Hear it from me, Mama, the transition to motherhood is one like no other. It can be daunting, amazing, uncomfortable, yet beautiful… and most of all - it is life-changing. Bringing life into the world is truly spectacular and I feel privileged to be a midwife and support women through this journey. Our duty as midwives involves many clinical aspects of care where we assess and monitor both mum and bub through pregnancy, labour, birth, and the postpartum. We also cater to social and educational needs. My mission as a midwife has always been to empower through education. I believe that education lays the foundations for everything that’s about to come - it’s all a learning process. A learning process that may begin with your midwife educating you about motherhood, and where you continue to learn ‘as you go’ when you flourish into a new mama. Sometimes it may seem like an abundance of information given for you to absorb during your pregnancy and it may be overwhelming for you. Keep reading for my ultimate 8 tips that I think you should know when embarking on this journey.
Health pre-conception & during pregnancy
Prenatal health can refer to your health status at any time before your bub comes. This commences all the way back before conception. When you begin trying for a baby, I recommend that you consider your health status and lifestyle. Seeing a specialist to conduct something as simple as a blood test, can give you the information on what prenatal vitamins/nutrients you need to achieve optimal health. This ensures that at the time of conception, your body is being fuelled with all the beneficial vitamins and minerals that are essential for pregnant women. These vitamins can usually be carried on all the way throughout your pregnancy and your midwife will recommend that you keep taking them. Prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter in nearly any pharmacy.
However, if possible, seeing a specialist such as a naturopath, or nutritionist to prescribe you the best vitamins, for your needs (and your partners) is ideal.
The main two supplements that get a lot of focus in pregnancy are folic acid, and iron (though there are many more!) These two are needed when pregnant, often more than usual. Folic acid assists in preventing neural tube defects which means that it encourages the proper development of baby’s brain and spinal cord. Iron supports the development of the placenta and helps with delivering oxygen to bub.
Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is more important than ever when you're growing a baby. Working with a nutritionist pre and during pregnancy is the best way to ensure you are getting all your essential nutrients through diet and supplementation. Gestational diabetes is common in pregnancy and it is caused by the pregnancy hormones and the way insulin is absorbed. Maintaining a healthy diet is extra important for those mamas as their blood sugar levels need to be regulated.
Although we often think about what we are eating during this time, it is important to consider all other aspects of health such as environmental aspects and day to day activities. Two actions that you can start immediately, that I recommend to all the women I work with are:
1.) Using natural cleaning products (we inhale these when using and afterwards)
2.) Switching to a natural, oral care solution. There are so many chemicals and nasties in traditional toothpastes - with the mouth being a very absorbent part of the body, this is so important. I love and useGrin Natural Toothpaste- and would recommend this 100%!
It’s not as easy as you may think
Pregnancy is a foreign feeling for first-time mamas and those who have had babies know it all too well. With that being said, whether it is your first, second, or third pregnancy, each time can be different and you may be faced with news joys and challenges. No woman has a pregnancy that is identical to the next and even as a midwife I continually learn how they can be so very different. The first trimester can begin a little rough, but as your baby grows with your body, you begin to gain an understanding of things. For a lot of mamas, the third trimester may also be uncomfortable as you grow more eager to meet your little bub. Trying to prepare for your baby, whilst maintaining a job and managing all of the minor discomforts of pregnancy is not as easy as you may think. It takes one to experience it to fully understand. Hormonal changes can also affect your mood and impact the way that you deal with common occurrences in day to day life.
My advice to you is to take it as it comes and be easy on yourself. There will be days where you wish you could snap your fingers and have a baby in your arms, but mamas say all of the hard work is truly worth it in the end. Find a trusted support group and when friends or family offer support that you need- take it! A helping hand from someone you love may be all it takes to get you through those final weeks. As midwives, we are here to help! Not only do we look after clinical things but we check in on your psychosocial state and see how you are managing in your home life. If you do require further assistance there are a number of support networks and resources that we can put you in touch with. A mama growing a baby is truly mind-blowing - it's definitely not easy, yet it is still spectacular and you should be proud of how far you've come.
Build a mama tribe
Following on from my last tip, we lead into our next one! Building a mama tribe. Creating a support network during pregnancy can sometimes be missed and mamas focus on having a mothers group after their babies are born. I think it is a great strategy to establish a mothers group before your baby’s are born. Having each other to lean on whilst you venture through the weeks of gestation can be helpful as you can share experiences and things you have learnt. Additionally, labour and birth can be spoken about and some of the common fears and assumptions can be collectively discussed. Even better, when your baby’s are born you can continue this mother’s group with your little ones earthside. I often see these mother groups grow and become lifelong friends.
I think it is such a special experience and every mama should have the opportunity to be a part of their very own mama tribe. There are a number of community resources that can put you in touch with local groups. You can also ask your midwife for recommendations on how to join. The more support the better! If you have like-minded women to lift you up and empower you- you are more than capable to embark on this crazy journey + make gorgeous girlfriends, bonus!
Your baby’s movements are SO important
The best way you can check in with the health of your baby is by monitoring the movements. You can’t feel the objective ‘normal’ for a baby’s movements because no pregnancy is the same, however, you are an expert at the subjective view of your OWN pregnancy and movements. Movements can begin as early as 20 weeks gestation and mamas say that they start off as flutters or butterflies in your tummy. As your baby develops and grows, so do their movements. Wriggles, kicks, punches, roley poleys… all of the above. There may come a point in the latter end of your pregnancy where the movements change because there simply is not enough space. However, they do NOT decrease, this is a myth. At this point, it is extra important to be in tune with their movements.
Evidence shows that a baby moving less may mean their wellbeing is compromised and they are trying to tell you something. Through time there have been a number of guidelines surrounding baby’s movements and things used to trigger them. It is different from country to country but new regulations in Australia state that if you don’t feel your baby moving or the movements are less than usual, you must seek medical advice immediately (don’t wait, or ever feel you are a burden for calling your midwife). There should be no compromise or attempt to stimulate movements, and if you are concerned, then that is a valid reason for an assessment and usually, your midwife will ask you to come into hospital. With this being said, busy mamas may miss their baby’s significant movements so slowing down and really focusing may help you recognise them.
Mama has an intuition
Moving on from my last tip, the maternal instinct and intuition is spectacular. A mama just knows when their baby needs them and this extends further from pregnancy to the postpartum. The transition to motherhood can be difficult, but maternal attributes are strongly ingrained into the female’s brain. You can do this mama, even when you think you can’t - you can. We were born to do this and with support along the way, you will be shaped into the most amazing and wholesome mama. The saying ‘mother knows best’ speaks incredible truth as there is so much power in pregnancy and birth.
Let’s take breastfeeding and breast milk for example. The female body begins to develop breast milk as early as 16 weeks and towards the end of your pregnancy, you may begin to ‘leak’. This is colostrum- the early milk, or ‘liquid gold’. If you choose to breastfeed and stimulate/ feed regularly, the colostrum will transform to true breastmilk and nourish your babe. This is all done by YOU mama, you have the ability to nourish and feed your infant. To me, that’s mind-blowing!
During pregnancy, trust your gut. No issue is too big or small. Always seek clarification and medical advice from your midwife or healthcare professional if you are ever unsure or just have that ‘gut feeling’ something is not right. We are able to assess you clinically and make sure you and bub are okay. Baby’s are born around the clock and the hospital is open 24 hours a day, all year round. Don’t be afraid to speak up mama if your intuition says so.
Early labour can sometimes take a lot longer than you think
It takes time - from the time of your first contraction to the birth of your baby. In the early stages of labour, your cervix softens and becomes quite thin. This can go on for hours… days even (especially for first-time mamas). During this early stage, you may feel nothing at all for some time. Eventually, you might feel some tightening and discomfort but there is no pattern and the contractions are irregular, this often feels like period pain.
Early labour can often be mistaken for active labour or ‘true’ labour and mama may be niggling for a while before the real action begins.
During early labour, other symptoms may also occur which let you know that your body is preparing for birth. Typical symptoms can include losing your mucus plug, having a bloody show, or your waters breaking. These are all great signs that labour is near but be patient. It is not always how the movies dramatise things. Early labour is a slow and steady journey that gradually builds up to established labour.
Early labour is fantastic at home because you feel safe and familiar (if you and bub are well). Try getting in the shower or bath as the warm sensation of the water can relieve pain. A Tens machine is a method of pain relief that can be used in early labour. It works by using mild electrical current to stimulate the nerves to relieve pain. It is a small battery-operated device that has sticky probes which attach to your skin. They send small electrical impulses that can feel like a tingling sensation. When you are ready or you are no longer comfortable at home, head into the hospital to see the midwives so they can perform an assessment.
Nourishing your baby is BEST & antenatal education is crucial!
If you hope to breastfeed exclusively, antenatal expressing is a fantastic tool that can come in handy. Expressing during pregnancy means that you will have some extra colostrum or ‘liquid gold’ ready to go if your baby needs it after birth. It can also help stimulate your mammary glands that can assist with lactation and breast milk supply! Before you begin expressing during pregnancy, speak to your midwife or healthcare professional as nipple stimulation can induce labour. It is recommended that you express at full-term and only if you are planning a vaginal delivery, to ensure the safest outcomes.
Breastfeeding although so natural and beautiful, is most certainly a learning process for both mama and baby. It is a skill that takes patience and is ever-changing. If you are planning to breastfeed, seeing a lactation consultant during the late stages of pregnancy can be an invaluable investment to the longevity of your breastfeeding experience.
There can be a lot of stigma from the media, other mamas, and some healthcare professionals that ‘breast is best’. There are a number of reasons why mamas choose to bottle feed their babes. This can be because of an uncomfortable past experience, personal choice, difficulties with breastfeeding amongst many other reasons. A supportive healthcare professional should empower and educate you with whatever option you decide on for you and your baby. Bottle-feeding may not be always an easy journey and you deserve support and education.
Discussing your options during pregnancy can give you a better idea about the principles of both ways of feeding your baby. A lot of factors can influence your breastfeeding journey but take those challenges as they come after your baby is born.
Mental health should not be forgotten
Often the physical and clinical picture is of focus during pregnancy. Mamas may spend a lot of time worrying about their baby and their mental health and emotional wellbeing may take a back seat. Remembering to take care of your mental health during the perinatal period is one of the biggest tips that I can recommend to new parents. A number of factors can influence the way your mental health is holding up. A lack of sleep, common minor discomforts and added pregnancy hormones can play a part. It is important that you speak up about these feelings that you may face. Perinatal anxiety and depression is quite common but not spoken about enough. Feelings of anxiety and feeling ‘low’ can happen anytime in a mother’s maternity journey. It is often postnatal depression that we hear about, however, impacts on mental health can happen anytime throughout pregnancy.
In Australia, if you are receiving midwifery care, at your initial appointment your midwife will conduct a psychosocial assessment that looks at the psychological and emotional aspects of your life. You may fill out a screening tool called the ‘Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale’. It looks at your mood and evaluates if you could be at risk of perinatal anxiety and depression. It also looks at your current state of mind and allows the midwife to provide support services if needed. At any point during your pregnancy if you feel the need to redo this screening tool- ask your midwife. Midwives work as members of multidisciplinary healthcare teams and can refer you onto mental health teams, social workers, and psychologists.
A great resource that I recommend to all parents is Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia or PANDA. They have a wonderful website, info sheets, and a hotline that you can ring. Find out more here:https://www.panda.org.au/
These 8 tips cover a range of topics that may help you during pregnancy. From a midwife to you, I wish you all the best mama. Education lays a foundation for what’s to come and I hope that I have empowered your journey. You are strong, you are amazing, and you can rise above and conquer the crazy journey of motherhood. I believe in you.
Brought to you by our pregnancy and motherhood expert, Aliza Carr. Aliza is a midwife and perinatal mental health specialist and the founder of @bumpnbub and www.bumpnbub.com, a platform designed to provide education and support to pregnant and new families. Aliza is passionate about natural living, sustainability and educating mothers and new families. Aliza will bring the Grin Natural community more midwifery support, tips, and education.
*Please note this is general advice only and should never replace medical advice. If you have any concerns or worries, please contact your health professional.