Most new parents ask the same question. "What can I do to make sure my baby is healthy?"
The answer to this question starts long before birth. The choices you make while you're pregnant play a major role in the health of your baby, as well as your own health and comfort during your pregnancy.
Many women feel "miserable" throughout their pregnancies. About 50 percent of pregnant moms experience morning sickness, one out of four will have a cesarean section, and the United States has one of the worst infant mortality rates among industrialized nations. The long-term effects of these problems on our children are just now being researched and understood.
Many of the complications and discomforts experienced during pregnancy and birth are preventable, if you're willing to make some simple changes in your diet and lifestyle.
The four components to having a healthy pregnancy, birth and baby are Relaxation, Options, Activity, and Diet: the "ROAD." No matter what type of birth you are planning to have, these steps will help you and your baby be healthier.
Relaxation is a key part of good general health, as well as essential for moms planning a natural birth. Stress can be harmful to the baby, but relaxation helps counter that effect. The ability to become completely relaxed mentally, emotionally, and physically interrupts the fear-tension-pain cycle that causes the need for drugs during labor. The ability to relax at will is also handy when raising children!
Deep relaxation is a skill that must be learned and practiced to be truly effective. Many women already practice daily meditation or prenatal yoga, which gives them a great head start. Even these women will benefit from learning new techniques and practicing them daily, preferably with the help of their husband or someone else who will be able to act as "coach" during labor. A great exercise to help you feel relaxed is progressive relaxation.
Begin by finding a comfortable position, such as lying on your side with your top leg supported by pillows or sitting as if in a contour chair supported by pillows (a recliner also works, if you have one). If you are working with a coach, have him read this to you. "Close your eyes. Take a nice, deep breath and let it out slowly. Take another slow breath, and release. One more breath, and as you let it go, imagine yourself standing under a gentle waterfall. Feel your head relax as the water touches it. Feel the water run down over your neck and shoulders, as they release and relax. The water flows down your arms and off the tips of your fingers, drawing the worries of the day away. As the water cascades over your chest and belly, feel how your baby relaxes as you let go. Water flows down your legs, your feet, and off your toes, leaving your entire body loose, limp, and relaxed."
Stay in this relaxed state for a few minutes and enjoy it. When finished, take some deep breaths and wiggle your toes and fingers before getting up.
It's important that expecting moms educate themselves about labor and birth. Researching options helps couples feel confident that they are making the right choices. Also, knowing the options helps avoid fear and surprise if complications occur.
Try the following to keep your options open:
- Learn relaxation, stay active, and eat a good diet to stay healthy and low-risk. This makes more choices available to you.
- Research pregnancy and birth through independent sources, such as books, newspapers, the Internet and so on. Some great books to start with are The Birth Book by Dr. William and Martha Sears, The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer, and Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon.
- Attend childbirth classes, preferably those offered outside a hospital. Classes offered by a hospital often teach to that hospital's procedures instead of offering information on all the options available.
- Make a birth plan and discuss it with your doctor or midwife before labor occurs. Bring a few copies with you during labor.
- Be flexible when health professionals recommend procedures--remember there is a good reason they are suggested, even if you disagree with them.
- Practice informed consent. In the event that complications occur, knowing what a proposed procedure involves will help you and your coach weigh the benefits and risks and make a good decision.
- If it is not an emergency, ask for a second opinion if you disagree with the recommendation of your care provider.
- Ask questions whenever you don't understand a procedure or its explanation. Parents are ultimately responsible for what happens to their baby, not the doctor or midwife, so be sure you comprehend what is happening.