Many women often agree that nothing really prepares you for motherhood, including pregnancy. I gave birth to my firstborn almost 20 years ago, but still remember some of the things I went through that I wished somebody could’ve told me about in advance.
Joanne de Grano-Marave, M.D., an OB-GYN and sonologist at the Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital & Medical Center, shares tips for moms who are planning to get pregnant, or are already expecting their first child:
Take folic acid as early as the planning stages of pregnancy. “Folic acid works in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, during the time of baby’s brain development. Normally, five weeks have passed before one realizes she is pregnant, which means a lot of patients missed more than half of the golden period when folic acid is needed most,” explains Dr. de Grano-Marave who adds that although the exact cause of spina bifida—a condition affecting a baby’s spine—is unknown, folic acid is recognized to prevent its occurrence.
Make sure to have a balanced diet. Supplements prescribed to pregnant women containing vitamins C, B1 and B2, and minerals like calcium and iron should only be part of—and not a substitution for—a healthy diet. “Eat a variety of food in small, frequent feedings,” the OB-GYN advises.
Dr. de Grano-Marave advises pregnant women to avoid coffee and sodas as their caffeine content can cause low birth weight and increase the chances of miscarriage. “You should also stay away from raw foods as these may be sources of bacteria; alcohol as this causes birth defects and learning disabilities; and diet drinks because some sugar alternatives can cause congenital defects.”
She further cautions against too much sweets. Hormonal changes in pregnancy make the body’s cells less responsive to insulin, which may result in gestational diabetes. “Diabetes happens when you have abnormally high blood sugar and you don’t have enough insulin to help the body use the sugar as fuel,” she explains.
Expect possible mild to severe back pains, which you are likely to experience initially in the second trimester. “These are commonly caused by (a) hormonal changes brought about by increased concentration of the hormone relaxin and, (b) weight gain and an enlarging abdomen to accommodate the enlarging uterus for which the lower back takes this extra weight,” the OB-GYN says.
To prevent discomfort, Dr. de Grano-Marave advises would-be moms to practice good posture, avoid slouching, sit with a pillow behind their lower back or rest one foot on a low stool, and bend at the knees—not at the waist—when picking things up. Sleep on your side; wear the right shoes such as flats with good arch support; reduce physical activities, like standing for a long time, that stresses the lower back; and strengthen your back muscles through simple exercises recommended by your doctor.
Do exercises that improve cardiovascular health, but have a low risk of accidents or falling. “You may go stationary cycling or swimming. Kegels help strengthen pelvic floor muscles. For me, the most important exercise is still brisk walking,” suggests Dr. de Grano-Marave.
Olga Joson-Espino, mom to Jade, 5, and Jakei, 4, recalls how difficult her first pregnancy was. “I carried twins, one of whom passed away seven days after birth. There were too many complications, mostly because I wasn’t fit physically. I ended up requiring surgery for ventral hernia,” she illustrates. “If I had known how physically taxing pregnancy would be, I’d have undergone serious physical training, much like how Pacquiao prepares for his bouts, before I tried to conceive.”
Don’t be alarmed when you experience vaginal discharges, heartburn and gassiness. These are common in pregnant women. “They are hormonal and may be experienced throughout pregnancy, although some may not experience them at all,” reveals Dr. de Grano-Marave. On the other hand, she says having pimples is very unpredictable: “Some say pimples improve and some say it can worsen during pregnancy; some have breakouts during the first trimester due to [the] hormonal surge.”
Accept that incontinence and frequent urination will happen. Dr. de Grano-Marave says this is very common in the early part of pregnancy because of hormones and, again, near delivery because of the pressure of the enlarging abdomen and the head of the fetus on the bladder.
Bring maternal sanitary napkins to the hospital prior to delivering your baby. There will be bleeding after you give birth. According to Dr. de Grano-Marave, this may stop after one to two weeks in some patients, while others may experience bleeding six to eight weeks after the baby’s birth.
Curious about preventing stretch marks and learning about birthing options? Find out more about these in the May issue of HealthToday.