Thursday 23 November 2017

Join the neurotic mums-to-be club!

A new pregnancy book aims to answer some less 'traditional' questions on the subject

Safe arrival: author
Meilssa Heckscher,
with baby Gabriel,
says all pregnant
women worry about
the same things.
Safe arrival: author Meilssa Heckscher, with baby Gabriel, says all pregnant women worry about the same things.

Finding out you're going to have a baby is probably one of the most joyful moments of any woman's life but as soon as that joy is registered, most expectant mothers begin to worry.

Did they have a drink or a cigarette in the period they didn't know they were pregnant? Have they inadvertently given their baby fetal alcohol syndrome by sipping on a Cosmopolitan? Did that cheese plate contain Brie?

Doing the right thing for your baby can become an all-consuming quest for knowledge, a treadmill of anxiety. Your gynaecologist can give you the best advice about your concerns but some questions can feel too weird, embarrassing or plain neurotic to verbalise, which leads women to that vast repository of wildly divergent advice -- the internet.

"I remember freaking out one time because my husband accidentally gave me an Excedrin instead of a Tylenol," says Melissa Heckscher, the author of a new book, 'The Pregnancy Test -- 150 Important, Embarrassing and Slightly Neurotic Questions'.

"Excedrin has caffeine and aspirin in it -- both things that I thought were no-nos during pregnancy. My poor husband felt so bad."

Heckscher figured she wasn't the only pregnant woman who worried in this way and so, with the help of her gynaecologist, Dr Emily Sikking, she produced 'The Pregnancy Test', a volume of answers to the most obscure questions about pregnancy.

Heckscher's primary goal was to disseminate accurate information to other pregnant women but she managed to bust a few myths along the way.

"You can drink coffee while you're pregnant. A lot of people think you have to go cold turkey on our vices but this is one that you can keep -- in moderation."

Margaret Fanagan is a clinical midwife in the National Maternity Hospital Dublin where she also teaches ante-natal education.

"It's a shame women have got so worried about childbirth. We need to encourage them to be positive and to look forward to it.

"Giving birth is a couple of hours of hard work but then it's over and there's a brilliant reward.

"I'd say, just relax. It's a normal process, it's not an illness. And enjoy your pregnancy. You'll never have your first baby again."

Heckscher encourages discussing your fears with other pregnant women.

"It is nice to know that we all worry about the same things. I love talking to other pregnant women and just being frank about all the weird things our bodies do while we're making those babies."

Eat drink and be wary

The first worry that hits most women is if they have been drinking without realising they were pregnant. The chances are nothing much will happen but it's a good idea to lay off the booze.

Scientists still don't know exactly what causes morning sickness but believe it is a defence mechanism to help women avoid foods that might harm their baby.

"Most 'rules' about what you can and can't do during pregnancy are just guidelines," says Heckscher. "Sure, you shouldn't eat sushi while pregnant, but if you accidentally take a bite you're probably not going to hurt your baby."


Sex is a particular source of worry during pregnancy. "I think this one is all about anatomy," says Heckscher. "Men worry the penis is going to hit and somehow hurt the baby during penetration. Of course this can't happen.

"Also, orgasms can be pretty intense during pregnancy and often women will feel their uterus tighten after sex. It can be a little scary. But in most healthy pregnancies, sex and orgasms are perfectly safe. If you aren't supposed to be having sex your doctor will tell you."

Can sperm trigger labour? Theoretically yes (the hormones in sperm -- prostaglandins -- are the same hormones doctors use to induce labour) but realistically the levels contained in sperm could only trigger labour when a woman is full-term or overdue.

Weight gain

Every woman naturally gains weight during pregnancy but if you've ever wondered why you gain so much here's the science bit.

By the time your baby weighs a pound, you will likely have put on 15. The placenta, amniotic fluid, uterus, maternal breast tissue, maternal blood, fluid in maternal tissue, maternal fat and nutrient stores all make up the total weight gain during pregnancy.

Bodily functions

"Gas, bloating, constipation -- it's all par for the course during pregnancy," says Heckscher. "The only other thing every pregnant woman worries about -- that nobody warns you about beforehand -- is 'Will I poop during labour?' Unfortunately, the answer is 'You probably will'. But don't worry, it's normal!"


Yoga should be avoided, especially Bikram and poses lying on your back and abdomen. Likewise sit-ups should be avoided. Chlorinated swimming pools can't harm your unborn baby. You should stop horse-riding by your second trimester.

You can dance and jog but the extra weight will make it uncomfortable to do so.

If you are gardening keep clear of chemical pesticides (can cause defects) and exposure to animal faeces. Wear rubber gloves, don't do any heavy lifting and wash hands carefully.


Vanity may be the last thing on your mind but waxing, Botox, tanning and highlights all cause concern amongst pregnant women.

"Studies have shown that most things we put on our skin or hair aren't likely to hurt our unborn babies," says Heckscher.

"There are a few exceptions -- prescription acne creams or products with retinol or retin-a have been shown to cause birth defects. Botox probably isn't a good idea either, though no actual studies have confirmed this."

Temperatures affect babies' development so avoid saunas and steam rooms. Massage is not harmful but most therapists won't do it in the first trimester in case they are held responsible for miscarriage.

Salicylic acid (found in some exfoliants) should be avoided and self-tanners haven't been proved safe for use during pregnancy. Avoid sunbeds and sunbathing as UV rays can block absorption of folic acid.

Waxing is fine but may be more painful. Highlights, when applied correctly, do not touch the scalp, so there's less likelihood that your body will absorb chemicals. Natural hair dyes and henna are safe.

Scented candles can't damage your baby but use beeswax or soy candles, make sure the wick is lead-free and don't burn for more than an hour.

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