Things to Know on your Pregnancy Journey

Welcome back to Mother & Child with Philips. This month sees both Pregnancy Awareness week and Pregnancy Education week being a focus for South Africans, so we are focusing on things you should be aware of as you embark on your pregnancy journey.

Becoming a new mom is as exciting as it is daunting! You have to make numerous decisions before the big arrival. Everything from what color to make the baby’s room to one of the most important decisions – choosing a name – and of course, everything in between. But it’s the ‘in between’ bit that really counts! Ensuring you are armed with the really invaluable information during your pregnancy journey will mean both you and baby are healthy not only during the 9 months, but after birth as well.

Moms-to-be can never have too much information to prepare for this magical pregnancy journey. Advice comes from loved ones, doctors, strangers and, of course, good old Dr. Google – but ultimately only you can make the best decisions for yourself and your precious new addition. So ensuring you have gathered enough information to make informed and objective choices is very important.


Confirm your pregnancy as soon as you miss a period

Many women feel convinced that they are pregnant before they have even missed a period; others feel no different at all. Some of the symptoms commonly experienced on this pregnancy journey include breast tenderness, tiredness and sickness. So make sure you take a test to confirm. There are a wide range of home pregnancy tests available and most of them are more than 99% accurate if used according to instructions. Blood tests detect the same hormone in the blood and they are more reliable than urine tests.

Additionally, many pregnant women do not know their status when they conceive. As such, it’s important to establish your HIV status as HIV-positive pregnant woman needs to reduce the chances of transmitting the virus to the baby.


The importance of the first antenatal visit

The different models of antenatal care in South Africa range from government supported (where services are delivered free from cost); to private antenatal health care which is delivered by a medical practitioner (GP, obstetrician) or midwife. Shared care, where the woman is cared for by both a medical practitioner and a midwife, or a team of independent (private) midwives, is appropriate for a healthy mother with an uncomplicated pregnancy. In South Africa, couples who have the benefit of medical insurance, often choose the private health care option where services are rendered by an obstetrician (a medical practitioner who specialised in normal and complicated conditions of pregnancy and women’s health).

Antenatal care is an essential part of the pregnancy  journey and should start when the pregnancy is diagnosed to monitor the pregnancy and troubleshoot any potential problems.  Sticking to appointments are essential to determine if the baby is healthy and if the pregnancy is progressing well. And of course, the absolute best part of an antenatal visit is when hearing the heartbeat and getting a visual ‘sneak peek’ at your growing little one during an ultrasound.


Develop a healthy eating plan

While there are always contradicting views around what you can and can’t eat and drink – it’s important to do your homework. There are some foods and drinks that should be totally avoided during pregnancy, some that should only be consumed in moderation and others that you can eat to your heart’s content – specifically those foods that are high in calcium, antioxidants and nutrients. But while you are ‘eating for two’ and the cravings are sure to set in – don’t go overboard as losing the weight post pregnancy can be difficult.  Develop a healthy eating plan for your pregnancy journey that includes the intake of vitamins and minerals and helps manage cravings.

  • The nutrition of the mother directly affects the status of the fetus and the emphasis should be on adequate nutrition during pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help to give the baby the best possible start in life and improve the mother’s overall wellbeing.
  • The same eating rules apply during pregnancy as at any other time: Sugary foods and fatty ones should be kept to a minimum; 2/3 of the diet should be made up of fruits, vegetables and starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, bread, pasta and rice. Two servings should be eaten daily from both the dairy product and protein food groups.
  • Certain dietary substances are particularly high in demand, so it’s worth knowing what they are and where to find them:
    • Calcium helps developing the baby’s bones and teeth. It is found in milk, yogurt and cheese. Non-dairy sources of calcium include spinach, canned fish, dried figs, oranges and white bread
    • Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium. It is found in salmon, eggs, butter and cheese
    • Iron is vital for creating the baby’s blood supply. Good sources are red meat, green vegetables, dried fruit, sardines and fortified cereal
    • Vitamin C improves the uptake of iron from non-meat sources, but caffeine and tannins (present in tea and coffee) inhibit absorption
    • Omega 3 fats are important to ensure optimal brain development of the baby.  It can be found in canned, oily fish like sardines.
  • Food to avoid during pregnancy:
  • Raw or lightly cooked eggs because of the risk of Salmonella (food) poisoning
  • Pates, soft whip ice creams, un-pasteurised or soft cheeses (Camembert, Brie) that may contain Listeria, a bacterium which can cause miscarriage or illness in newborn babies
  • Liver: It contains large quantities of vitamin A, linked to birth defects.
  • Cravings in pregnancy are common, and you may experience an urgent need to eat certain types of food. This desire should be curbed, especially if it’s for unhealthy foods. Craving chocolate may be a sign of Vitamin B deficiency or craving meat may indicate that the woman needs more protein. Most common cravings are for something sweet, but many experience cravings for spicy foods too.


Managing your energy levels

Fatigue is one of the earliest physical symptoms of pregnancy and as your pregnancy journey progresses, the discomfort of trying to get comfortable, and frequency of urinating, can interfere with the your sleep. Emotionally, you may be fatigued due to emotional stress, emotional mood swings or relationship issues. It is important that you make the most of sleep and to recognise your limitations.


Choose a healthy lifestyle

  • Stop smoking: The number of women smokers is increasing and the greatest risk of damage to the fetus is during the first trimester. Smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding is bad for both the mother and the fetus.
  • Stop drinking alcohol: Heavy and steady alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been correlated not only with a high incidence of newborn mental retardation, but also with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Because it is unknown what the effect of alcohol is on the fetus, it is best to avoid exposure to alcohol during pregnancy.
    • Recognise the importance of exercise: Moderate exercise in pregnancy is safe and beneficial, for both the mother and baby. It will help with the discomfort of pregnancy and the hard work of giving birth.
    • Remember, sexuality matters! Having safe sex during pregnancy is normal and some women experience a higher libido. During the last months of pregnancy, the lack of sleep and pregnancy discomforts interfere with sexual performance.
    • Maintain personal Hygiene – the issue that nobody talks about! Personal hygiene is important in pregnancy: The sebaceous and sweat glands become more active so you should take a daily bath or shower.
  • Soap should be avoided on the nipples to prevent them from drying out.
  • Female douching (rinsing with solutions) is not recommended as it may cause infections.


Plan for the birth

The never ending debate – go natural or caesarian will surely come up. The decision is completely up to you. Every woman is different and every pregnancy journey is different so it’s important to chat to your partner and doctor about what option works best for you. It’s also important to look at getting your affairs in order – documentation to ensure your medical details and paperwork are correctly recorded, your policies are in place and all the admin is done and dusted so that all you need to think about is your soon-to-arrive bundle.


Be product savvy

There are so many products available out there so it’s important to know what you will need and what’s ‘nice-to-have’. Being product savvy means doing your research. Look for products that take the environment into consideration, products that that are BPA free and that are designed with your and baby’s comfort in mind. Look for a brand that is globally recognised and innovative with clinically proven solutions and the broadest range of support – right from the start, through every stage and each transition. Products that also work effectively together to promote baby’s well-being as well as ones with interchangeable design features mean they can be adapted to meet your baby’s developing needs.

So there you have it -a few key considerations to examine when embarking on the exciting journey of motherhood! It can seem daunting at first, in fact more like an information overload, but arming yourself with as much information as possible is critical at every point – as a lack of information can lead to misguided views and choices – so never be too scared to ask!

*This article is an exclusive column from Dr Diana Du Plessis, spokesperson for Philips Mother and Child Division

Dr Diana du Plessis

Dr. Diana du Plessis is the Breastfeeding Consultant and spokesperson for Phillips Avent South Africa. She obtained a B.Soc.Sc (Hons) at the University of the Free State, after which she worked as an operating room registered nurse in the Universitas and National Hospitals in Bloemfontein, receiving the Diploma in Operating Room Technique in 1978. She commenced her academic career in the Department of Nursing (UFS) in 1982 and holds diplomas in Nursing Administration (cum laude), Nursing Education and Community Health Nursing (cum laude) while being employed in the Department of Nursing at the University of the Free State. Later she obtained M.Cur and D.Cur in Midwifery and Neonatology from the University of Johannesburg. Dr du Plessis is in private midwifery clinical practice for the past 19 years.


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