Six things I wish I'd known before I got pregnant with my first baby
All pregnancies are different, but some aspects can be unexpected. A group of Irish mums share some of the insights they discovered while expecting
Pregnancy may well be one of the most exciting times in a woman's life, but it's also a time that's awash with physical and emotional changes - some of which we weren't really prepared for.
Growing a person is very demanding and it's difficult to know during that period between seeing the two pink lines of confirmation and actually holding baby in our arms, what exactly is to be expected. With different pregnancies come different experiences and lessons.
So, using the wonderful gift of hindsight, this group of mums tell us about the things they wish they'd realised during those magical 40 weeks.
Morning sickness is inaccurately named
Louise from Dublin has three children and says she wishes she'd realised how restrictive morning sickness can be. "It lasted all day and actually got progressively worse on each pregnancy," Louise says.
"It made it very difficult to hide the fact that I was pregnant from my work colleagues and the first time around I was worried that they'd just think I was being dramatic if I told them, so I tried to soldier on."
At eight weeks pregnant, Louise's husband, concerned at how frequently she was being ill, convinced her to see her GP. She was referred to her maternity unit, suffering from dehydration, and once there was given IV fluids. "I felt a little better for a time after that but the sickness didn't really pass until 14 weeks," says Louise. "My friend recommended sipping on diet cola which actually helped me hugely. I kept a bottle on my desk at all times.
"With the next pregnancies, I told my boss early on that I was pregnant. When the sickness came back, at least she knew what was going on and I didn't feel as stressed trying to hide my news on top of everything else."
So what causes morning sickness? GP Georgina Connellan says that while the exact cause is unclear, "some degree of nausea and vomiting occurs in 90pc of pregnancies and usually abates by 16-18 weeks". An unlucky 5pc, however, experience symptoms for the entire duration of their pregnancy. The most severe of morning sickness is known as 'hyperemesis gravidarum' - the Duchess of Cambridge suffered from it during both her pregnancies - and is characterised by persistent vomiting and an inability to keep fluids or solids down. Dr Connellan adds that it's important to see a doctor at this stage as IV fluids may be required.
And is there anything that can be done to help manage the symptoms? Alva O'Sullivan, nutritionist and fitness coach, believes so. "Eating little and often is so much easier on your system," Alva says. "Keep meals simple and try to avoid highly-processed foods".
Alva also recommends: "Set aside 10 minutes each week to make a simple plan so that you can go to the supermarket and make sure that you have the food at home - things you know that your system can handle. Then you won't snack on all the wrong things, you'll have whole foods rather than processed foods, which you'll grab if you're not prepared."
Bleeding doesn't necessarily mean miscarriage
Paula from Kildare has two children and says she wishes she had realised that some women bleed in pregnancy and still have a happy outcome. "I was so scared, the first time it happened," Paula says of her first pregnancy. "I was sure I was going to lose the baby."
Even after a scan revealed that all was progressing as it should, Paula continued to remain fearful, especially after a second episode a few weeks later. "They never found out what was causing the bleeding but my daughter was born healthy and well at 39 weeks.
"It happened again with my son. I didn't fret quite as much that time, though I did of course seek medical attention," says Paula.
"Vaginal bleeding is common in the first trimester, occurring in between 20pc to 40pc of pregnancies," explains Dr Georgina Connellan. "While miscarriage can be one of the causes, so too can implantation bleeding, local bleeding and ectopic pregnancy. Any bleeding in pregnancy should always be evaluated by your doctor," Dr Connellan adds.
Eating for two is a myth
Pamela, who lives in Offaly, has three children and says she wishes she had realised earliert there was no truth behind the suggestion that she should eat for two. "I gained five stone on my first pregnancy and it was impossible to lose after," she says. "I thought I could eat what I wanted and that it would all fall off afterwards. I got some shock when it didn't. It took me nearly two years to lose the weight I'd gained. I didn't make the same mistake the second and third time around!"
"Energy requirements vary greatly between individuals," nutritionist Alva O'Sullivan explains. For well-nourished women with a normal BMI, general guidelines suggest that pregnant women require "an additional 5pc calorie intake in the first trimester, an additional 10pc in the second trimester, and an additional 25pc in the third trimester".
In an attempt to keep hunger pangs at bay and resist the temptation to overeat, Alva recommends eating slow energy release foods, things like brown basmati rice, brown pasta, oatcakes, brown bread. Those carbohydrates release energy slowly into your bloodstream so you stay feeling fuller for longer. "When protein is included the release is even slower again," she adds.
Bathroom visits would become an issue
Anne from Dublin has three children and says she wishes she'd realised that constipation was a common pregnancy symptom. "I was prepared for needing to pee a lot," Anne says, "it's one of the pregnancy stereotypes, but I wasn't prepared for the constipation that followed.
"I didn't have anything like that the first or second time around, but the third time I could barely leave the house I was so uncomfortable. It's not exactly the sort of thing you want to chat about with friends, so I suffered in silence for a while."
"Prevention is definitely better than cure here," says Alva O'Sullivan, who recommends a "fibre-rich diet and keeping the body hydrated. Aim for eight glasses of water throughout the day," she says. "Moderate, regular exercise can also help keep everything moving."
The impact that my job would have on my pregnancy
Jenny, who has three children and lives in Tipperary, wishes she had realised how difficult it would be to combine her job with her pregnancy. As a very active woman, she had originally subscribed to the notion that pregnancy is not a sickness, but as a manager of a leisure centre she came to the realisation that combining her work with her pregnancy was more difficult than she had anticipated.
"I hadn't realised the full effect of pregnancy on my type of work and the effect of work on my pregnancies," Jenny says. She believes that "the nature of her work and work place temperatures" were a contributory factor to severe varicose veins, which she suffered with throughout her pregnancies, but which thankfully cleared up after Jenny's babies were born.
Dr Connellan says: "While contact sport should be avoided in pregnancy, exercise is very important. I recommend 30 minutes of exercise per day. A pregnant woman should never exercise to the point of exhaustion or breathlessness. This is a sign that your baby and your body cannot get the oxygen they need. As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to hold a conversation while exercising in pregnancy."
While Jenny didn't manage to avoid varicose veins, Dr Connellan adds that exercise can reduce the risk of developing them.
Hormones would dictate my day
And finally, my own personal thing that I wish I had realised, was the manner in which hormones would dictate my daily mood and, as it happened, who I'd eat lunch with.
As a typical social butterfly who was not confrontational by nature, I found it impossible, during pregnancy, to hold my tongue on things that I might previously have ignored, and some days took to eating lunch alone in the office so as to avoid colleagues who had suddenly become irritating. By evening time I was sobbing at television advertisements and the fact that an EastEnders character had 'stolen' my planned baby name! Thankfully things settled down as the pregnancy progressed and for future pregnancies, forewarned was very much forearmed - and I finally got past the whole EastEnders quandary.
"Mood changes in pregnancy can be due to physical stresses, fatigue, changes in metabolism, or the increase in the hormones oestrogen, progesterone, prolactin, oxytocin and relaxin, which are all essential for healthy growth of the baby and preparation of the body for labour," Dr Connellan explains.
"Knowing that mood changes are a normal part of pregnancy can help the woman to cope," Dr Connellan adds, "but it is important to watch for persistent mood swings which are becoming more frequent and intense, feelings of anxiety or low mood, poor sleep, changes in appetite or poor concentration as perinatal depression or anxiety can occur." If this is suspected, it's time to speak with your doctor.
The pregnancy numbers game
The age of average first-time mother in Ireland
The number of women who will experience morning sickness to some degree 5% the unfortunate minority who will experience morning sickness throughout their entire pregnancy
The amount of additional calories required during the third trimester of pregnancy
The number of glasses of water a pregnant woman should drink to stay hydrated (and help ward off unpleasant side effects)
The percentage of pregnant women who meet the recommended guidelines for the individual groups on the food pyramid