Dear Pre-Pregnant Self

As I approach this milestone of 9 months post-pregnancy, I’m reflecting back and my pregnancy with Evelyn already seems like a lifetime ago. Now, the pregnancy feels like it flew by in the blink of an eye. However during it, it felt like a long, nerve wracking waiting game. By 38 weeks I was pretty fed up, uncomfortable and big! My ‘glow’, if I even had one, had definitely gone by then. I can’t imagine what another another month would have been like, so I really sympathise with the women who go over term.

First time pregnancy is tough. You don’t know what is going on with your body and what to expect. Despite being a doctor and having previously done a job rotation in obstetrics, I still felt as though I knew very little about the reality of being pregnant. I knew about the common minor pregnancy issues that you can face and the general advice about what to do and what not to do, but there was so much that I didn’t know. I think that you can sympathise with a pregnant woman but until you walk in her shoes (with your puffy pregnant feet) you don’t truly understand. For me, the uncertainty and waiting game of pregnancy was hard. You have the huge sole responsibility to grow and keep your precious and vulnerable little one safe whilst not knowing if they are ok in there. I found information and advice online and a few extra scans helped relieve some of the nerves. When I developed obstetric cholestasis, although it was really tough knowing that my baby was at increased risk, it was through the reassurance of bloods, monitoring and frequent reviews that helped manage my anxiety.

Life is now very different with an almost 9 month old baby around, so I’m sure that my next potential pregnancy will be a very different experience to the last. No more napping when I like that’s for sure. However just to clarify, a second pregnancy is not on the cards for quite some time! But if I could go back to the pre-pregnant me, there’s probably a lot that I would tell myself…

1. Food – The NHS website is great and has all the information that you really need (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/). So chill out, you don’t have to google every single food out there. Long story short, most of the good food is out. Plus being pregnant over Christmas is tough, but there’s some really good non alcoholic red wine and beers out there! The hardest change – coffee limits and no more rare steaks! It always pained me to have to order a well done steak! Fortunately, the rules have changed about eating runny eggs, so as long as they are the red lion eggs you don’t have to eat them dry and over cooked. Luckily I didn’t have any strange cravings during the pregnancy, but I did eat a lot of orange juice and salt and vinegar crisps. Mainly I was just hungry all the time, especially in the first trimester when a second breakfast was a common occurrence.

2. Stock up on the supplements – With pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding you could be taking supplements for 1-2 years plus! So stock up when the supplements are on deal as the cost mounts up. Also look for the ones which have folic acid, vitamin D and ideally iron in them. Supplements are definitely worth it, they are a simple way of supporting your body to grow a healthy baby and then provide them with some nutritious milk afterwards. It’s amazing how much your calcium requirement goes up with breastfeeding – almost twice the normal amount, so the supplements save you from having to drink gallons of milk! Also I know it’s no substitute, but in the whirlwind that is the early days post birth, your diet may not be quite up to scratch, so you’ll be thankful that your body is at least getting some goodness.

3. Try and do more exercise – It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) as intense as before, especially not as intense as those pre-wedding killer sessions! But even if it’s just a little something done consistently it will help, as by the end of the pregnancy, you’ll embarrassingly get a thigh burn from just a brisk walk up the stairs! Although the tiredness makes it harder to motivate yourself to exercise, you’ll be glad of it as it’ll help prepare you for labour. Labour is tough, you need stamina for it, it’s like a marathon (well what I imagine a a marathon to be like as I’ve never done or plan on doing one) so at least put in some training! Pregnancy yoga is a great way of doing some gentle safe exercise and also a great way of meeting some other mums-to-be.

4. Tiredness – You’ll feel like a bit of a zombie in the first trimester. The limit to your caffeine intake will be a double whammy too! You’ll be daydreaming as to when you’ll be able to sleep again. Nap when you can and don’t feel guilty for it, they are the best. Buy the pregnancy pillow early. That massive one which will replace your big spoon as it’s like having another person in bed with you, ‘aka the second husband’. Any help that you can get to improve your sleep, do it. Also the sheer overwhelming fatigue caused by growing another human being doesn’t get much better. Those people that told you that does, they lied!

5. Relax – Take the holiday, the weekend away, or the date night. Don’t feel bad, you deserve a break, pregnancy is hard work. Enjoy this time with your partner as that one-on-one time where you can actually give each other your undivided attention will be few and far between after the baby arrives.

6. Infections – Your immune system is lower during pregnancy (another reason to take supplements) a surprising important infection to be aware off, particularly if working in healthcare, is parvovirus. It’s usually only a mild illness for the pregnant woman but it can cause devastating complications for the unborn baby. Look out for and be cautious of the ‘slapped cheek’ viral illness in children. When you have your booking bloods they usually keep an extra blood sample spare in the lab for checking your antibodies at a later date if needed. They can check to see if you’ve had this viruses (and a few other viruses) before and if you are immune it, which is a great source of reassurance. Also remember to have the flu jab and whooping cough vaccine.

7. Other people – So pregnancy will take over every conversation that you have with everyone. Be it friends, family, work colleagues, strangers, it takes over your life. They usually bring it up. So have your responses ready, particularly to the “have you decided on a name” question. And be prepared for the scare mongering that will go on too. Those little chestnuts, “enjoy it while it lasts”, “your life will never be the same” and “you’ll never sleep again!”. Your response – “yes thanks I know, but it’s too late now!’. Another ‘acceptable’ thing that people seem to do when you’re pregnant is uninvitedly touching your bump and referring to you as having gotten “huge” or when you “used to be slim” – yes it may be true but they don’t have to point it out! Try not to be offended.

8. Nesting – For some people nesting may be cleaning the house top to toe or organising every cupboard in the house. But for me it was finishing the nursery. Even though Evelyn wasn’t going to sleep in there for several months, I wanted to get it sorted before she arrived. Focusing on the nursery and getting it organised before hand will be worth it as you’re not going to feel up to it or have the time when baby arrives. Also all this will help you feel as though you are proactively doing something and I know that my husband was grateful that he could do something to help. We didn’t have everything sorted really early though, in fact we were only putting Evelyn’s cot together a week before she arrived! But I had just enough time to perfectly fold and neatly size organise all her clothes, bibs, socks etc. It may have been a little obsessive but I found that it was a good way to channel those nerves!

9. Buy the clothes – Just give in and buy them. Invest early if you’re uncomfortable, even if that means buying things before the 12 week scan. I bought maternity leggings/jeans/trousers/pyjamas/bras early and I am so glad that I did. Also it’s worth getting some sleep bras early on, a surprising but essential buy for extra support and comfort, anything for a better nights sleep! At the end of the day your comfort is worth the extra spend and ultimately you’re only going to get more uncomfortable and bigger! Also you deserve a treat, being pregnant is tough. If having some new clothes helps you feel better and still like your old self instead of a bit of a frump then just do it. Plus you’ll probably keep wearing them for a while after baby’s here. Later on it’s worth buying some nursing tops or ‘easy access tops’ such as stretchy vest tops in preparation.

10. Have the extra scan – Yes it’s expensive, yes it may be unnecessary but if you want it, book it. If it’ll provide you with the reassurance you need, then it’s worth it. Your partner may object, but rest assure my husband was glad that we did. The scans helped him to relate more to the bump and bond with the baby. For me any excuse to see our special little baby on screen was worth it. I think I cried each time! Also definitely get the 4d scan, it really is amazing. Just probably don’t bother with the personalised heart beating teddy bear!

11. Don’t worry about being paranoid – Listen to your body, you know it best. Yes you don’t want to be that ‘overanxious mum’ but you’ll know when something’s not right. I’m so glad that I listened to my body when I developed the intense itching, I had literally scratched myself to the point of bleeding! For the sake of maybe looking a bit neurotic, get checked. Be it those headaches, puffiness, blurred vision, persistent nausea, whatever, you’ll be thankful that you listened to your gut.

There’s probably still so much more that I could tell myself, but I don’t want to scare my pre-pregnant self too much! There will be lots of questions that you will have so remember that the NHS website is a reliable place for answering them (https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy). But in general, just slow down a bit more, appreciate each little magical kick and savour the incredible journey. So I guess all that’s left to say is good luck, you’ve got this momma!

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