Pregnancy health: What’s best for baby and mum?

21.07.2020
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Australia is a relatively safe place to have a baby, whether you choose the public or the private health system. However, there are plenty of things you can do as a mum-to-be to contribute to better maternal health in pregnancy, fewer late pregnancy interventions, and positive child health outcomes.

Here, we’ll talk about some of the top things you need you need to consider when pregnant or planning for a baby.

Antenatal care (this is care during pregnancy). Regularly attending antenatal appointments increases the likelihood of receiving effective health interventions. The Department of Health recommends that you have your first antenatal visit within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

First-time mums with no complications during pregnancy, can expect to attend around 10 visits in total, while mums of subsequent babies can expect around seven.

You may first realise you’re pregnant by taking a home test. What next? The first thing you should do is book in to see your GP. The earlier, the better, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions. Your doctor can confirm your pregnancy with a blood test, which can also give you can idea of how many weeks pregnant you might be. Who you see next depends on whether you use the private or the public system. Your GP can explain a little more about your options:

  • Obstetrician – if you’d like to see an obstetrician, you’ll need a GP referral.
  • Private midwife – you won’t need a referral to see a private midwife.
  • Continue to see your GP – you can choose ‘shared care’ where you continue to see your GP and sometimes attend the public hospital for appointments.
  • Public hospital – you can have all your appointments at the public hospital, seeing various care providers each visit. Some public hospitals do offer a midwife ‘continuity of care’ program, where you will have the same midwife each visit.

Smoking and alcohol. Around one in 10 pregnant mums continues to smoke. We know that this can increase the risk of low birthweight, premature births, perinatal death and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A quarter of pregnant women continued to drink alcohol. Alcohol crosses the placenta to your baby and can cause low birthweight, miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and birth defects. There is no known safe quantity of alcohol you can drink or safe number of cigarettes you can smoke during pregnancy, so it’s safest to stick with zero.

Immunisations. Being immunised against common diseases can protect your baby by helping you avoid illness. During your pregnancy, your doctor will likely offer you vaccines for:

  • Influenza (the flu)
  • Whooping cough
  • Some women also choose to be vaccinated against rubella and chickenpox.

Nutrition
Pregnant mums need more of certain nutrients than before, including iron, iodine and folate. However, Australian studies indicate that the intake of these by pregnant women does not meet national recommended levels. You may need to take supplements to help get these important nutrients into your diet, and your health professional can advise you on how best to do this. Pregnancy can also require some diet changes to ensure you are getting enough variety and enough of the right things. There are also some things you shouldn’t eat while you are pregnant, as they might be dangerous for your developing baby. These include soft cheese, sandwich meats, pate, shellfish, pre-made salads and limiting your serves of fish which are high in mercury.

Exercise
One really common question pregnant mums have is, “How much should I exercise during pregnancy?”. It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, as it depends on how active you were before you were pregnant and whether you have any pregnancy complications. The general rule is that regular light to medium cardio and strength exercise is good for pregnant women for the following reasons:

  • It can have physical benefits and can prevent excessive weight gain
  • It can have mental health benefits
  • It can also help you in the birthing process
  • There is growing evidence that regular exercise can help prevent and manage conditions like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

While it’s said to aim to be active on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes at a time, run your prospective plans past your healthcare professional to get the go-ahead. Of course, some things are off the table, including:

  • Contact sports or sports where you might get hit e.g. boxing, rugby, soccer, tennis
  • Exercise at high altitudes
  • Sports with a risk of falls e.g. cycling, horseriding and snowboarding
  • Scuba diving
  • Exercise which makes you too hot

Infertility and considering IVF
If you need some extra help falling pregnant, IVF might be a journey you decide to take. You might feel conflicting emotions about this, but you are not alone on this particular path to parenthood. Almost 75,000 assisted reproduction treatment cycles took place in Australia in 2017, according to the Australian & New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database (ANZARD). Research by the Australian Fertility Society in 2019, showed that one in 25 Australian babies are born via IVF.

Sadly there are no guarantees with IVF or assisted reproductive treatments, but the Australian Fertility Society has published a wealth of information on lifestyle changes couples can make to help give themselves the best chance of success.

One important thing to consider when researching your options in the cost involved. IVF can cost up to several thousand dollars, even with private health cover and the Medicare rebate. CBHS does pay benefits towards inpatient IVF treatment in a contracted private hospital if your current Hospital cover includes assisted reproductive services. No benefits are available for drugs used for IVF treatment from Extras cover under the pharmaceutical entitlement.

Read our blog article on Understanding IVF, to find out more about the IVF process.

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.

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