Pregnancy is an exciting, overwhelming and extraordinary time. This eventful nine-month road to parenthood is also a time to prepare mentally and physically for the responsibilities of raising children. Along the way, you’ll become an expert in the workings of your body and emotions. You’ll also learn to recognize and appreciate the signs of development of the tiny living being inside you. Antenatal care covers the period from when your pregnancy is confirmed up until the time you give birth. The aim of this care is to ensure the well being of you and your unborn baby. Your 40-week pregnancy is separated into three trimesters:
- the first is the 13 weeks after your last period;
- the second is weeks 14 to 26;
- and the third is from week 27 to birth.
Care & support
At regular intervals over the nine months, the development of your pregnancy will be checked and monitored by health professionals such as your GP, a midwife or an obstetrician at a hospital or clinic. They will look for signs that your pregnancy is progressing normally, and any problems uncovered will be treated at the earliest possible stage. These people are also excellent sources of information, so make sure you ask them any questions you have.
Qualified to provide pregnancy care as well as postnatal support, midwives are specialist registered nurses who assist during childbirth. In some hospitals and clinics, midwives provide all your antenatal and birthing care. Ask at your hospital’s antenatal clinic what midwifery options are available.
If you feel most comfortable with your regular GP, ask whether he or she would be willing to treat you throughout your pregnancy. GPs who are registered in an antenatal shared-care program receive extra training to provide antenatal care in conjunction with the antenatal clinic at a local hospital. This option is open to both private and public patients. You’ll see your GP for regular monthly appointments and go to your hospital or obstetrician for a few visits. A midwife or doctor at the hospital will delivery the baby.
These doctors are trained in antenatal care and childbirth, and specialize in managing complicated cases. In the public health system, you’ll be assigned to a small team of doctors and midwives, headed by a senior obstetrician. If it’s a teaching hospital, you may be seen by resident doctors and various members of the team on different visits, but you can always ask to speak to the senior obstetrician if you have a special need. And if you have chosen private care, you can select your own obstetrician.
When you first meet your obstetrician, discuss the treatment offered, the regularity of visits, availability to attend in the final stages of birth and the fee schedule. Obstetricians can only take a limited number of women, so make sure you book in early for your first appointment. Be aware the rates of birth intervention often increase with private obstetric care.
A doula (or birth attendant) provides non-medical support for you and your partner before, during and after the birth of your baby. This can include helping with a birth plan, preparation for labor and attending the birth. They may also help with cooking, errands and light housekeeping. After the birth, a doula may also provide breastfeeding support or newborn care assistance, especially to mothers who are suffering from postnatal depression or who have children with special needs or other young children in their care.
The answers to all those questions you forgot to ask your midwife or obstetrician can be found at antenatal classes, where pregnancy and parenthood are discussed and explained in general terms. You will also learn about the stages of pregnancy, how to prepare for birth, what nursery equipment and clothes you’ll need, how your baby is likely to behave and how to hold and soothe your baby.
Aside from being educational, antenatal classes provide good mental preparation for parenthood, especially for fire-time parents. They allow you to set aside time to concentrate on what’s going to happen during the pregnancy, birth and beyond. Generally, there’s a strong focus on preparing for the birth and developing coping strategies to use during labor.
Socially, the classes are a great opportunity for you and your partner to meet local parents who may be booked into the same maternity unit.
Sessions are relaxed, informal and voluntary, and taught by a team of experts that my include a parent craft teacher, dietitian, midwife and physiotherapist. The classes are organized so that expectant women are all usually in their early third trimester.
All prospective parents are encouraged to ask questions, take part in role plays and perhaps watch footage of a real birth. Topics covered include how your body is changing, what to expect as pregnancy nears its end, how to prepare for labor, pain relief and breastfeeding, plus strategies for coping at home with your baby.
Antenatal classes may be held in hospitals or independently elsewhere, so make sure you do a little research ahead of time to find one that best suits your needs and availability. If you plan to give birth in a hospital, it’s likely you will be given a tour of the labor ward, nursery and postnatal areas, so you can become familiar with them before admission.
When you’re pregnant, support from your partner, parents, friends and siblings can be almost as important as support from various health professionals.
Think about who you might want to have in the labor ward or birth center with you. While many women choose their partners, others also ask their mothers, sisters or close friends to be present. Your personal supporter might also like to attend antenatal classes with you to become familiar with what to expect.