From the moment you first find out you are pregnant, life takes a different direction; a new path that is unique and exciting. You watch your baby grow from a seed to a kiwi to water melon and spend hours on Pinterest planning the nursery. However, other than changing your obvious eating and drinking habits you may have spent very little time preparing yourself for the journey ahead and before you know it weeks have turned into months and maternity leave is just around the corner.

For some the biggest barrier to preparing for this unique journey is knowing where to start and finding a resource you can trust and that fits with your value and beliefs.  At Pregnancy and Parenthood we understand that every mother and pregnancy are different but regardless of this we believe that there are 8 core ways to prepare for birth and a healthy pregnancy.

1. Prepare & Educate yourself:

Pregnancy and birth can be the most incredible and natural biological transformation but modern lifestyles and beliefs often mean that women are no longer instinctively and spontaneously preparing themselves for birth. There is a saying that “knowledge is power” and whilst education & preparation will not guarantee a straightforward vaginal birth, it will, however, arm you will tools to enable you and your birth partner to feel more informed, confident, empowered and positive about the journey ahead.

At Pregnancy and Parenthood we often compare pregnancy to training for a marathon; the most important marathon there is; ‘birthing your baby’.

2. Find a local Support Network:

Social media is a wonderful source of information and support throughout pregnancy and for new parents. You Tube channels, blog sites and specialist websites can be very informative but are not always responsive to individuals and can be misinterpreted. Social groups and forums are again invaluable but tend to be opinion based rather than factually based with the most up to date information.

Finding a reputable antenatal class can help you and your partner focus on your pregnancy and prepare for birth as well as for the practicalities of feeding and caring for a newborn baby.

Private antenatal courses tend to be longer, more comprehensive and interactive than those offered by the NHS. Teachers are practised in providing emotional, physical and practical support as well as promoting discussion around topics that women and birth partners identify are important to them.

The majority of expectant parents want to meet others for long-term friendships and support. Facilitators know the importance of this and are skilled in encouraging groups to form a close network.

When looking for private antenatal classes ensure the teachers are fully trained and licenced to provide the level of education you desire. You might like to ask yourself: Is the course going to meet my needs? Do the facilitators adopt a modern approach to teaching, particularly around the practicalities of returning to work and sharing childcare? Will they involve and meet the needs of my birth partner? Can I relate to the teacher and will she support me after birth? Do I want to turn to a national organisation or is a local provider going to give me a more nurturing experience?

3. Involve your Partner from the off:

Research shows that planning to give birth in a “home from home” environment such as a Midwife Led Birthing Unit, or actually at home, increases the chance of a woman having a straightforward vaginal birth, especially for low risk women.

The role of a birth partner is more than just holding your hand! Birth partners should take a proactive role in thinking about and practising skills such as positions, movement, relaxation, massage and breathing with you before the arrival of your baby.

Birth partners are there for:

• practical support – keeping you distracted in early labour, dimming the lights, giving you a drink, taking you to empty your bladder regularly and packing the ‘birth tool kit’.

• emotional support – reassuring, encouraging and hand holding. There is good evidence that where a partner is informed, well prepared and supportive, women feel less scared and more confident about giving birth and breastfeeding.

• physical support – reminding you of breathing and relaxation techniques as well as providing massage, helping you to move into different positions and helping you in and out of the bath.

• talking support – keeping you informed about what is going on and maintaining a dialogue with the midwife – speaking up for you, communicating birth wishes and asking questions.

Midwives are often caring for several women at a time so having a supportive and attentive birth partner who can provide 1-2-1 care may mean you are more likely to have a straightforward slightly shorter birth and a positive experience.

4. Nourish your Body:

We all know that eating a well-balanced diet is important for your and your baby’s health. Protein, B vitamins and vitamin C are all essentials but one fatty acid that is often overlooked is Omega 3.

Omega 3 fatty acids are most commonly found in oily fish. The benefits to your baby include enhancing brain growth and development and some studies suggest it can help regulate blood pressure and reduce ‘baby blues’.

Not all fish is suitable during pregnancy. The NHS website has a comprehensive list but here are the highlights. White fish and cooked shellfish have no limits. Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are beneficial but should be eaten no more than twice a week. Avoid swordfish and shark and limit your consumption of tinned tuna, due to high levels of mercury. NB: We are NOT talking about cod liver oil here, which is not advised during pregnancy.

It is always best to get your nutrients from food, but if you just can’t stomach fish then talk to an expert about an alternative, such as ground flaxseed and chia seeds or a supplement. Rowan House’s Nutritional Therapist, Catherine Jeans, recommends Eskimo by Nutri.

5. Learn how to Relax:

Relaxation is one of the most important skills you will ever learn, for you and your baby. During pregnancy, it will help you manage blood pressure (high and low) and cope better with stress and labour. During birth, staying relaxed creates the perfect environment for the hormonal dance that gets your baby into the best position for a straightforward labour. This dance is interrupted by stress or anxiety, both of which are common responses during active labour. Learning how to relax will mean that, no matter what, you will be able to get back to a calm, safe place.

When you learn how to relax, you become more aware of your stress responses and can choose another route. For example we often clench our jaws during birth, which triggers a similar response in the pelvic floor. So learning to relax our jaw will inevitably help us let us go and allow our baby to be born.

Relaxing is not easy. If you find it difficult or boring, you REALLY need to learn. Knowing how to relax is a life skill and like any new skill practice makes perfect. Not only can it help you through pregnancy and birth it WILL change your life, and the life of your children. Learning how to switch off from the fast-paced, technological life we lead is the best decision you will ever make. Do it today.

6. Get Fit for Pregnancy & Birth:

The benefits to exercising in pregnancy are vast with minimal risks. Benefits include reduced weight gain, reduced risk of hypertension issues such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, reduced risk of c-section, quicker recovery after birth, improved mood and sleep, with no risk to preterm birth or baby weight. Pregnancy is a time to do exercise that you enjoy and that helps you relax, so pick something that you enjoy. Use ‘the talk test’ to know how hard you should be working; you should be able to hold a conversation whilst exercising.

If you are leading a healthy pregnancy with no advice not to exercise then the department of health and national guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week, with two of these sessions incorporating strengthening all major muscle groups, including the pelvic floor muscles. This is the same amount of exercise recommended to all adults. If you are currently not very physically active, you should start with 10 minute sessions, slowly building these together. If you are active then you can continue your exercise routine but you may need to modify the type of exercise you are doing for example if you are doing contact sports.

What exercise should I avoid?

• High risk of falls or injury: such as skiing, water skiing, horse riding, football, netball

• Lying on your back after the first trimester: this can cause reduced cardiac output and supine hypotensive syndrome causing reduced blood flow to mother and baby

• Sports affecting your physiology; including scuba diving, sky diving, high altitude (>6000feet) vigorous exercise.

7. Align your Body:

Staying active during pregnancy may also assist with encouraging baby into the optimal foetal position i.e. head down facing towards your spine.  When this alignment happens, there is a greater chance of having a quicker and more straightforward vaginal birth with less pain relief.  This is because baby fits snugly into the curve of the pelvis, he is more likely to tuck his chin under so the smallest part of his head comes first and even pressure is applied to the cervix encouraging uniform dilation.

A back-to-back position is where baby has his head down but his back is against your spine.  You may have backache together with a longer, slower birth as the tightenings struggle to find their rhythm. About one in ten babies is posterior when birth begins but most will still be born vaginally.

Babies who are in a posterior position may just lie in this way due to the shape of mum’s pelvis but if you have the more common rounded pelvis how you move and sit particularly during late pregnancy may mean you can encourage baby to rest in an anterior position.  When you relax on the sofa or work at a desk for hours your pelvis is tipped backwards.  This may encourage baby to swing round to the back due to gravity.  If, however, you participate in upright activities such as yoga and Pilates, take regular breaks and walk tall, pop a cushion under your bottom when in a car seat and rather than slouching on the sofa, sit or kneel over a gym ball, your baby is more likely to rest in an anterior position as your pelvis is always tipped forwards.

8. Future proof your Pelvic Health:

Your pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles that span the outlet of your pelvis from the pubic bone at the front to the coccyx bone at the back, forming the floor of your pelvis.

 The main functions of the pelvic floor are:

• Maintain continence – they control your bladder and bowel by tightly closing the urethra and back passage (preventing incontinence). They also release fully to allow you to empty your bladder or bowel.

• Support – they act like a hammock to support your pelvic organs and keep them in the correct position.

• Sexual function – they can help improve sex by increasing your sensation and your grip.

• Stability – they help to keep your pelvis and hips stable.

One of the most common causes of pelvic floor dysfunction is pregnancy and childbirth. In pregnancy the muscles can become under strain with increased pressure upon them from the growing foetus, in vaginal deliveries stretch and trauma can occur to the muscles.

• Your pelvic floor exercises can be performed in any position. Find a position which is comfortable for you, or which your physiotherapist has recommended.

• Be aware of your breathing, keeping a relaxed breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Do not hold your breath whilst doing your pelvic floor exercises. This is difficult at first but keep trying. Sometimes it helps to count out loud.

• Next, you need to start squeezing your pelvic floor, imagine that you are trying to stop yourself passing wind and urine at the same time. You can also think of squeezing tight in the vagina. You should feel your pelvic floor muscles ‘squeeze and lift’; try not to squeeze your buttocks and legs.

• You may feel a gentle tightening in your tummy, which are your deep tummy muscles working to help the pelvic floor. You need to practise both long squeezes and short squeezes and gradually build up your routine. As you do so your muscles will get stronger and your exercise programme will gradually increase.

Through our courses, classes and individual therapies our team of specialists aim to support and nurture you and your partner’s emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing. Our classes are held across Norwich, South Norfolk and further afield with our hub and baby centre being at Rowan House Health and Wellbeing Centre in Hethersett.

To read more about the Pregnancy & Parenthood Team and their services follow this link