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Why it's hot to be a mum

HEIDI MURKOFF is a name many mums-to be are familiar with, with more than 20 million copies of her pregnancy guide What To Expect When You’re Expecting having sold worldwide.

So when the American mother of-two says a lot of things about being pregnant having changed in recent times, you know she knows what she is talking about.

"Well, some things about pregnancy never change -- it's still nine months, and the 10th is always the longest!" says Heidi, whose bestseller, first published in 1984, has been listed as one of the most influential books of the past 25 years.

Nearly three decades years after her pregnancy guide was first published, women are taking a very different approach to pregnancy, she believes. And these changes will be seen when Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz take the leads in the movie version of her guide to motherhood which is due out next year.

Heidi says: "Mums are getting older, and I'm sure you see this in Ireland as well. More women are choosing to put off their baby-making years until they're well into their 30s, with pregnancy rates for the over-40s set soaring.

"While these very unfairly named 'geriatric pregnancies' -- defined, believe it or not, as a pregnancy in any woman over the age of 35, and definitely not my idea! -- come with some slightly increased risks, they're safer than ever, thanks to advances in care and in prenatal screenings and diagnosis," she says.

"Plus, older mums -- being wiser, of course -- tend to take their prenatal care and pregnancy self-care more seriously, which boosts those baby benefits significantly," Heidi says.

Another change in the past two decades is that multiple births are multiplying. The number of parents seeing double in the labour ward is up 50pc, while the number seeing triple or more is up a whopping 4005pc.

Heidi says: "Much of this baby-baby boom can be attributed to the ageing of the mum population, not only because older mums are more likely to require the kinds of fertility treatments that most often net multiples, but because older mums are more likely to conceive twins, even if they conceive naturally.

"And a more surprising explanation is the rise of obesity, since overweight mums are more likely to conceive twins," she says.

A big change is that labour no longer has to be a pain, and no longer has to be dreaded by pregnant women.

The parenting guru says: "Back in the first edition days of What To Expect (and when I was expecting my own babies), childbirth was considered a test -- a test you passed if you bypassed the pain medication, or failed if you asked for pain relief or ended up having a C-section. It was an unsurprising swing of the childbirth pendulum after so many years of unconscious deliveries, but like so many pendulums, it swung a tad too far.

"Many mums now opt automatically for epidurals, and rates of C-sections are rising. Another sharp swing back to an all-natural childbirth approach seems to be on the horizon," she says.

Being pregnant and having a large bump and breasts is now hot compared to years ago when pregnancy had to be hidden, says the American childcare expert. Heidi says: "When I was pregnant in the mid-'80s, bellies were neither seen nor heard much about, and we felt obliged to hide our beautiful bumps under tent-like polyester dresses.

"These days, mums get to show off their bellies, not only on red carpets and magazine covers, but on Facebook pages and pregnancy message boards -- like the ones we have at WhatToExpect.com -- and in clingy clothes that hug those curves and celebrate the roundness that we once had to cover up.

"Mums-to-be are pregnant and proud, and that's definitely a change for the better."

Mums are also more knowledgeable and confident about pregnancy these days. Heidi says: "It's so much easier to access information. Consequently, mums -to-be are less fearful as knowledge is power, and it's particularly empowering when you're pregnant.

So what are the most common worries she hears from expectant mums today?

She says: "What always strikes me is how universal they are, no matter where in the world I go. Really, it all boils down to just one question, with a thousand variations on the theme: 'Is this normal?' It could be a 20-time-a-day run to the toilet, a cramp, a twinge, a shooting pelvic pain, a headache, a funny taste in a mouth, or the fact that a sex drive is suddenly in hibernation or that it's suddenly in overdrive."

Has the medical profession's approach to pregnancy and birth changed in the past 25 years, and does she feel these changes benefit mothers? "When What to Expect first came on the scene, care was much more paternalistic," Heidi says. "Doctor knew best and mum was just along for the ride.

"Today, maternity care is far more consumer-focused. The relationship between practitioner and pregnant patient is more of a partnership, in which both partners contribute what they know best."

Does she think mums expect way too much of themselves these days?

Heidi says: "Mums have always expected a lot from themselves, but is there more pressure on mums than ever before? Absolutely there is. As wonderful as today's widespread media celebration of pregnancy and parenting is -- and mum-to-mum social networking -- it comes with a potential downside: you're also comparing yourself to a whole lot of expectant mums and parents. And this includes celebrities.

"A better strategy for regular mums is to get tips and inspiration from other mums, and to try to avoid comparisons. Remember, every mum -- and every baby -- is different," Heidi says.