FFHQ Pregnancy Expert and midwife Avril Flynn gives her top tips for pregnancy health and wellness.
Whether your pregnancy is a much-planned event or a bit of a surprise (particularly if it’s your first), it’s hard to know exactly what to do after you see the second line on your test!
Here are some tips and a few things to think about at the start of your pregnancy journey.
Calculate your due date.
First things first, when is your baby expected? A weird quirk of pregnancy is your due date is calculated based on the first day of your last period, which roughly occurs about 2 weeks before conception. So, for the first 2 weeks of your pregnancy, you are not actually pregnant!
Pregnancy is roughly 40 weeks in length (closer to 10 months rather than 9). You also have to take into account the length of your cycle; traditional pregnancy calculators worked on the basis of a regular 28-day cycle but lots of us have irregular or much longer cycles than that.
A ‘normal’ menstrual cycle can be anything from 26-36 days in length. Luckily, there are lots of handy due date calendars, that can take into account different cycle lengths, that will do the calculations for you, including the one on this very website. This will give you an estimated due date. I emphasise estimated, as only about 3-4% of babies are actually born on that date! However, it will give you a rough idea and you can then start planning.
Eating right and getting adequate exercise are important components of a healthy pregnancy.
First things first.
The next step would be to visit your GP who can confirm your pregnancy. They can check you over and redo a pregnancy test for you, if you wish. They will check your blood pressure and urine and have a chat with you about anything in your medical history that might affect your pregnancy. I have previously written about the different maternity care options available in Ireland.
It’s a good idea to have a chat with your GP about what options are available in your area – do your own research too. You don’t need to decide there and then, you can always book into a maternity unit and then change to something else if you wish.
There are more options available today than ever before including midwifery-led, homebirth services, combined care as well as semi-private and private maternity hospital care. Take your time, ask around and find the one that offers you the best options for the type of birth you wish.
Start your health kick.
Pregnancy is a great time to get healthy! Whether it’s a bit of a shock or planned, giving your body as much good nutrition, rest and hydration can make some of the more unpleasant symptoms a bit easier to handle. Eating right and getting adequate exercise are important components of a healthy pregnancy.
The usual aims like no alcohol, no smoking and lots of fruits and veg are well known but if you have any particular issues or medical problems it’s important that you get the right advice and assistance.
Speak to your GP or maternity unit and they can refer you to the right medical professional, such as a smoking cessation or dietician, who can help you be as healthy as possible.
Folic Acid and Vit D.
It is recommended that all women of childbearing age should take folic acid all the time, as roughly 50% of pregnancies are not planned! It should then be continued for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It can reduce the chance of your baby having a neural tube problem, such as spina bifida.
If you haven’t taken it before finding out that you are pregnant, then start as soon as you know. Also, be aware that it's recommended that some people should take a higher dose of folic acid - for example, if you are diabetic, take certain anti-epileptic medications or you or your partner have a history of neural tubal defects.
Speak with your GP if you are concerned or have any questions. It’s also recommended that pregnant women in Ireland take Vit D, vital for bone growth and development, as we are often deficient due to our climate. You may take other pregnancy vitamins or supplements if you wish, but be aware that the best way to get any nutrient is from the food that you eat.
If you believe or have a history of a particular deficiency, then speak with your GP, pharmacist or health care provider about your particular needs and required supplements.
Who to tell?
Up until recently, many people would wait until after their first trimester (after 12 weeks) before they told anyone about their pregnancy. This is because of the difficult fact that approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies will, unfortunately, end in miscarriage.
The unintended trickle-down effect of people waiting until after the 12-week mark is that a lot of people silently grieve miscarriages that no one knew about, which is often a lonely, painful experience.
I don’t believe that’s a good thing and I am a strong believer in breaking the silence that surrounds miscarriage, for both women and men.
If you would like to tell people that you are pregnant, at any stage, then go for it.
Thankfully, over the last number of years, this has begun to slowly change. The message is that if you would like to tell people that you are pregnant, at any stage, then go for it. Obviously discuss it with your partner first to ensure you are both on the same page, but do what feels right for you. If that’s telling everyone at 6 weeks or 8 weeks or the second you find, then do!
You have every right to get the support you need. In the same vein, if you do not wish to tell anyone outside of you and your partner, until much, much later in your pregnancy, then that’s ok too. Just ensure that whether you choose for everyone to know, or no one at all, that you have the right amount of support that you need.
Mind your mind.
You will hear and read lots, and lots, about trying to have a healthy pregnancy. People naturally assume that this relates to your body. It does, but taking care of your mental health is just as important.
Pregnancy provides unique challenges for your mental well-being, even if you have never suffered from depression or anxiety before.
The combination of hormones, growing a new human, the pregnancy being unplanned or even if it is as a result of a long and difficult road of assisted conception, can be a recipe for mental health difficulties.
You must mind your mind!
If you feel anxious, worried or have any history or any mental illness then get support and talk, and then talk some more. Looking after your body AND your head are so important and there are supports available. It’s vital for you express to someone if you are finding things challenging. Remember there is zero shame in asking for help, in fact, it is an act of real bravery.