy places huge demands on your body so ensure you make time to do something you enjoy for yourself every day. Whether this be taking up a new hobby or activity, undertaking some physical exercise or stopping smoking; taking care of your physical health will positively affect your mental wellbeing too. Avoiding caffeine and developing a good sleep routine both promote self-care and help reduce levels of stress and anxiety in pregnancy.
- Look for positive birth imagery and stories
Whether you are planning a vaginal or Caesarean Birth, search for some positive birth stories, images and videos to help reassure and support you on your journey to parenthood. Unfortunately, as a society we have become conditioned that labour is a painful, dramatic or even stressful event with many women fearing their baby’s birth. Pregnancy is part of our normal life cycle and labour and birth can be an incredibly joyful and empowering experience for many women and is rarely like it is displayed in a movie or on TV. By seeking out and surrounding yourself with positive messages, stories and images as you approach birth you can manage your stress hormones, reduce your anxiety and help you feel confident and calm as you approach birth.
- Undertake an antenatal or hypnobirthing class
When you are pregnant, there is a really important distinction between feeling informed and empowered and feeling overwhelmed and therefore worried. Antenatal courses are specifically designed and taught to strike a perfect balance between providing you with the right level of accurate information to prepare you for different eventualities, without scaring you. Whether it be online or face-to-face, attending antenatal classes can really help you feel informed about your different birth choices and options, help give you confidence in your decision making and help you feel in control, reducing the fear of the unknown so many parents have. If you can, try and find a course taught by a qualified healthcare professional who works in the same country or area where you are planning on having your baby as they will know the latest guidance and recommendations for care you will be offered and receive during your birth. These courses should help you understand all of the different choices you will be asked to make and should provide you with the information to help you create a plan or preferences list ready for your baby’s birth.
You may also wish to consider undertaking a hypnobirthing course to complement your antenatal course. Hypnobirthing is designed to help you manage your stress hormones and reduce anxiety in preparation for labour and birth and consists of several different elements including guided relaxations, breathing techniques, positive affirmations, and self-hypnosis skills that together aim to create positive, relaxed and even excited feelings towards pregnancy and birth.
- Attend all of your antenatal appointments
Antenatal care is designed to optimise both maternal and foetal health by offering screening tests or treatments, health advice and support and overall improving parents' experience of pregnancy and birth and the health of them and their babies. You will be offered a range of different appointments and scans during your pregnancy depending on your personal circumstances. All of these have a specific purpose so, to ensure the best outcome for you and your baby, try and attend all appointments you are given, and rearrange any you can’t make if needed. It is your right to choose if you wish to accept any of the different test or treatment options during your pregnancy and your healthcare professional should explain why they are making certain recommendations and what the benefits and risks of accepting or declining are for you or your baby. Everything in healthcare is ultimately your choice, and they will support your decision either way.
- Develop a support network
Pregnancy and becoming a parent is an exciting but also challenging time with lots of changes occurring physically, emotionally and socially with yourself and your family. Whether this was a planned pregnancy or not you will have lots of decisions to make and potential adjustments to your life/lives. Many expectant parents find sharing this journey with other expectant parents helpful and extremely reassuring and supportive, particularly if this is your first baby or if you don’t have many other friends or family with children already. Searching online for pregnancy groups, using local apps, attending pregnancy specific exercise groups or attending antenatal classes in your area are all ways to meet other pregnant women and birth partners. Many parents find these groups provide long lasting support and friendship for many years after your baby’s birth, not just during pregnancy.
If you are finding you are struggling or feeling your pregnancy is causing you increased worry or anxiety or affecting your mood, it is incredibly important to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling, such as your partner, family member, friend or healthcare professional. Getting any worries or concerns off your chest can make a big difference to your mood and wellbeing and remind you that you are not alone, and that support is available if needed.
Finally, if you can, try and consider your partners physical and emotional health and wellbeing too. Pregnancy can be an exciting but also overwhelming time for them as well and many of these tips can be beneficial to your birth partner also. By undertaking some of these lifestyle changes together you can both feel more positive during pregnancy and more confident as you approach birth and parenthood together.
If you do ever have any questions or concerns during your pregnancy you can always call your local maternity unit for advice, your midwife or obstetrician will always be happy to answer any questions you have and support you as needed.