Everything You Need to Know About Pregnancy
What is Pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a condition when the woman conceives and is carrying an embryo or embryos (though in rare cases), and is supposed to deliver a baby in a few months' time. An embryo is the developing baby within the mother that develops slowly inside the womb. Actually it takes 38 weeks or a little more than 9 months for the baby to be born. However for other animals (read mammals), this time differs.
Table of Contents:
- Signs of pregnancy
- Morning Sickness
- Hyperemesis Gravidarum
- Staying Healthy
- Bladder Health
- Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
- Placenta Information
- Prenatal Pregnancy Exhaustion
- Prenatal Massage
- Labor Massage
- Post-natal Pregnancy Exhaustion
- Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
- Postpartum Hemorrhage
- Pregnancy and Stretch Marks
Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy
Pregnancy in humans starts when a matured sperm from the male enters the female body and successfully fertilizes the egg that is released in certain days of the month after the menstrual cycle. This happens of course when the couple engages in sexual intercourse and the male ejaculates inside the female. Interestingly, it is almost always impossible to know for sure whether pregnancy has happened or not. The first signs are normally noticed when the woman misses her period. And when this happens, the doctor wants a blood test to be carried out which confirms whether she is pregnant or not. These tests work by trying to detect any change in the hormone levels in the body. Other signs of pregnancy include nausea that may come with vomiting. Minor bleeding from the vagina is another sign that it might be a case of pregnancy.
However these days, with the advances being made in medical science, pregnancy can happen even without sexual intercourse. Artificial insemination is carried out on couples that cannot have a baby under the normal circumstances due to some problem related to the male, the female or some unknown reason. This has become possible with the advent of ICSI (intra cytoplasmic sperm injection), IVF (in vitro fertilization) and others. The number of test tube babies has also increased rapidly in recent years.
Pregnancy not only brings in a new person to the world and carries forward the human race, it is much more than that (though it is in the natural instinct of humans to reproduce and have babies). Pregnancy is a wonderful thing both for the couple that is having the baby, and also for the entire family. Sometimes a new baby brings in the extended family together, and that is something great in these lonesome times. The birth of a baby has been known to bury differences between quarrelling couples who re-rediscover the lost love that had brought them together.
Morning Sickness- Symptoms and Treatment
Morning sickness is a bit of a misnomer as many pregnant women will tell you that it can last all day. This condition is very common in early pregnancy and if you are a first time mother-to-be and you are suffering from morning sickness, you will be pleased to hear that it is almost always gone by the fourth month. For some pregnant women, the symptoms are worse first thing in the morning but for others they can come and go or occur during the whole day. Some 75% of pregnant women suffer from this condition.
Although nothing has been proven, it is thought that many factors can cause morning sickness:
- Women who are highly strung tend to be more prone to nausea.
- The hormone human chorionic gonadotopin (hCG) builds up in your system during pregnancy from the time of conception until about the 12th week, after which it starts to decrease. As the timing matches that of morning sickness, it is felt that hCG is a contributing factor.
- Estrogen is another hormone that rises rapidly in early pregnancy and may well be another contributing factor.
- Pregnant women seem to develop an enhanced sense of smell as well as a sensitivity to certain smells.
- Some pregnant women have more sensitive stomachs possibly caused by the hormone Progesterone. This hormone relaxes the workings of the whole digestive tract which makes the elimination of bodily wastes slower which can in turn lead to a slow emptying of the stomach causing excess stomach acids.
Some pregnant women are more likely to suffer from morning sickness than others and this may be because:
- Women are carrying twins or higher multiples.
- Women have had morning sickness in a previous pregnancy.
- You have a history of nausea and vomiting as a side effect of taking birth control pills.
- You have a history of motion sickness.
- Your mother or sisters suffered from morning sickness.
- You have a history of migraines.
- You are carrying a girl – morning sickness means you have a 50% greater chance of this.
Many doctors feel that morning sickness can be a good thing because it indicates a healthy pregnancy and that the placenta and fetal membranes are developing well. Many women have discovered natural morning sickness treatment options such as essential oils.
Recent studies have suggested that mothers who have morning sickness have fewer miscarriages
Hyperemesis Gravidarum- Extreme Morning Sickness
There is another level of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum and while it is estimated that this extreme type of morning sickness only occurs in .5 to 2 per cent of pregnant women, it can be very unpleasant and if untreated, can lead to life threatening complications for the woman affected as well as her unborn baby. This condition causes severe nausea and vomiting that prevents the adequate intake of food and fluids and can lead to dehydration, weight loss and nutritional deficiencies as well as other complications for your and your baby.
If you suspect you have this condition, then contact your doctor or healthcare provider immediately. If you are newly pregnant and do not yet have someone looking after you, then go to the emergency room.
Your doctor, healthcare provider or the emergency room will probably give you some intravenous fluids right away. Tests then follow to determine your electrolyte levels and to make sure no underlying illness is causing your constant vomiting. Depending on your condition, you may need to be hospitalized so that you can continue to receive IV fluids and medication.
It is more than likely that you will feel much better once you have been rehydrated and you will then be able to control your symptoms with anti nausea medication. In very rare cases, the mom-to-be might need to continue to receive intravenous therapy on and off either in the hospital or at home. This condition will always need careful monitoring by your doctor or healthcare provider.
Signs and Symptoms of Hyperemesis Gravidarum
- Severe nausea with persistent excessive vomiting (more than 4 times per day).
- Inability to keep down even fluids.
- Dehydration, the production of ketones, and a decrease in urination.
- Either maternal weight loss or the failure to gain weight - loss of greater than 5% (usually over 10%) of your pre-pregnancy body weight.
- A rapid heartbeat.
- Headaches and possible confusion.
- Pale-looking and dry skin.
- Nutritional deficiencies.
- Metabolic imbalances and
- Difficulty with daily activities
If you are not sure whether or not you are dehydrated – here are the signs for this condition:
- Pinched skin which only goes back to its normal state slowly.
- Flushed and dry skin.
- Decreased tears or saliva.
- A coated tongue.
- Confusion or irritability
Staying Healthy During Your Nine Months of Pregnancy
You are pregnant and you are proud, so you need to make sure you are doing the very best you can both for you and your baby during the coming 9 months.
Here are 20 tips to keep your baby and your body healthy during pregnancy:
- Prenatal Care – as soon as you suspect you are pregnant, sign up with a doctor or midwife with whom you will be happy to entrust your welfare and that of your baby over the coming months. Regular tests, examinations and scans will occur throughout the pregnancy. Remember to take a urine sample with you every time you have an appointment and always keep those appointments. You will soon get used to these regular visits and should not find them too stressful.
- Vitamins and Folic Acid – take prenatal supplements as these contain more folic acid and iron than standard multivitamins. Folic acid, which is found naturally in fortified cereals, wholegrain breads, dried peas and beans, leafy vegetables, fruit and yeast, greatly reduces the risk of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida.
- Morning Sickness – very common and affecting some 75% of pregnant women. Avoid warm, hot places; open windows when cooking; avoid foods and smells that trigger your nausea; carry a handkerchief sprinkled with drops of essential oil so you can breathe through it; keep simple snacks like crackers next to your bed; eat small, frequent bland meals and snacks throughout the day; and drink fluids in small but frequent amounts;
- Diet – good nutrition in early pregnancy affects your baby for years to come. Eat a healthy and balanced diet from all the recommended food groups especially food rich in protein, calcium and iron.
- Liquids – try to drink at least 8 glasses of water while keeping those cups of coffee to the minimum and avoiding sweet fizzy sodas.
- Exercise and Circulation – regular exercise such as walking instead of riding, climbing that flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator and swimming will help you keep fit while improving circulation. Yoga, Pilates and gentle stretching exercises are also very beneficial.
- Rest and Relaxation – Get plenty of rest and as much sleep as possible. Plus learn the art of relaxation and it will help you during labor. Sit somewhere comfortable and let your shoulders drop down. Stretch out your fingers and rest back into the chair. Then take a slow deep breathe in and focus on a long, steady breathe out. Empty your lungs as much as you possible can. Then breathe normally again but each time you do, focus on breathing the tension out of you body. Stay for as many minutes as you can and do this relaxation exercise whenever you can. Rest, relaxation, avoiding stress and a good night’s sleep help morning sickness too.
- Banned Substances – Be aware that alcohol, nicotine, drugs and medications should be avoided at all costs as they can be very harmful to your unborn child. You should consult your doctor before taking any medication when you are pregnant.
- Caffeine – drinking too much caffeine (i.e. more than 4 cups of coffer per day) is not only harmful but can actually increase the risk of miscarriage. Doctors recommend limiting your intake to 1 cup of coffee per day.
- Dental Care – pay special attention to the state of your teeth and general dental health as all the hormonal changes taking place can affect your gums. Early on in your pregnancy, make an appointment with your dentist for a full check up and tell him that you are pregnant.
- Putting on Weight and Stretch Marks – you are not “eating for two” so if you eat carefully and exercise regularly you will avoid sudden bursts of weight gain. This together with drinking all those glasses of water will help you avoid stretch marks later on. Add a few tablespoonfuls of non fat milk powder to many of your food dishes and mix it in to soups and hot cereals so you include extra calcium.
- Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids– possibly 40% of pregnant women develop varicose veins so take care to rest with your feet up as much as possible. By sleeping on your left side, you will decrease the pressure on the vein which carries the largest amount of blood through your body.
- Maternity support house can be very beneficial. A healthy and balanced diet low in salt but rich in high fiber food helps plus plenty of exercise including kegel exercises. Some pregnant women will suffer from hemorrhoids. Avoid sitting or standing for long periods as well as constipation
- Maternity Clothes – around week 13 of your pregnancy your clothes may start to feel tight. Choose plenty of loose clothing so you are comfortable and these days there are so many styles to choose from. You may find that even your maternity wear is not large enough for the last couple of weeks so be prepared for that possibility too!
- Scans and Gender – an ultra sound scan is usually done about half way through your pregnancy. This is an important milestone so make sure your partner will be able to come with you or if this is impossible, take a close family member. It is highly likely that the doctor or technician will be able to determine the sex of your baby during this scan. In addition, you will find the scan very interesting.
- Emotional Wellbeing – make time during your busy day for some “me time” when you have time to yourself for reading, a soak in the tub or even a pregnancy massage. Relieve some of the stress and tension you may be feeling by relaxing in a comfortable place with your body completely supported. While you close your eyes, concentrate on tensing and relaxing individual parts of your body. Start at your toes and work your way slowly up to your head. Then in reverse, work from your head down to your toes again. You should then feel relaxed and loose all over your body. This is also a time when your spouse can play a great part in ensuring the mother of his child is happy, secure and protected from any mood swings or other emotional upheaval. If you are feeling low for more than 2 weeks, then please seek help from your caregiver.
- When to stop working – not every mother-to-be even has a choice about this. However, if it is up to you, then carry on as long as you are comfortable to do so even if you cut down to part-time. It can help to keep you busy during the waiting months but you need to ensure you are getting enough rest.
- Planning ahead – as well as planning your baby’s nursery and having everything ready for your baby to come home to, don’t forget to have a stock of ready made meals in the deep freeze. When you are nearing the end of your pregnancy, have your hair cut, have your hospital bag packed and ready including going home clothes both for you and your baby plus a car seat fitted ready in the car for the drive home. You home should be a safe and friendly environment for your baby.
- Preparing the Perineum – this is the flesh that stretches between the vagina and rectum and plays an important role both during pregnancy and the natural birth. Several hormonal and physical changes affect the perineal area during pregnancy. A “perineum soften” massage, to gradually soften and stretch the perineal tissues, can be carried out from the 34th week up to and even including the birth. Kegel exercises and even your position while giving birth all contribute to avoiding stress on the perineum.
- Labor Massage – when planning ahead for the birth, consider having a labor massage. This helps to improve the blood flow and relax the muscles. Your spouse can learn the technique beforehand.
- D-Day – visit the hospital where you are to give birth so you have some idea of what to expect. You have been learning how to relax for several months so that by the time you do start to deliver your baby, it almost becomes second nature. Often false labor contractions can start before the real thing. If you are worried and do not know whether it is a false or real labor, seek medical advice. Hospitals, doctors and healthcare providers are so used to this, they will not give it a second thought.
Bladder Health During Pregnancy
We all know that there are many changes to our bodies during pregnancy and, although we can cope with most of them, bladder weakness is one of the more irritating of these changes. Many women are unprepared for the inconvenience they will experience and 2 out of 3 pregnant women will experience some form of
bladder weakness during and after pregnancy. This is because pregnancy, labor and birth place additional strain on the pelvic floor muscles, thus weakening them.
You may leak a few drops when you sneeze, cough or laugh. Some women find this to be a real problem. So to avoid any embarrassment, particularly while you are building up the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, wear a panty liner.
How to Keep Your Bladder Healthy During Pregnancy
- Drink plenty of fluids, but if you find you have to go to the toilet frequently during the night then cut out drinking before bedtime but make sure you make up for it during the day.
- When you are on the toilet, try rocking backwards and forwards. This lessens the pressure of the womb on the bladder so that you can empty it properly. If you do this, you won’t need to pass water quite as often as before.
- Don’t go to the toilet “just in case” or every time you get the urge – try to hold on.
- Cut down on bladder irritants such as coffee, tea, cola drinks and of course no alcohol should be consumed.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Learn to do pelvic floor exercises.
How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles Through Exercise
Your pelvic floor muscles are just like any muscles and need a regular workout to stay strong! Your pelvic floor muscles need particular attention both during your pregnancy and after the birth of your baby.
The floor of your pelvis is made up of layers of muscle and other tissues. From the tail bone at the back to the pubic bone at the front, your layers of muscles stretch like a trampoline. The urethra, the vagina and the rectum all pass through those pelvic floor muscles which support both the uterus and the bowel. If you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles through exercise, you will be able to improve your control of your bladder.
You need patience as it may take 6 to 12 weeks before you notice any improvement so the earlier you can start in your pregnancy the better.
If you find it difficult to remember to do your exercises, then put a note to yourself on the toilet door to remind you! These exercises should be done at least three times per day but preferably 6 times per day.
- Squeeze and draw up the muscles around your anus, vagina and urethra as strongly as possible. Try to hold this squeeze and lift for 3 seconds and then relax completely. Repeat this exercise 3-5 more times. Gradually increase your pelvic floor muscle strength by holding the squeeze and lift for a longer period.
- To progress your exercises, hold each contraction strongly for as long as you can, slowly increasing to 10 seconds. Rest between each contraction and repeat as many times as you can, aiming for a maximum of 10 contractions. Always stop exercising when the muscle fatigues.
- It is also important to include fast strong pelvic floor contractions holding each exercise for only one second. The action is necessary for retraining the muscle to contract quickly when you cough, laugh or sneeze. Now try doing 5-10 quick strong exercises. Do not forget to rest between each exercise.
This exercise is very effective and can be done while sitting, standing, lying down or even walking.
After the birth of your baby
After your baby is born, carry on with these exercises to help the healing process. In addition:
- Rest in a horizontal position (15-30 minutes) at least twice a day or as much as possible on your tummy or back.
- Support the perineum when having a bowel movement.
- Do not lift anything heavier than your baby.
Twelve weeks after your baby’s birth, you can check your pelvic floor strength by:
- Stopping the flow of urine mid stream
- Coughing with a full bladder
- Prior to commencing strenuous exercise, check your pelvic floor strength by jumping with a full bladder.
- If there is no urine leakage you can reduce your pelvic floor exercises to one set per day. This set should include the long holds and quick squeeze.
However if you have leakage, do see a women’s health physiotherapist and if you have any pain or blood when passing urine, you may have a urine infection that will need treatment. Please contact your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider straight away for treatment and do drink plenty of water to reduce the irritation.
Placenta Problems During Pregnancy
Although we all hope to have a trouble free pregnancy, it is still wise to be informed about any potential problems that could occur, especially in the third trimester. There are several placenta problems that a mom-to-be could encounter and these could be serious and could even put your unborn child at risk.
What is the Placenta?
The placenta is a multi-faceted but temporary organ that helps to nourish your baby and flush out excess wastes throughout the pregnancy. It is flat and shaped like a pancake with two sides – the maternal side attaches to the inside wall of your uterus while the other fetal side faces the baby and provides him with nourishment through the umbilical cord.
The maternal side comprises pools of your blood containing the oxygen and nutrients your baby needs to survive. The fetal side is made up of thousands of crisscrossing blood vessels which contain your baby’s blood and waste products. The placenta acts as a transfer agent (transferring oxygen and nutrients), as a filter (keeping waste and chemicals out of your baby’s system) and offers hormonal support. However, the placenta cannot provide complete protection from all dangerous products – you need to be aware that cigarette smoke, alcohol and certain medications can cross the placenta and of course this is why it is vitally important to avoid such products when you are pregnant.
Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider will be monitoring the health and development of your placenta. This is mainly done through ultrasound examinations. They will be looking for:
Placental grade which refers to the age of the placenta and which can be determined by the number of white spots found on the surface of the organ. Too many of these white spots for your baby’s age could be a sign that your placenta is aging too quickly.
Placental location which is where your placenta has attached to your uterus. Typically, this attachment is at the top of the uterus but it can be the back or front of the uterus.
Common Placenta Problems
- Placenta Previa- is where the placenta covers, or is near, the cervical opening. If your placenta is very low in the uterus and covering your cervix, then your baby is prevented from entering the birth canal properly during labor and delivery. Placenta previa can be full or partial and can cause bleeding which may in turn necessitate early delivery and perhaps other problems. If you have placenta previa when it is time to deliver, you will need to have a C-section. However, the good news is that only about 10% of pregnant women still have the same condition when they come to deliver their baby. So it does often correct itself. But if the condition persists, you will be monitored very carefully especially for any vaginal bleeding. No intercourse, no vaginal examinations, having to rest and take it easy might be insisted upon. You might even be hospitalized.
- Placenta Abruption- is the early detachment of the placenta from the uterus, that is before labor and delivery. This can occur at any time during a pregnancy, but if it is going to happen, then most of the time it will take place during the 3rd trimester and, although in many cases this condition can be successfully treated, it does increase your chances of a preterm delivery.
- Placenta Separation- is the separation of the placenta from the lining of your uterus before delivery. Sadly, this can be extremely dangerous as the placenta is the life support system for your baby and such separation can affect the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your baby. The symptoms of this condition include vaginal bleeding, tenderness of the uterus, unexpected and rapid contractions, pain in the abdomen and abnormalities with the baby’s heart. If such separation is partial, the mother-to-be will most likely be put on bed rest and monitored closely. There may be other treatments as well. There are certain risks which can raise the chances of placenta separation taking place and these include: cocaine use; preeclampsia, twin or multiple pregnancies, trauma to the abdomen, uterine abnormalities and if you are over the age of 35.
- Placenta Accreta- is a very rare type of placental complication. It occurs when the placenta attaches too firmly to the uterine wall, making it impossible to deliver. Placenta accreta can occasionally result in uterine rupture or bleeding.
What Happens to the Placenta at Birth?
If all is well when you come to deliver your baby, then the placenta still plays an important role. After your baby is born, your body will continue to experience contractions but on a less painful level. During these contractions your placenta will separate from the wall of your uterus and start to move down the birth canal. You will once again feel that urge to push and within 30 minutes of the birth of your baby, you will deliver the placenta. It is important that the placenta be delivered as intact as possible because if any pieces remain behind, an infection could result. Signs of such infection could include uterine tenderness, bleeding or fever and such signs should be pointed out to your health care provider.
Obviously every pregnancy is different and this article serves to give you some background to the placenta as well as the problems which can occasionally occur. Your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider are there to advise and guide you through the months of your pregnancy – you should never feel awkward about contacting them with your queries or concerns.
Prenatal Pregnancy Exhaustion
During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy your body changes and your baby grows so that fatigue becomes a very early symptom of pregnancy. Being pregnant puts a strain on your entire body. When you are pregnant, your body cries out for rest. Many women find they cannot get through the day without a nap or that they go to sleep as soon as they get home from work. What most women remember about the early stages of pregnancy is a constant feeling of tiredness. Even those who normally stay up late will feel themselves struggling to stay awake for a favorite television show.
No one knows for sure why exhaustion sets in at this early stage but it is possible that hormonal changes – in particular a dramatic rise in progesterone – can make you feel sleepy and less energetic. During the first trimester, you are building the placenta that feeds and nourishes your baby until birth. Your metabolism is affected and all of these reasons act as a signal for us to listen to our bodies and care for ourselves at this crucial period. Many women have low blood pressure while pregnant because their blood is circulating through two systems - both mother and baby - so this can cause additional fatigue. Some pregnant women notice that the feeling of exhaustion is stronger at some times of the day more than others but this may depend on your daily routine. You may even be having trouble getting a good night’s sleep if you are uncomfortable or having to get up frequently to use the bathroom.
This period of exhaustion in pregnancy is usually only temporary and should pass by around 14 to 16 weeks. Most women find that their energy level is back to normal in mid pregnancy and they feel like their old selves. Some even have an increased level of energy and this is the time to sort out the nursery and do those chores that you will not have the energy for later in the pregnancy.
If by any chance you are still exhausted a few weeks into your second trimester, then talk to your doctor so that any underlying causes such as anemia or depression can be checked out.
By the end of pregnancy, the strain of carrying all that extra weight starts to take its toll and most women tire by the end of the day. The increased size and weight begins to tax the muscles. Difficulty in sleeping can also leave you tired. Women who have had many previous pregnancies seem to feel even more exhausted but it is not known whether this is a physical cause or because of the responsibilities of a large family. It is possibly a combination of both.
If it is getting close to your due date, ensure you are getting plenty of rest both during the day and at night as fatigue in labor can interfere with labor’s progress. First time mothers can get excited and over tired even before they go to the hospital as they rush around making sure everything is ready. In the early stages of contractions when there is no urgency, try to sleep as much as possible so that you are not exhausted before you go into labor because that is the time when you are going to need your strength for the hard work ahead of you.
As you pregnancy progresses, you may start to feel some aches and pains and this is when the benefits of a regular pregnancy massage to make you feel good are really felt.
When you are carrying a baby, your center of gravity changes and this puts a lot of strain on the back, the neck, the abdominal muscles and the shoulders. Pregnancy also relaxes your ligaments making your pelvic joints less stable. It changes your posture and pulls your pelvis forward. It is no wonder that with all these changes, plus the extra weight you are carrying, you start to suffer from an aching lower back.
A father-to-be often feels unsure of what he can do to help his pregnant partner during the months leading up to the birth of their baby, apart from helping out with the household chores. Learning to give his wife or partner a pregnancy massage, helps the father-to-be feel he is part of the whole process, brings the two closer together as a couple as well as helping them both to bond with their unborn baby.
These are some of the ways in which a pregnancy massage can help you by:
- Eliminating waste products through the lymphatic and circulatory systems thereby helping to combat fatigue and increase energy levels.
- Easing the load on the heart and keeping the blood pressure in check.
- Alleviating cramping, tightening, stiffness, tension and those knots in the muscles.
- Carrying away the lactic acid and other cellular waste products that can build up and cause muscle fatigue.
- Relieving depression or anxiety caused by the hormonal changes which occur in pregnancy.
- Relieving many discomforts such as backaches, stiff neck, leg cramps, headaches, edema and sore or swollen ankles or feet. Back pain is extremely common in pregnancy but it can be relieved by massage to the whole of the back area, the neck, legs and feet and by gentle stroking of the abdomen.
- Increasing the blood circulation which means greater vitality and less fatigue for you and better nourishment for your baby
- Stimulating glandular secretions thereby stabilizing hormone levels.
- Relaxing tense muscles and toning loose muscles as well as increasing uscular flexibility. Such flexibility can be most helpful during the last three months as well as during labor.
- Soothing and relaxing nervous tension so that you sleep more soundly. For women who develop problems sleeping, the soothing effects of massage can help relax and calm. Some pregnant women claim that lightly massaging the abdomen can even help to send the foetus to sleep. The medical profession agrees that a mother who is relaxed will have an easier pregnancy and possibly an easier labor as well.
Apart from the physical benefits of a pregnancy massage, there are emotional benefits too. When the father-to-be learns to give a pregnancy massage, he is touching his wife or partner’s emotions and state of mind. It is an expression of love and caring with the additional advantage of bringing two people closer together.
Many women suffer from aches and pains, stiffness and tension during pregnancy. A gentle pregnancy massage can often help to relieve those problems such as backache, insomnia, edema, headaches and many other complaints.
Although some schools of thought suggest avoiding massage during the first trimester, others suggest a gentle massage throughout the pregnancy is very beneficial. However when you are massaging a pregnant woman, you must be very gentle, particularly on the abdomen and lower back. Massage helps to improve the blood flow and relax the muscles. This can be particularly useful around the neck and shoulders, or a full body massage really helps a person to relax.
If you are the one giving a pregnancy massage, first warm the hands and then warm a small amount of massage oil by rubbing your hands together. Keep the supply of oil close by. Learn and use some simple strokes. If you have ever done massage before, then experiment with what strokes you enjoy. You don’t need to be an expert for your partner to enjoy the massage. There are even massage tools which can be used, some as simple as a tennis or squash ball being rolled on the back.
Music can be used either in the background or as a main focus during relaxation. Let your partner choose her favorite relaxation music to be played during a pregnancy massage. She may then be able to have the same music during labor and she will automatically associate this music with the soothing and relaxing massage and it will help her to relax during the labor experience.
The pregnant mother-to-be should lie down on the floor, couch or bed making sure she is comfortable and warm. She should let her body go heavy while sinking into the support. She should let her legs roll out if she is on her back. If it is later in the pregnancy, she should lie on her side checking that her legs are resting comfortably. She should enjoy the feeling of the weight being off her legs.
This is when you can start to massage her feet and legs and then move on to the calves. The blood will start to flow back into her legs and feet. As she rests, she will feel the energy coming back while the massage continues and as she gently breathes in and out.
She should then let her arms and head and upper back go heavy. The massage now moves to the neck and shoulders so that the tightness and tension leave her body. The blood flow improves from her neck down her arms to her fingertips and the arms start to feel heavy. All the time the massage continues, she should continue to gently breathe in and out while feeling the energy returning to her body.
Apart from the pregnancy massage, it is important to practice relaxation techniques during pregnancy and these are some simple ways to relax:
- Sit comfortably and let the shoulders drop down.
- Stretch the fingers out and rest back into the chair.
- Take a slow deep breathe in and then focus on a long steady breathe out. Try to empty the as much as possible.
- Then breathe normally but each time, focus on breathing tension out of the body while exhaling.
- Stay here for as many minutes as possible. Every minute gives a pregnant woman a feeling of the luxury of a little time to herself.
If a woman is pregnant for the first time, then this relaxing technique should be practiced often so that it becomes a habit to use the same technique after the baby is born.
Post-natal Pregnancy Exhaustion
When a new mother is suffering from postnatal exhaustion, it is important that she saves what energy she has to care for herself and her new baby. She needs to prioritize so that those things, that are not so important in the first few months after the birth of her new baby, can fall away. In other words, she needs a postpartum plan. The immediate family, extended family, neighbors and even hired help can be included in this plan:
- The secret of survival during this time is low expectations and setting realistic goals. The baby needs to be fed and changed as often as necessary and the new mother needs to eat, sleep and shower whenever she needs to.
- Preparing meals, cleaning the house and entertaining guests are not high up on such a plan.
- Friends and relatives often ask what they can do to help and this is your chance to enlist such help and most people are only too happy to give assistance. Suggestions are looking after the baby while you take a break, preparing the odd meal for you or carrying out a household chore which has been neglected.
- You need to limit the amount of visitors just dropping in or who will need entertaining. If friends and relations come and visit, they must be the ones who are going to help out.
- Enlist the help of your husband or partner too. He can take turns with a night feed sometimes either with a bottle of formula or breast milk which you can express earlier on. An uninterrupted night’s sleep from time to time will make a big difference. There are many other ways your husband or partner can help out as well. Sometimes they may feel pushed aside as the new mother tends to the needs of the baby so it is important that they are actively involved in their new baby’s life and complimented on their efforts.
- As soon as you have established some sort of routing, try to schedule at least one activity per day just for you. This could be a massage, time to read a book or a good soaking in the tub.
- If your husband or partner is working hard and involved with baby care, then he also needs some time off on a regular basis even if it is just watching a game with a couple of friends.
- Then as a couple, you need to get back in to the habit of just having some time together – try to make a weekly “date” that you do something together while someone else is minding your baby. This time together alone is an important ingredient to a lasting marriage or partnership.
- Again, once you are feeling more rested and confident, take time to interact with your girlfriends once more and especially those who also have babies or young children. They can be a tremendous source of information and help and you can swap hints and experiences.
- Join a mothers and babies group so that you can widen your circle of friends. You also absorb new ideas on baby care which can only be to the advantage of both you and your baby. Your baby learns to socialize with others of his age.
Having a baby is an important milestone in your life and you will want to look back on those early years with fondness and not just as a time of always feeling too tired to cope. So don’t be shy to enlist the help of those around you to help you get through.
Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
The birth of your new baby can trigger some powerful emotions – from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety – but it can also result in something you might not have foreseen namely depression.
The signs and symptoms of the baby blues syndrome after having a baby can vary depending on the form of depression. In most cases these last just a few days or a matter of weeks at the most, and they can include:
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling sad
- Feeling tearful
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Feeling exhausted
The more serious postpartum depression may manifest itself in more intense and longer lasting signs and symptoms so that you feel you cannot function properly. These could be:
- Constant fatigue
- Little or no enjoyment of life
- Feeling emotionally numb
- A feeling of failure
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Either a lack of concern for yourself or your baby, or excessive concern for your baby
- Less or no interest in sex
- Severe mood swings
- Lack of concentration or impaired thinking
- Change in appetite – either eating too little or too much
Then there is the rare form of postpartum depression which is called postpartum psychosis that develops within 6 weeks of having your baby. These signs and symptoms can be very severe and include:
- Fear of harming yourself or your baby
- Confusion and disorientation
- Hallucinations and delusions
You might be surprised to read that postpartum depression can develop after the birth of any child and not just the first and it is more common in mothers after giving birth to their second baby.
There are certain contributing risks of postpartum depression if one or more of the following facts apply to you:
- You have a history of depression
- You have a history of substance abuse
- You have had postpartum depression after an earlier pregnancy
- You have a history of severe premenstrual syndrome
- You have experienced one or more stressful events during pregnancy or you are experiencing other difficult events in your life
- You have a poor marital relationship
- You have few family members or friends close by, or you are socially isolated or your own mother is not there for support
- The pregnancy is either unplanned or unwanted
Although there are steps that you can take to help yourself, many mothers who have recently given birth do not have the energy to take those steps and it is then very important to seek outside help.
Although it is not common, it is always wise to be aware of all the possibilities that could happen both during a pregnancy or the actual delivery of your baby. Postpartum hemorrhage is excessive bleeding following the birth of a baby and occurs in about 4 percent of births and is more likely with a cesarean birth. The actual hemorrhage may occur either before or after the placenta is delivered and usually right after delivery.
When a baby is born, the uterus normally continues to contract so you continue to feel contractions (although the pain is at a lower level) and within 30 minutes the placenta is delivered. After this, the contractions help compress the bleeding vessels in that area where the placenta was attached. However, if the uterus does not contract strongly enough (the condition is called uterine atony) then these blood vessels bleed freely and hemorrhaging occurs. If small pieces of the placenta remain attached, bleeding is also likely.
Symptoms of Postpartum Hemorrhage
Obviously at this stage during the delivery, you are very closely monitored for any of the following symptoms:
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Decreased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Decrease in the red blood cell count
- Swelling and pain in tissues in the vaginal and perineal area.
Treatment for Postpartum Hemorrhage
Treatment will be commenced quickly to find and stop the cause of the bleeding. As of course replacing lost blood and fluids is very important in treating postpartum hemorrhage, the mother will be given intravenous (IV) fluids, blood and blood products rapidly to prevent shock. She may even receive oxygen by mask. Other treatment may include:
- Medication to stimulate uterine contractions.
- The manual massage of the uterus – again to stimulate contractions.
- The removal of any placental pieces that remain in the uterus.
- The examination of the uterus and other pelvic tissues.
- The packing of the uterus with sponges and other sterile materials to compress the bleeding area of the uterus.
- The tying off of bleeding blood vessels.
- A laparotomy which is surgery to open the abdomen to find the cause of bleeding, and as a very last resort…
- A hysterectomy.
Causes of Postpartum Hemorrhage
There are some women who are more prone to postpartum hemorrhage and usually these are those women who have:
- Had many babies.
- A prolonged labor.
- An infection.
- Been suffering from obesity.
- A multiple pregnancy.
- Medications to induce labor or medications to stop contractions.
- Been assisted by the use of forceps or vacuum-assistance.
- Been given a general anesthetic.
There are also various conditions which can put the mother at greater risk for postpartum hemorrhage and these conditions are:
- A tear in the cervix or vaginal tissues.
- A tear in a uterine blood vessel.
- Bleeding into a concealed tissue area or space in the pelvis which can then develop into a hematoma in the vulva or vaginal area.
- Blood clotting disorders.
- High blood pressure.
- Placenta abruption – where there is early detachment of the placenta from the uterus.
- Placenta previa – where the placenta covers or is near the cervical opening.
- Placenta accreta – where the placenta is abnormally attached to the inside of the uterus.
- Placenta increta – where the placental tissues invade the muscle of the uterus.
- Placenta percreta – where the placental tissues go all the way into the uterine muscle.
- Over distended uterus – where there is too much amniotic fluid or an especially large baby.
Although postpartum hemorrhage can be quite serious and is obviously a concern both to the mother and those who are helping to deliver her baby, the medical team has all the knowledge and equipment to detect and treat the cause of bleeding as quickly as possible to ensure a full recovery.
Pregnancy and Stretch Marks
Almost half of all pregnant women will acquire stretch marks during their pregnancy. Stretch marks are tears in the lower layer of your skin and this lower layer consists of elastic supportive tissue which helps the skin to stretch. When the skin is stretched to its limit, it tears slightly allowing blood vessels to show through.
The main factors contributing to stretch marks in pregnancy are:
- Age – the younger you are the more elastic and supple your skin will be and so the younger you are when you become pregnant, the less likely you are to get stretch marks. Older women will unfortunately be more prone to stretch marks in pregnancy.
- Skin color – stretch marks are more common in those who are fair skinned.
- Genetic – if your mother or your sister got stretch marks when they were pregnant, then the chances are much higher that you will too.
- Growth of your baby in the womb – if your baby is growing so quickly or if you are carrying an extra big baby, then the weight is sometimes more than the skin can handle. If you are carrying more than one baby (twins or multiples) or you have excess amniotic fluid, then stretch marks are even more likely to occur.
Stretch marks are not painful and many will fade within six to twelve months of giving birth but their texture will remain the same. Depending on your skin color during pregnancy, stretch marks start out as pink, reddish brown or dark brown streaks. The reddish brown pigmentation in the marks gradually fades and the stretch marks begin to look like glistening silvery lines of scar tissue.
Treatment of Stretch Marks
- Treating with a natural healing product and pregnancy stretch marks lotion made from essential oils and which is safe to use during pregnancy and nursing.
- Limiting your weight gain to no more than the recommended amount of 25 to 35 pounds, and this weight should be gained gradually.
- Eat a diet which promotes good skin health – foods rich in zinc such as nuts and fish; foods rich in vitamins A, C and D such as carrots, citrus fruits and milk; foods rich in protein such as eggs.
- Drink as much water as you can, and if you have to drink coffee, tea or any other caffeinated drinks, then drink equal or greater amounts of water to balance your fluid intake.