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Dr Safeeya Mohammed and her son, Musa.

HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT

My son’s first Easter celebrations – he was in-utero. Feelings of gleeful anticipation were mixed with that of apprehension, I was overjoyed to join my family and friends in commemorating Easter, but anxious, as I was breaking my ‘restrictions of bed rest’ in venturing out while being pregnant, not during COVID-19, but nine years ago.

Yes, confined to bed rest for this precious pregnancy. I remember analysing and thought, “Bedrest…It felt like jail.” However, a question posed to me during that time that placed perspective on it all was, “Which incubator, do you prefer, yourself or the NICU?” I was placed on “bedrest” because of complications within the pregnancy and this was actually an opportunity to be “the best incubator” possible. I even learnt the most valuable lessons that no text book or the previous years working in the Neonatal ICU could have taught me about pregnancy.

And that’s what I’m going to share with you today…

Nine tips to nine beautiful months

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge into parenthood. Having a baby is one of God’s greatest miracles, but hold on, wait a second, in fact wait even a month or more, to give yourself the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. As there are several important factors to consider before you are bumped into the journey of parenthood. You will have many choices before you and your partner in this exciting time and the more you both know, the more empowered you both become!

1. Check both yourselves out!

Since it takes two to do the reproductive tango, schedule a preconception checkup for yourself and your partner with a qualified, experienced obstetrician. During this session, expect in depth questions on your present health, any medications or supplements you’re using, your families’ health histories, past pregnancy experiences and any other information relevant to a pregnancy.

It is vital to know that certain medications and supplements are unsafe during pregnancy and some may need to be switched or even discontinued before trying to conceive. Why? Because they’re stored in your body’s fat cells and can linger there!

2. Folic acid is a MUST

Even before the tango starts, Folic acid is necessary, at least one month before conception is what is recommended. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – “by taking 400micrograms(mcg) of folic acid, before conception and during the first trimester, one can greatly reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects.” Would-be dads also should get folic acid, zinc and Vitamin C, nutrients that are vital for optimal sperm production and quality.

3. Be prepared for the emotional swings

Some mothers say they swear an alien invaded their brain, heart and tummy when they’re pregnant! But that’s perfectly acceptable feelings during the dramatic mood swings of pregnancy. Between soaring hormone levels and the enormous physical and emotional changes one goes through when pregnant, it’s no wonder you may feel like sobbing, laughing or even forgetting your own name – and sometimes all within a few minutes!

Be comforted that this is normal, whoever said that pregnancy was 24/7 bliss was never pregnant, so accept that you will be happy sometimes, stressed out or even sobbing, but it has nothing to with how much you’ll LOVE your baby.

4. Eat well, NOT ‘Eat for two’

This is one of the biggest misconceptions that requires myth-busting.

There is no need to ‘eat for two’ when you’re pregnant. Latest research suggests that a pregnant mummy only requires 200-300 extra calories a day, more in the second and third trimester. Include a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables every day, and reduce your unhealthy-fat intake, while boosting those foods rich in iron and calcium.

5. Does your oral health matter?

Did you know that your dental health was important to your pregnancy?

Indeed it is, as Gum disease is associated with preterm delivery, so see a dentist to make sure you’re in good dental health before getting pregnant. If you need dental treatments, X-rays or medications, take care of that before you start your tango!

6. Stay hydrated

You will instinctually increase your water intake once you become pregnant, but that does not mean you should not put in the extra effort too. Water has so many benefits, such as helping to energise your muscles and improving circulation, so always keep a water bottle handy. That baby of yours will be dancing on your bladder either way, you might as well give him/her a reason to!

7. Take a caffeine detox

While there’s no consensus on exactly how much caffeine is safe during pregnancy, experts agree that pregnant women or those trying to conceive should avoid too much caffeine, as it’s linked to increased risk of miscarriage. And what about during the pregnancy? Maximum consumption should be no more than 200mg/dy, just about the amount in one cup of coffee, depending on the brew!

8. “Momnesia” truly does exist, be ready for the fatigue

It’s not clear what leads to the forgetfulness and general “momnesia” of pregnancy brain. One possible factor is pregnancy hormones. The big shifts in levels of oestrogen and progesterone, for example, can produce a wide range of symptoms during pregnancy. Another condition that affects many pregnant women – fatigue – which also contributes to foggy brains and faulty memories. Being aware and incorporating techniques to cope helps considerably. Mindful meditations and prenatal yoga have shown significant benefits with “momnesia”.

9. Coping with ‘bed rest’ restrictions

I did not quite make it to the full nine months of pregnancy, probably because my little one was in an unexpected rush to meet the world.

Similarly, like bed rest, COVID-19 places significant restrictions on a pregnant mother, but all with good reason. If you have been placed on bed rest for your pregnancy, keep in mind, it is not a death sentence but a necessary measure for extending your pregnancy to a safe point. Be assured that the anxiety and the overwhelming thoughts and feelings are absolutely normal, however, creating moments of calm within chaos is pertinent to your peace of mind – be it: meditation, yoga, spending time in nature or just quiet moments in the nursery reading to your baby.

These necessary steps to care for yourself before conception and during pregnancy, can make a difference at any point in time, even if you are just a few months from giving birth or now deciding to become a parent.

Once the baby is delivered, trust me time will fly by! Till then savour every back ache, every bout of nausea, every Braxton Hicks contraction. Start with where you are at and focus on what you can do, committing to making the healthy choices for a healthy pregnancy!