There is nothing more enchanting than the expression on a mother’s face when she cradles her healthy baby in her arms for the very first time. Being well informed about every aspect of pregnancy, including possible complications, could go a long way towards ensuring a healthy, happy pregnancy and a safe transition into motherhood.
Few experiences in life are filled with more hope and trepidation than the nine months leading up to childbirth. “It is only natural for an expectant mother to be concerned about the wellbeing of her unborn child and the many changes happening within her body,” says Dr Bronwyn Moore, gynaecologist and obstetrician at Netcare Park Lane hospital.
“There are several steps that a woman could take to increase the chances of enjoying a smooth, healthy pregnancy,” says Dr Moore. “Start off by booking an appointment with your doctor before you decide to fall pregnant. As part of this prenatal check-up your doctor will advise you on a range of aspects including the need to take a folic acid supplement as well as vitamins to ensure your health and that of your baby throughout pregnancy. Your doctor will order blood tests to see if you are immune to infectious diseases such as German measles and chicken pox and if not, arrangements will be made for the appropriate prenatal vaccinations to be administered. During the prenatal check-up, you doctor will also check whether you have any chronic conditions and will modify your medication where needed to ensure your wellbeing and the safety of your unborn baby,” she says.
“You may also need to make certain lifestyle changes, particularly if you are overweight, smoke, drink alcohol, use recreational drugs and do not exercise,” advises Dr Moore. Those fortunate enough to have medical cover, should contact their medical scheme and register on a maternity programme if this is offered by their scheme. It is important to have a solid support base throughout your pregnancy and particularly once your baby is born. “This will help mothers achieve peace of mind while fully embracing the experience of pregnancy without added stress and unnecessary worry,” says Dr Moore.
Unfortunately pregnancy is not always smooth sailing and there are certain risks and complications that may mar this special experience and impact your health and/or that of your unborn baby. According to Dr Moore, the first 12 weeks of pregnancy carry the highest risk of miscarriage. Expectant mothers should look out for vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain and cramping as well as for any fluid or discharge. “A small amount of bleeding during pregnancy or spotting is fairly normal in the first eight to 10 weeks if an ectopic pregnancy has been excluded,” she advises. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg stays in the fallopian tube instead of moving into your uterus. “If you are concerned, it is always advisable to contact your doctor and have a non-urgent sonar done to check everything is as it should be.”
Other issues to be on the lookout for include pre-term or premature labour, which occurs when your body starts getting ready for childbirth too early. However, remember labour is considered premature only if it starts more than three weeks before your due date.
Symptoms of pre-term labour
- Uterine contractions or tightening, particularly those that get more regular and stronger overtime (not to be confused with Braxton Hicks contractions, which should be irregular, uncomfortable and ease off with fluids and rest)
- Abdominal pain and cramping in your lower abdomen
- Spasmodic (waves of) backache
- Vaginal bleeding
- Clear fluid coming from the vagina, which may indicate a rupture of membranes.
- Increased pressure in your pelvis or vagina
Pre-eclampsia, a combination of pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure) and large amounts of protein in the urine of a pregnant woman, is another condition which needs to be carefully monitored by your doctor. “This condition, which affects about 5 to 8% of pregnant women, generally develops after 20 weeks of gestation and if left untreated, may turn into imminent eclampsia or eclampsia. This may result in seizures, stroke and multiple organ failure which can be life-threatening to you and your unborn child,” cautions Dr Moore.
Symptoms of pre-eclampsia
- High blood pressure
- Protein in the urine
- Swelling of the feet, face and hands
- Severe migraine-like headache
- Vision changes such as blurriness, flashing lights, light sensitivity and spots
- Abdominal pain often located under the right ribcage
Gestational diabetes is another condition that may occur during pregnancy and it is characterised by high blood sugar (glucose) levels in pregnant women. It affects women who are unable to make enough insulin during pregnancy. Insulin helps convert glucose into energy and if gestational diabetes is left untreated, could cause uncontrolled high blood glucose levels, which pose a risk to both mother and unborn baby. Infants of mothers with gestational diabetes are vulnerable to macrosomia, where birth trauma to the baby, as well as the genital tract of the mother, is caused by the baby being larger than average. In this case a caesarean section is advised. Babies are also susceptible to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar after birth), lung immaturity, which may cause respiratory distress to the baby, and chemical imbalances such as low calcium and magnesium. “You do not have to be previously diagnosed with diabetes to develop this condition. Women who have a family history of gestational diabetes, as well as older mothers and women who are obese, are more at risk of developing this condition, which unfortunately could go unnoticed as it presents with few symptoms. If you are at risk, it is vital to get screened for gestational diabetes so that it could be adequately treated,” says Dr Moore.
In the case of a medical emergency contact Netcare 911 on 082 911.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Beswick or Jillian Penaluna
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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