It was a few weeks before my firstborn was due -- and suddenly full-fledged panic set in. By night, I would dream that I forgot to feed the baby. By day, I would obsess about every aspect of childbirth, from the serious (What if the cord wraps around his neck?) to the relatively trivial (Should I get an enema?).
Mothers-to-be often worry incessantly as they approach the end of pregnancy, but hard facts and helpful tips can calm those eleventh-hour jitters. So take off your shoes, raise your feet, and read on for some reassuring responses to common concerns.
Don't worry, a healthy baby is by far the rule, rather than the exception. According to Luis B. Curet, MD, professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, more than 90 percent of pregnancies result in perfectly healthy babies.
Plus, problems involving a baby's anatomy or development are often identified early, so the longer your pregnancy stays trouble free, the more confident you can feel.
Nevertheless, it's wise to recognize that certain health complications, though rare, can occur. One is preterm labor, which can lead to premature delivery, or delivery before the 37th week of pregnancy, resulting in a birth weight of less than 5 1/2 pounds. While certain factors predispose a woman to premature delivery, such as carrying more than one baby or smoking cigarettes, about half of all premature births involve no known risk factors.
The good news is that premature delivery can sometimes be stopped or delayed if a woman receives prompt medical attention at the first sign of early labor. For this reason, it pays to follow general precautions, such as keeping up with routine office visits and contacting your doctor at once if you experience contractions, pelvic pressure, bleeding, or fever.
While pregnant women might worry that stress will harm their growing baby, the facts are not so clear. Many obstetricians have patients who have faced extremely stressful events (the loss of a parent, for example) and then gone on to have normal deliveries, while other women under no excessive stress can deliver prematurely.
However, according to the March of Dimes, some research shows a link between stress-related hormones and both preterm labor and low birth weight babies. For now, moms-to-be would be wise to reduce their stress as much as they can -- by exercising in moderation and asking family members or friends to help out with chores.
Most experts maintain that chronic stress that leads you to skip regular meals or that affects your sleep is more likely to cause problems with pregnancy. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help as soon as possible, as it may affect the health of your baby.
You've begun your third trimester, and life has never felt so demanding. There are baby accessories to buy, hospital forms to complete, and doctor appointments to attend. Suddenly, in the midst of all these errands, you wonder: What about me?
"It's true that life will change after your baby is born, but not so drastically that you'll have no time for yourself," says Diane Sanford, PhD, coauthor of Postpartum Survival Guide (New Harbinger). "Try to continue doing the things you did before the baby was born, especially the things you really enjoyed." You can arrange periodically for a caregiver, but also keep in mind that babies during their first year are pretty easy to take along, whether you're going to a friend's house, a museum, or the mall.
Sanford also points out that motherhood is often a path toward finding, rather than losing, yourself -- and a doorway to personal growth. "Spiritually, you may start to get a new sense of being part of a bigger purpose in the universe," she says.
There's no way around the fact that childbirth involves pain, but you can take steps to keep yourself fairly comfortable. These days, many hospitals routinely offer women in labor various methods of pain relief, from epidurals to narcotics such as Demerol.
Because information can help ease your fears, it's wise to enroll in a childbirth education class. Many hospitals offer classes, or you can find one through word of mouth. "Childbirth classes help you understand the process of birth," says Judith Lothian, RN, an associate professor in the College of Nursing at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey. "They give you more confidence to deal with the pain."
Of course, many women opt for non-medical approaches to pain relief, such as massage and relaxation techniques. If you choose this route, make sure the setting in which you plan to deliver will support your decision. Some doctors expect their patients to have epidurals, and it may be hard to buck the trend once you're in the middle of labor.
One final piece of advice: try to develop a positive outlook. Remember that women's bodies have handled labor since long before there were the kinds of medical relief we now rely on. Have faith that your body will get the job done and that the people you've chosen to assist you will help you through the rough spots.
Worrying about your parenting skills is a positive sign and shows that you want to do a good job, according to Diane Ross Glazer, PhD, a psychotherapist with the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center, in Tarzana, California. As she points out, "parenting is a conscious activity" -- so, by reading books and taking classes, you can take steps to turn yourself into the kind of parent you want to be. If you're really worried about caring for a very young baby, hire a baby nurse or ask one of your relatives to help for the first few weeks.
Also, keep in mind that you don't need to be an expert on potty training or school lunches from day one. You and your partner's parenting style will develop as your baby grows.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the May 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.
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