When is the best time to conceive?
However straightforward it may sound, it can take a few months to conceive. In general a healthy fertile couple has a pretty good chance of getting pregnant in a year e.g. most couples (about 84 out of every 100) will get pregnant within a year if they have regular sex and don’t use contraception. About 92 out of 100 couples trying to get pregnant will do so within two years. Women become less fertile as they get older. For women aged 35, about 94 out of every 100 who have regular unprotected sex will get pregnant after three years of trying. However, for women aged 38, only 77 out of every 100 will do so. The effect of age on men’s fertility is less clear. The remainder will take longer and some of these couples may need help to get pregnant.
As well as age, certain lifestyle habits can reduce your chances of conceiving. For example, a woman's chance of conceiving in the first month after stopping contraception use is reduced by about a third if the woman smokes. Drinking too much alcohol, an unhealthy diet and being underweight or overweight can also lower your likelihood of conceiving. For these reasons many couples choose to adopt a healthier lifestyle in the months before they plan to conceive.
It's important to remember that if you are planning to get pregnant you should take folic acid supplements as this reduces the incidence of spina bifida in babies. The most crucial time for taking folic acid is before conception (and the first 3 months of pregnancy). You should certainly take as soon as you stop using contraception until you're 12 weeks pregnant. Folic acid protects an unborn baby against the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube birth defects. You'll need a daily supplement of 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. If you're taking a multivitamin supplement that already contains 400mcg of folic acid, you won't need a separate folic acid supplement. Check the packet or ask your pharmacist if you are unsure. You should take a higher daily dose (5mg) of folic acid if you have had a child with a neural tube defect, you are taking anti - epileptic drugs, have diabetes or suffer from a few other conditions - please check with your doctor first as you may need a prescription for a 5mg dose. You may also want to take a 10mcg daily supplement of vitamin D. Some women have low levels of this due to their skin colour or where they live in the UK. If you're taking an antenatal multivitamin, vitamin D may be included, so check the label.
There has been some debate in the news about caffeine causing fertility problems (although, there is no clear evidence). However, some studies have suggested a link between high doses of caffeine and problems with conceiving. Bear in mind that the government advises pregnant women to limit their intake of caffeine. If you have a caffeine habit, it could be worth weaning yourself off it now. The caffeine content of espressos, and coffees based on espressos, such as cappuccinos and lattes, can depend on the outlet. One study found that caffeine levels can range from 50mg per espresso at one chain to as much as 300mg per espresso in another. Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine. Always check the label, and ask your pharmacist if you're not sure.
A woman's most fertile phase begins just before the egg is about to be released from the ovary and lasts for about 48 hours after ovulation. As sperm can live for about 5 days, a woman is most likely to conceive if intercourse takes place in the 5 days before ovulation and the 2 days after she has ovulated. In the classic 28-day menstrual cycle therefore, a woman should aim to have intercourse from day 9 to day 16 to maximize her chances of conception. The fertile phase of a woman with a 35-day cycle will begin 16 days after the first day of her last period (that is, 5 days before ovulation at day 21).
The process of conception includes the fertilization of an egg by sperm and the implantation of the fertilized egg into the wall of the uterus (womb). Fertilization usually takes place as the egg travels down the fallopian tube - the tube that links the ovaries (where your eggs are produced) to the uterus. To work out the most fertile time you need to know how long your average cycle is. A menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. The classic menstrual cycle is 28 days long, although only about 12% of women have this length of cycle. A cycle begins from the first day of bleeding and can vary in length from about 16 days to over 50 days. Ovulation (release of the egg) is thought to occur at around day 14 in the 28-day cycle. In longer and shorter cycles it is thought that ovulation occurs 14 days before the next period is due. Hence, in a 35-day cycle ovulation will occur at around day 21, while in a 24-day cycle it will occur at around day 10.
Tips for conception for both partners
• It is a myth to think you should have less sex in order to conceive. In fact, having regular sex at least 3 to 4 times per week has been found to maximise the probability that you'll conceive. While some couples believe they have to "save" the man's sperm until the exact moment of ovulation, that's just simply not true.
• Simply taking it easy and enjoy your love life may be the best way to boost your chances.
• Stop smoking as this reduces your fertility.
• Try to cut down on alcohol and caffeine.
• Men should wear loose boxer shorts rather than tight-fitting underpants, optimum sperm production occurs at a temperature slightly lower than body temperature.
• Attempt to shed a few pounds if you are overweight.
• Take regular exercise and eat healthily.
Some women know they are ovulating because they feel a slight pain in their back or abdomen. This is known as Mittelschmerz and usually lasts no more than a few hours. At around this time there is also a slight increase in body temperature and there is thickening of vaginal mucus which can often be seen as a thick, clear, elastic discharge (like egg white). These signs are actually used by people practising natural contraception to warn them when they should avoid intercourse.
Ovulation kits are now available to help women pinpoint exactly when they are most fertile. The tests are simple to perform and quite accurate, provided you follow the instructions.
If, after stopping contraception you have not conceived after about a year of regular sex, you should arrange to see your GP who may give you some simple advice or send you for tests. If you're 35 years or more, then seek help sooner.
For help conceiving why not use gurgle.com's Ovulation calculator to help you find out exactly when you are most fertile each month . That way you can increase your chances of falling pregnant.
Remember that even if you are having some trouble conceiving, the most important thing is to seek help and reassurance from your GP.
What should I take with me to hospital? What should I pack in my hospital bag?
Don't wait until the first contraction before wondering what to take with you to hospital. By week 36 you really should have a bag packed and waiting by the front door. Actually, you'll need two bags - one for labour, and one for your hospital stay. Here's what you'll need - and what you definitely won't need - to put in them.Labour bag
Whatever you do, don't forget your hospital notes. It might be best to carry them with you in your handbag from 36 weeks. You never know! In fact, strictly speaking, if you arrive in hospital with nothing but your notes, you will be fine. But there are a few things you can take along that will make your birthing experience better.
- magazines (early labour can be slow)
- TENS machine for early pain relief
- big old T-shirt or nightshirt for giving birth
- socks (in case your feet get cold)
- food and drink for your partner
- coins, phone card or mobile to announce your news
- camera with battery charged, memory empty (if digital) or a new film
After the birth you'll be wheeled up to the ward with your new baby. That's the point where you can make the swap from labour bag to hospital bag, which should hold everything you need for your stay in hospital.
- special soap and flannel - after the birth you'll either be invited to have a shower, or you'll be sponged down by a midwife. And it's great to smell nice
- wash bag with your normal favourite toiletries
- pyjamas with baggy bottoms and front-opening top for easy breastfeeding (bring a spare in case of leakage accidents)
- lightweight dressing gown (hospitals are hot) and slippers
- a bath towel
- feeding bras, breast pads and Lansinoh nipple cream
- paper knickers (bleeding after birth makes disposables best)
- maternity sanitary towels (longer, softer and more comfortable than normal pads and midwives recommend - as they can monitor the blood loss more accurately with maternity pads than with normal ultra absorbent pads).
And don't bother with...
- sanitary towels (the largest you can find or special maternity pads)
- eye mask and ear plugs so you can get some sleep
- phone card (you're unlikely to be able to use your mobile in hospital)
- address book
- newborn nappies and wipes for sensitive skin
- vests (2-3), sleepsuits (2-3) and warm going-home outfit for baby
- something for you to wear to come home in (it'll need to be front fastening as you may need to breastfeed and won't want to lift a maternity dress over your head! Also, don't take your skinny jeans - they won't fit yet!)
- pillows and pillow cases (you think hospitals don't have them?)
- water spray (very irritating when you're in labour)
- little bits of natural sponge to suck (what's wrong with sipping from a cup?)
- aromatherapy oil burner (naked flames don't go down well in hospitals)
- stopwatch to time contractions (normal watch does fine)
- beanbag or mats (or perhaps a three-piece suite?)
- flask of ice cubes (will still be frozen solid after 12 hours in labour)
- birth announcement cards (a job for later - or your partner)
What are the early symptoms of pregnancy? Am I pregnant?
The first indication most women have that they might be pregnant is missing a period. However there are many signs of pregnancy. Not all women experience all of these signs. But if you have been trying for a baby and you experience any of these symptoms, buy a home pregnancy test to see if your suspicions are correct. Then it's a good idea to go and see your doctor or midwife to have the pregnancy confirmed.
Monthly periods stop
The first hint that most women have that they might be pregnant is that they miss their monthly period. However, many women do not have regular menstrual cycles, and even those women whose cycles are generally regular can have late or missed periods, without being pregnant. Stress, tiredness and stopping the oral contraceptive pill can disrupt the menstrual cycle. Trying for a baby can be very stressful indeed - and also tiring - so even if your period is a couple of weeks overdue it isn't a guarantee of pregnancy.
After a missed period, morning sickness is the next most obvious sign most women have that they are pregnant. Not all women experience morning sickness during pregnancy, but between half and two-thirds do. Those that do experience it usually begin feeling nauseous within 2 weeks to 2 months of conception. Luckily, morning sickness rarely lasts the entire length of the pregnancy, and usually goes away once the pregnancy reaches three or four months.
Although called morning sickness, symptoms of nausea related to pregnancy can occur at any time of the day. While some women just feel sick, others actually vomit.
There are many theories about what actually causes morning sickness. Some doctors think that morning sickness is prompted by the changes that occur in the body during pregnancy, which affect hormone levels, blood pressure and the digestive system. But whatever the cause of morning sickness, be assured that while it may make you feel quite rough, it will not harm your developing baby.
Tender or swollen breasts
When you are pregnant, your breasts will become larger and may feel tender. You may also notice darkening of the nipples. These changes are your body preparing for breastfeeding once the baby is born. You may notice these changes in your breasts as early as the first month of pregnancy.
During the first few months of pregnancy you may feel tired and extremely sleepy. You feel tired because the baby is growing rapidly inside you and your body has to adjust to this.
As the baby grows, so will you. Obviously you will notice that your belly swells as the baby develops in the womb, but weight gain is not just limited here. You are storing fat to prepare for after the birth when you will be breastfeeding.
An aching back is common during pregnancy and can begin at any time. The pain is a response to the redistribution of weight in your body. The weight of the developing baby in the womb puts stress on your back.
Many women have cravings for odd foods when they are pregnant. You may find yourself craving something that you do not normally like, such as pickles. Alternatively you may find yourself wanting to eat odd combinations of food, for example, banana and bacon sandwiches. If you become pregnant again, you are likely to find that your food cravings are different each time. Some women also find that they have a slightly metallic taste in their mouth during early pregnancy.
Within 2 to 3 months of becoming pregnant you will probably find that you need to go to the toilet far more often than usual. This is because your growing baby is squashing your bladder, and because the size of the bladder does not increase during pregnancy, you may sometimes find that you need to urinate urgently. It is therefore a good idea to plan ahead when travelling or going on outings to make sure you know where the toilets are if you need them.
Blocked nose and sinuses
Some women find that they have a 'stuffy' nose during early pregnancy, sometimes even before they have missed a period. This is because the hormone changes in your body brought about by pregnancy affect mucus production in your nose and sinuses.
Although not all women experience all these signs, they are a good indicator that changes are taking place in your body. So think about getting a test and hope for good news!
What are my maternity rights?
If you become pregnant while in employment, you are entitled to take maternity leave. The entitlement to a basic period of maternity leave from employment extends to all female employees (including casual workers), regardless of how long you have been working for the organisation or the number of hours worked per week. You can also avail of additional unpaid maternity leave. The Maternity Protection Act 1994 and the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 provide your statutory minimum entitlements in relation to maternity at work including maternity leave.
Since 1 March 2007, you are entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave together with 16 weeks additional unpaid maternity leave.
Under the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 at least 2 weeks have to be taken before the end of the week of your baby's expected birth and at least 4 weeks after. You can decide how you would like to take the remaining weeks. Generally, employees take 2 weeks before the birth and the remaining weeks after. If you qualify for Maternity Benefit (see below) at least 2 and no more than 16 weeks must be taken before the end of the week the baby is due.
Why do I need a special bra?
From around six weeks into your pregnancy you may start to notice a change in your breast size. At first you may think this is merely pre-menstrual breast tenderness, but when the test confirms you are pregnant the sensitivity and swelling won't diminish, and your breasts will continue to grow right up to - and after - the baby is born.
Breast changes are usually more noticeable during your first pregnancy. Symptoms include: an increase in breast sensitivity, darkening of the areola area around the nipple and veins around the breasts become more prominent. All of these symptoms are your hormones getting your breasts ready for feeding your baby in a few months' time.
Although you'll be able to continue wearing your old bras for a while, it won't be long before they become uncomfortable. That's when it's a good idea to get fitted for a couple of new bras - ideally non-wired - and to continue to return to be re-fitted every six weeks. Then, if you're planning to breastfeed, 36 to 38 weeks is the ideal time to get fitted for a feeding bra.
Some of these changes can be wonderful especially if you enjoy having a slightly more voluptuous figure!
What makes a good pregnancy bra?
In pregnancy, bras should have no wires that might dig into delicate developing tissue. Backs, straps and sides should be wide to give as much support as possible. This is to protect the delicate ligaments that hold up your bust. Unsupported breasts can lead to stretched ligaments and permanently sagging breasts after birth.
But all these clever structural bra features don't mean you have to compromise femininity. Bra manufacturers have come a long way since the industrial-sized monstrosities our mothers had to wear. You can still buy pretty, flirty matching sets with lace trims, or sexy black numbers to keep the passion alive.
The ideal fit
During pregnancy, big means beautiful and, as Mothercare's Moda range is designed with the help of midwives and pregnant women, we've got both function and style covered.
Why get professionally fitted?
Your rapidly changing body shape makes it very difficult for you to guess the right bra size. An expert fitter will be able to take into account your wider rib cage (which expands as the baby pushes up towards your diaphragm), and fit you with a bra that will allow for the following weeks' further growth.
At around 36 - 38 weeks when you get fitted for a feeding bra (which has simple clips so you can drop one cup and feed your baby whenever and wherever you are) the fitter will take into account your bust size now, and use her experience to estimate how large your breasts will be when your milk kicks in a few days after the birth. Don't be surprised if the feeding bra she recommends seems enormous. In the first few weeks, until your milk supply settles down, breastfeeding breasts can exceed all your size expectations!
Pregnancy briefs and tights
There is of course, nothing to stop you wearing your usual briefs or knickers throughout your pregnancy, but be aware that they will tend to slip below your bump as it grows through later pregnancy. Special pregnancy briefs (which are often designed to match pregnancy bras) are designed to sit under your bump for a smoother line. You can also get maternity thongs to banish any hint of VPL, or full comfort over-the-bump knickers to cradle and support your growing tummy.
In winter months conventional tights can be a nightmare, either digging in as your tummy grows, or sliding down under the bump in later months, leaving you with wrinkled knees and a baggy crotch area. Maternity tights have a super-large tummy section so you can pull them right up under your bust with no risk of them falling down.
Why do I need a sleep bra?
A light-weight sleep bra looks more like a teenager's cropped top, or lightweight sports bra. It can be extremely useful, offering support at night if your breasts start to feel uncomfortable or when doing light exercises like yoga. They're also very useful for holding breast pads in place during late pregnancy (if you find colostrum beginning to leak out of your nipples) and when you are actually breastfeeding.
Whether it's a support bra for pregnancy or a sleep bra for night-time comfort or a nursing bra for feeding - the right it is crucial to helping you feel your best and retaining your pre-pregnancy shape after your baby is born. Your breasts may increase in size by 2lbs so they need extra support at this time. Mothercare has an extensive range of maternity lingerie to cater for all tastes and budgets. It is always best to try before you buy and to be measured - even if you have a busy schedule try to make the time. Remember a well-fitting bra also protects you from backache and helps improve your posture.
Can I take medicine during my pregnancy?
You have a headache and you don't know what to do. Can you take some painkillers, or will they harm your baby? It is widely known that many drugs can have potentially harmful effects on an unborn baby. Therefore it is very important to check with a pharmacist or your GP before taking any medication when you are pregnant or trying for a baby.
Some women inadvertently take an over-the-counter medication before they know that they are pregnant. Often the manufacturer will state on the packaging that the drug should not be taken during pregnancy, but this is often just to be on the safe side for legal reasons. Your GP will be able to advise you if there is any risk to the developing baby. Paracetemol is thought to be safe for short term use for pain and fever during pregnancy. Hoever, do avoid anti-inflammatorys such as Ibruprofen. If you are in any doubts check with your pharmacist or midwife first. Occasionally a woman may get pregnant while taking the oral contraceptive pill, but most brands are thought not to be harmful to a foetus.
Any women taking medication for long-term conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, should consult their doctor as soon as possible, ideally before they conceive. In these situations any minor risks to the growing baby must be balanced against the likelihood of the illness getting worse if the medication is stopped. In many cases the medication will be continued, so it is essential that you do not stop any regular medication before seeking medical advice. In some women with conditions such as epilepsy and high blood pressure, it is known that some drugs are safer than others during pregnancy and so the medication may be changed. Women with ongoing health problems will be monitored closely during their pregnancy.
Before falling pregnant it is now recommended that you start taking folic acid, a vitamin supplement. It is known that taking a supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid daily for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy reduces the risk of the baby developing a condition known as spina bifida. Iron supplements are not routinely recommended unless you are found to be anaemic after a blood test; this is because they often cause constipation as a side effect. It is best to eat a healthy mixed diet including green vegetables and some red meat to build up your iron stores.
The first 3 months
The first three months of pregnancy (first trimester) is the time when the baby's organs are being formed. The 3rd to the 11th week is therefore the stage when harmful drugs are most likely to cause birth defects. In the early 1960s, Thalidomide was prescribed to some pregnant women to combat morning sickness and caused limb malformations in affected babies. Since this tragedy, medication is rarely prescribed for morning sickness unless vomiting is excessive and there is a risk of dehydration occurring. If medication is needed for any problem during pregnancy, your GP will tend to choose an established drug that has been used safely for many years. New drugs are not necessarily unsafe, but there may be little information available about their use in pregnancy.
In the second and third trimester (3-9 months) drugs may affect the growth of the baby or cause damage to the baby's tissues. Drugs taken towards the end of pregnancy or during labour can sometimes affect the newborn baby - it is wise to check with your GP at this stage in your pregnancy before you take any medicines, such as strong painkillers.
Treating minor illnesses
Pregnant women often suffer from minor ailments such as constipation and indigestion. To prevent constipation, a high-fibre diet is helpful, with lots of wholemeal bread, a bran-containing cereal and an increased fluid intake. If this does not solve the problem then lactulose, a mild laxative, is often prescribed. It is important that you do not strain as this can cause haemorrhoids (piles), which is another common problem during pregnancy. For indigestion and heartburn it is helpful to prop yourself up with extra pillows at bedtime or elevate the head of the bed using a pillow under the mattress. Mild antacid remedies, such as a magnesium trisilicate mixture, are safe to use.
For coughs and colds, try inhaling menthol and eucalyptus and drinking extra fluids and honey and lemon drinks. Paracetamol is safe for a temperature or headache. Most cough mixtures are known to actually have little beneficial effect, so aren't necessary.
If antibiotics are needed to treat a bacterial infection during pregnancy, such as cystitis, several antibiotics are known to be safe, including penicillin-based drugs. For thrush, your GP will prescribe a vaginal anti-fungal pessary, but oral medication should be avoided.
The best advice is to avoid all medications wherever possible during pregnancy. It is important to remember that this also applies to herbal remedies or supplements from health food shops. In this situation 'natural' does not necessarily mean 'healthy'. These substances are not regulated and little is known about their safety during pregnancy.
Doctors only prescribe medication during pregnancy if the benefits to the mother clearly outweigh any possible risk to the baby. Remember to tell your GP before he or she issues a prescription, if there is any possibility that you may be pregnant.
What way should I toilet train my child?
There is a very broad age spectrum of when children are out of nappies and these days it really doesn't matter if your child is not 'dry' before 3 years. It is up to you and your child to decide when to start toilet-training. However, the actual transition from nappies to pants can be traumatic for a child and it is important you do not become impatient with your child.
Many nurseries and playgroups insist your child is dry during the day before he is offered a place, although some daycare nurseries are more flexible.
It is now known that babies are unable to control their bowel and bladder before 18 to 24 months, and often it can be much later.
"It is not neurologically possible for a child to make the connection between having a full bladder and going to the toilet until he is about 2 years," says Mary Slevin, professional adviser at the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association. "Children under 2 years lack the maturity in their nervous systems. Having said that, it is possible to induce a reflex action by sitting a child on a cold potty".
These days the common view is very much that we should take our lead from our child as to when to begin potty training.
Some signs that your child may be ready for potty training are that:
He takes increasing interest in your going to the toilet and indicates in some way that he understands what you are doing by pointing to his nappy.
He removes his nappy himself.
He has a dry nappy immediately after his daytime nap.
He appears to indicate wanting to sit on the potty and uses it appropriately.
When he reaches this stage, if the weather is warm you could try leaving him without a nappy for his daytime nap (but remember to use a waterproof sheet) or during a quiet afternoon when you are not out and about. If, as is most likely for the first few days or weeks, he has an 'accident', don't make a fuss, just take him to the potty and let him sit on it for a while so he can make a connection. It might be an idea to buy a few potties and have one in the bathroom, one downstairs and one in the garden. If your child can see these potties everywhere, and knows when they should be used, he may be more inclined to actually make use of them.
Most children are able to control their bowels before their bladders so if he has a bowel movement at a certain time of day or starts his routine of grunting and facial grimaces which tell you what is about to happen, try to pre-empt him by sitting him on the potty.
Above all, do not get cross, even if he has accidents when using the potty. It's not his fault. If he does manage to use the potty, reward him with hugs and smiles. He will soon get the message. If, when he first starts going nappy-less you have days of problems, then perhaps you have started too early. Take a break of a few weeks, then try again. It may seem like it is taking forever, but bear in mind that they all get there finally.
Control over the bladder is much more problematic and even four-year-olds who have been without nappies for years still have the odd mishap, especially if they are involved in something exciting that they don't want to leave. Always take a spare pair (or three!) of pants and trousers with when going out. Relapses in toddlers who have been dry for several months are also common, particularly if they have just had a traumatic experience, such as the birth of a baby brother or sister, or started at nursery. It is important not to revert to nappies, but continue with a bag-full of spare pants and a reward for the times he is dry; things will right themselves eventually.
The final hurdle in this long drawn-out process is being dry at night. It is not unusual for children to still be in night-time trainer pants by their fifth birthday. In fact some children seem perfectly happy to be dry all day but go to bed in a trainer nappy. Again, take your time and wait until he seems to be in a settled, happy patch. Suggest he tries going to bed without his trainer and see how he reacts. Many parents start off efforts at night-time dryness by taking their child to the loo last thing at night when they themselves go to bed. This is a useful stop-gap but shouldn't be practised too long or he will never learn to get out of bed to do it himself. Once he seems to have mastered the art of getting out of bed and going straight to the loo first thing in the morning, rather than wait for you to remind him, then you can drop the night-time wakings.
Try to be patient with your child, and not to make a fuss. He will eventually succeed in being dry; it is just a matter of time.
How long will I have to stay in hospital after the birth?
If you have had a normal delivery and you and the baby are well you may be able to go home after a few hours or the same day. If you have had a caesarean, any complications, or the baby needs monitoring you may need to stay a few days. Once you are home the community midwives will visit you regularly to check on your progress.
Is there anything I can do to prevent stretchmarks?
Stretchmarks tend to be congenital and no cream will ever prevent or get rid of them. However I do believe it's important to use a rich cream to nourish and hydrate the skin during pregnancy. Look for one that has mostly natural ingredients and is safe for use during pregnancy.
What should I eat during my pregnancy?
In the early days of pregnancy a lot of women feel they're not eating as well as they did before they conceived. It's vital to include enough protein (for example, lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts and tofu) in your diet, as this is important for your baby's growth and development. Eat healthy snacks such as oat biscuits, seeds, hummus, dried apricots, figs and live yogurt, and avoid sugary, refined and processed foods. You don't need to increase your daily calorie requirements until the second and third trimesters when you need to include an extra 200-300 calories per day. (If you are pregnant with twins this should be an additional 600 calories per day.) Try to choose organic food wherever possible, and cut out salt, caffeinated drinks and alcohol. If you're concerned about your diet get advice from your GP or midwife.
How can I cope with lack of sleep?
Before giving birth you may hear about 'dream' babies, who sleep like an angel and only wake up to feed before drifting off again. Of course some new babies do this, but the norm is something quite different. As a result after giving birth, you will have far less sleep than you are used to. It is quite likely that after the first few days you will be up all hours, pacing the room, rocking, jiggling, dancing in time to Mozart, crooning - anything to get your new baby to settle to sleep.
Do not panic. This sort of behaviour is perfectly normal and by the time your baby is 3 months old, he will probably be settled and sleeping mainly at night, although still waking for feeds. 'Adjusting to life outside the warm comforts of the womb he has known all his life inevitably takes time,' says Stephanie Snow, spokesperson for Serene, the organisation for new parents which runs the Cry-sis helpline, 'Most babies settle by the time they are 6 months old, or earlier.'
But first you have to survive those first turbulent weeks. The two main points to remember are:
Sleep when the baby sleeps - try not to rush around too much. Most babies sleep best during the morning, becoming more and more fractious towards evening, so try and schedule visits from doting relations and friends in the afternoon. Help your baby to learn the difference between night and day. Babies are not born with a proper internal clock. When he wakes for feeds in the day, take time to play with him, show him brightly coloured toys, and talk gently to him. When he wakes at night, try to be silent. Unless he has a dirty nappy, there is no need to change him - keep all actions to an absolute minimum and keep the room dark.
The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot in your room for the first 6 months. Do not share a bed with your baby if you are a smoker, have been drinking alcohol or are taking drugs of any kind, studies have suggested that it is best not to have your baby sleeping in your bed. Although, it is fine to bring your baby into bed for a cuddle or a feed.
If your baby is particularly restless and fitful, especially during the early evening and early part of the night, then he may have colic. Babies with colic may suddenly drawing up their legs, wriggling as if in extreme discomfort, and cry - sometimes for what seems like a long time. It is believed that colic could be caused by your baby's immature digestive system, which is unable to cope with this new way of getting food - through the mouth rather than via the umbilical cord. Colic usually affects the baby in the evening and at night - just when you are on your last legs - but try to make sure that the baby is winded properly after feeding to minimise the problem from occurring. Most colicky babies have settled by 3 months old.
For more information and advice, talk to your health visitor or visit your local sleep clinic, which is usually run through the health visiting system at your local GP surgery.
The first few months can be very tiring for new parents, but remember that most babies will be sleeping through the night and only waking for feeds by 3 months old. Sleep when you can to keep your energy levels up, and enjoy this time with your new baby as you get to know each other.
What is the safest way for my baby to sleep?
The safest way for your baby to sleep is on their back. Babies who sleep on their back are safer and healthier. It is not safe for babies to sleep on their front or side. Babies settle more easily on their back if they have been placed to sleep that way from the very first day. If your baby is less than six months old and you find them asleep on their tummy, gently turn them onto their back. Don't feel you need to keep getting up all night to check on this. After this age, babies can usually roll onto their back themselves so leave them to find their own position. Whatever your baby's age, always place them to sleep on their back.
What is the best way to cope with morning sickness?
It's very important to keep blood sugar levels stable, so frequent, small, healthy meals throughout the day which contain both protein and carbohydrates, rather than three large ones. In some cases morning sickness may be caused by nutritional deficiencies. Make sure you include foods that contain good levels of B6 and zinc in your diet by upping your intake of dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables and yeast extract, lean meats, wholegrain cereals, canned sardines and eggs. Try to rest as much as possible, avoid fatty or spicy foods and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Sometimes sipping ginger tea can help.
How will I know when it is time to go to hospital?
Unless you're given special instructions by your midwife or doctor, or you're less than 37 weeks pregnant when you go into labour, there is usually no rush. Most people don't deliver in the car park like they do on TV! As a guide, if it's your first baby, head for hospital when you're contracting every five minutes and each contraction lasts more than 30 seconds. Second babies tend to be quicker, so head in when you're contracting every 10 minutes for 30 seconds or more. Whenever your waters break do go in as the midwives will need to check the baby is happy. If you are ever not sure what to do or if you are worried, call the labour ward for advice.
Do you have any advice on car seat safety?
Car seat safety is paramount to us and we have a quick guide on our website.
Don't forget that we offer a free check it fits* service in selected stores.
*The free fitting service is offered on any car seat purchased from a Mothercare store or www.mothercare.ie
What can I do about sore, cracked nipples?
The first thing you need to do is seek help to support you with positioning and attaching your baby at the breast. Sore and cracked nipples are almost always due to incorrect positioning and attachment. Once this is sorted out your nipples should heal fairly quickly. Air-dry them by going topless when possible. Steer clear of perfumed soaps, which can interfere with your body's natural response. The Montgomery's tubercles (the bumps around the areola) produce a natural antibacterial and anti-viral substance that lubricates and protects your nipple and areola during pregnancy and feeding. Soaps and nipple creams can interfere with this and also may make the areola slippery affecting attachment of your baby to the breast. If your nipples are cracked or bleeding and have become scabbed, then a light smear of Lansinoh nipple cream to the affected area will keep the scab soft and stop it cracking and bleeding. This will reduce your pain and assist healing.
What are the syptoms of colic?
The main symptom is crying, which you are unable to calm, no matter what you try. It often happens at the same time of day - typically the evening - when you may be at your lowest ebb after a busy day. Some babies also seem to have pain, pulling their legs up to their stomach or arching their back.
Colic usually starts at about three weeks of age, and as a rule disappears by three or four months.
Do you have any advice on choosing a pushchair?
You'll find expert advice in our Baby and Me section on choosing a pushchair.
Click here to see our handy selector.
How do I manage my toddler's tantrums?
Dealing with a tantrum is easier said then done. The child is frustrated and angry, and you may also be caught up in the emotion of the moment, however hard you try not to be. You may want to do anything to stop the tantrum. You may feel embarrassed and ashamed about the tantrum and feel that it is somehow a reflection of you as a parent; try to keep a cool head.
- You cannot reason with a child in a tantrum, there is no point in attempting any kind of discussion until it is all over.
- Do your best to keep your emotions out of it. If you get angry it will only feed the spiral of emotions and make things worse. Some parents find it helpful to deliberately 'go robotic' to keep their own feelings in check.
- It might be a good idea to say that you are leaving the room or that you will walk away. Then go somewhere you can see your child, but your child can't see you; usually, without an audience, your child will stop screaming
- Try to develop a thick skin. Do what you need to do and ignore the attention of other people, if they are rude enough to stare.
- Make an effort to hug the child and talk soothingly into his ears; they can often frighten themselves by the sheer strength of their own emotions.
- Reassure the child, acknowledging how they are feeling ('you must be feeling very cross', 'I can see that you are very angry').
- If appropriate you can pick up your child when in a tantrum and take them away from any attention.
- Don't smack. It does not help and only increases the level of violence and emotion in the situation. Remember, children learn by copying!
It is best not to give in to the tantrum. If the child learns you change your mind if they have a tantrum, they will use the power of a tantrum to get their own way. If you feel you are not coping well with a tantrum, make sure your child is safe and call a friend to talk it over. A rational friend who is not caught up in the situation can help you see things in perspective.
Do you have any advice on nappies?
For a wealth of information taking you through pregnancy, including breastfeeding, and up to your child's second birthday, please have a look at the information in our Baby and Me Club. You can find advice about nappies here.
You can also join the Baby and Me Club; giving you access to offers, advice and information as your baby grows and access to special in store events and great offers by clicking here.
What is a 'show'?
A ‘show' is a plug of mucus which forms soon after you become pregnant and usually sits inside the cervix, acting as a barrier. Towards the end of your pregnancy the cervix may start to open a little and move around, this means you can lose little bits of the mucus and you may notice them in your knickers or when you wipe yourself after going to the loo. It looks like jelly and can often have streaks of blood in it.
Unfortunately it isn't a sign that you are about to go into labour and you may even see it two weeks before the baby is born. Some women don't see any at all until they are in labour. If you do see a show and are less than 37 weeks you should call the labour ward for advice, otherwise they don't need to know. As at any other time, if you see bright red blood you must go to the hospital.
Is my baby teething?
Although some babies' teeth pop through with no trouble at all, others suffer rather more. The gum may be red and sore, occasionally your baby's cheek may be red, he may dribble more than usual, and he may be irritable. Some mums also say diarrhoea and nappy rash are symptoms, but experts say this is unlikely to be caused by teething. In fact, if your baby seems very fretful or feverish, be careful not to automatically assume it's teething, just in case your baby is ill. Teeth usually erupt in a basic order - so look out for the two centre incisors on the bottom, followed by the two centre teeth on the top.
Although they can look alarming, don't worry about breastfeeding when the teeth arrive - those middle lower teeth are covered by your baby's tongue so you won't get nipped.
How can I prevent nappy rash?
The secret of preventing nappy rash lies in keeping your baby's bottom as dry as possible. This means changing their nappies when they are wet or soiled. This may be a lot more often than you think - as often as every hour in newborn babies. Change the nappy before putting your baby down after a feed, or to sleep.
It is also important to keep your baby's bottom as clean as possible. If the nappy is soiled, use the nappy to remove the worst of it, then wash with warm water and a gentle soap, using cotton wool. Alternatively, use gentle baby wipes. Whenever possible, allow your baby to lie in a warm environment without a nappy for a while before putting on another one.
Have I got post-natal depression?
However much you love your baby, becoming a mum can be tough.
Sleepless nights, 24-hour babycare and a huge plummet in hormones can take their toll, leaving you sad and dejected.
Feeling down can take many forms, from brief baby blues, to mild but longer-lasting feelings of gloom, clinical postnatal depression or - at worst - puerperal psychosis.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
By knowing the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia, you can help ensure your baby gets prompt medical treatment if he does get the disease. Symptoms to watch out for include:
- A high temperature
- Refusing to feed
- Cold hands and feet
- Blotchy skin which may become paler or turn blue
- Not liking to be picked up and giving a high, moaning cry
- A stiff body or being limp and floppy
- Being very sleepy or so sleepy that you cannot wake him
- A vacant, staring expression
- Difficulty breathing or breathing faster than normal
- Extreme shivering
- A rash of small red, spots or purple bruises on the body.
- A tense or bulging soft spot on the head
One thing that makes meningitis and septicaemia hard to spot is that your baby may well have only a few of these symptoms. Some babies, for instance, will be alert, but may be shivering and have cold hands and feet. Symptoms can appear in any order, but the first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell, just like many mild illnesses. The early warning symptoms - those that Meningitis Research Foundation calls ‘red flag symptoms' - are:
- Freezing hands and feet
- Pale, mottled skin
- Limb pain
These symptoms appear 5-8 hours before more serious symptoms like rashes, severe sleepiness and bulging soft spot. If they are picked up then, your child can be treated much earlier, giving him a better chance of making a good recovery.
How can I beat tiredness?
Tiredness can be a particular problem in the first trimester, when you may feel unbelievably tired and sleepy. Caused by pregnancy hormones, fatigue is often worse for women who are overweight, who are pregnant with more than one child, or who already have other children to look after.
However, feeling very tired and washed out may also be a sign that you have anaemia or another underlying condition - so do go and see your GP if you are worried.
The best solution is to rest as much as possible, though this is often easier said than done. Make sure that you are eating well. Small, frequent meals will keep your blood sugar levels up. Try to include plenty of iron-rich foods such as lean red meat and green leafy vegetables in your diet. Plenty of complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, brown rice or pasta will give you energy. A good pregnancy multi vitamin and mineral supplement may help. Cut out caffeine, drinks with artificial sweeteners, and highly processed or refined foods as they may cause sleep problems.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Children who have asthma usually have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Coughing, particularly at night and after exercise
- A whistling noise in their chest - this is wheezing
- Breathlessness, or having to stop to catch their breath frequently
If your child has one or more of these symptoms you should take them to see your GP. However, it is actually difficult in very young children to tell whether they have asthma. One of the tests used to tell whether an adult's lungs are working properly - the peak flow meter - does not work well in children under the age of six. If your child's symptoms are mild, your doctor may ask you to keep a diary of what symptoms he has and when they happen to help decide if it is asthma. If the symptoms affect what your child is able to do your doctor may start them on a course of treatment for a trial period and see if this helps relieve the symptoms.
Are there any risks from MMR vaccination?
The media have been quick to remark on individual cases and research where vaccination allegedly causes serious side-effects. But it is important to remember that the dangers of the diseases prevented by vaccination are many times greater than the dangers of vaccines, which are now extremely safe.
Recent reports suggested a link between MMR vaccination and inflammatory bowel disease and autism (a condition in which sufferers become withdrawn and uncommunicative). Government experts and scientists from UK and other countries have found no proof of any risk. They have reassured parents that MMR use, as recommended, is the safest way to protect your child against measles, mumps and rubella. Studying millions of children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella has shown no evidence that vaccination causes either autism or bowel disease.
What should I name my baby?
Giving your baby a name is the first important step of that child's life, and it's one of the most exciting - and useful - things you can actually prepare for before it's born. It's not a task to be taken lightly. Click here to view our guide to naming your baby.
What are my childcare choices?
Before you decide what sort of childcare will suit you best, go through all the options. If your parents are still young, they might like to get involved - it's cheaper and often more reassuring if granny is looking after your one and only. A few big employers, such as hospitals and government offices, offer workplace crèches, which are good value for money and have the added benefit of enabling you to pop down to see your child during your lunch break. Childminders and daycare nurseries are cheaper than nannies but may not offer your child one-to-one care, which you may feel your baby needs, particularly when so small.
Once you have decided what childcare arrangements you are going to use, you could spend time with the new carer before you have to leave for work so you get used to another person looking after your baby. You could leave the baby for an hour or so with the new carer while you go to get your hair cut, go shopping or pamper yourself by having a massage or a beauty treatment.
Above all, don't feel guilty. Remember that few things in life are perfect, whether you stay at home full-time or go out to work. But many mothers do go out to work because they share the financial responsibility of running the home with their partner and for other reasons; social contact, mental stimulation, career and whether a woman wants to be with her children all the time. Many women find the whole subject confusing and fraught with anxiety. If you talk about your feelings with your partner or a trusted friend, things may become a little clearer so you can feel confident about your decision.