Pregnancy is a time filled with excitement and changes but for many new moms, the journey can be overwhelming. I see many new expecting mothers in my office who, naturally, have many questions about each trimester, including what to expect, what’s considered normal, and what they should be doing differently. There are a few questions that seem to come up time and time again, covering everything from prenatal testing to breastfeeding.
The top five concerns of new moms-to-be are:
Concerns with getting enough vitamins and nutrition are common among expecting moms. New guidelines and studies show the increased link between a woman’s nutrition and the health of her baby, as well as what specific increased needs a pregnant woman has while she is pregnant. Expecting moms should aim to eat 300 more calories per day than they typically do to ensure the baby – and mom – is getting adequate nutrition. Folate is one of the most important vitamins in early pregnancy and adequate intake is 400-800 micrograms daily. This helps with brain and spinal cord development. Additional vitamins that are especially important for a healthy pregnancy include iron, calcium, vitamin C, and DHA. Your doctor can recommend the best prenatal vitamin for you, but I recommend every mom take one daily.
Prenatal screening and diagnosis have come a long way over the past few decades, ranging from blood tests based on hormone levels to invasive procedures like amniocentesis. Today, simple non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), like Harmony, the screening test that Ariosa offers, is changing the face of screening. NIPT looks at fetal DNA in the mother’s blood and has been shown to be more accurate than traditional predecessors, which means fewer false alarms that trigger avoidable additional testing. An April 2015 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Norton, M., et al.) showed that this test is more accurate than traditional predecessors when screening for trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). Parents can have NIPT as early as 10 weeks in pregnancy, allowing for plenty of time to plan for emotional or medical needs if a risk for a condition is detected. It’s important to keep in mind that no test picks up every possible problem with a pregnancy and that NIPT is still a screening test, so any high risk result should be confirmed with further diagnostic testing.
While the actual birthing process has remained the same for generations, pain management, likelihood of a safe delivery, and the technology used during birth, have all advanced greatly. Women now have the option to get epidurals to control pain, be screened for various conditions ahead of time, and have access to technology to assist with complications that may arise. Labor can be carefully managed in a hospital setting, with intensive monitoring and epidural pain control; conversely, there are also options for mom to choose her own path for childbirth, including midwifery care, and non-medical approaches to pain control including breathing exercises, massage, and movement.
This lends itself to many questions – Will it hurt? How do I know the baby is getting enough? How long should I be doing it? While every one of my patients goes through a different journey, and not all women choose to breastfeed their baby, natural breast milk is the best option for babies, if women are able to breastfeed. For moms who want to breastfeed, hospitals have lactation consultants who will go through the process with you and help answer any questions you may have. Take advantage of the time with the lactation consultant. Many moms have told me that their guidance has helped breastfeeding immensely. It is recommended women breastfeed until their baby is 12 months old. However, the decision is personal and varies from woman to woman. With so many working mothers today, many turn to breast pumps to keep their breastfeeding journey going when they go back to work. Although you don’t have to be a working mom to use a breast pump, any mom looking to catch a much needed break from baby (rest is critical to a mother’s milk supply) may want to consider the option of pumping so that baby can experience other caretakers, such as dad, family, and friends.
Baby’s sleep causes a lot of new moms anxiety – sleepless nights, sleeping positions, and fear of SIDS are all top of mind. Luckily, there has been plenty of recent research to help ease these fears. There are many recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS in infants, including putting babies to sleep on their backs, having a blanket-free and toy-free crib, and refraining from having the baby sleep in your bed with you. When it comes to lack of sleep, it’s important not to forget about your own personal wellness – sleep deprivation is a serious problem and can affect your mood, as well as your safety when it comes to things like driving. The number one rule I tell my patients is to keep baby on a predictable routine during the day so that the infant will sleep more at night. It is also important to sleep when the baby sleeps. Make sure you and your partner are sharing the responsibilities of tending to the baby in the middle of the night as well. Finally, many women are reluctant to accept help from family or friends. Accept any offers you get for babysitting and use the extra hours for “me time,” whether it is sneaking in a nap or going on your first solo date with your partner since the baby’s arrival. I’m sure you noticed a trend here since I also referred to this above and highly recommend it for mom’s sanity.
There are so many new experiences that come with pregnancy, and women should not let anxiety get the best of them, as these are feelings that most moms go through. The best way to move past any worries you have is to express your concerns to your partner and doctor, as they will be able to provide comfort and support as you navigate your way through motherhood.
Dr. Shannon Huff is an obstetrician-gynecologist in Arden, North Carolina and is a member of the Ariosa Diagnostics Speaker’s Bureau.