An obstetrician (OB) is a doctor who specializes in the care of people during their pregnancy, childbirth and recuperation from delivery.
Throughout your pregnancy, it’s important that you receive regular prenatal care. Good prenatal care will help to ensure that you and the baby remain healthy throughout your pregnancy.
Choosing your Prenatal Health Care Provider
Before choosing a prenatal healthcare provider, you might want think about your needs and those of your baby. Consider what type of pregnancy, birth and delivery you would like to have as it might inform your decision. If you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, you may require a practitioner who has special expertise in that area of obstetrics and prenatal health.
Types of Prenatal Care Providers
There are different prenatal health care providers, each offering different types of services. All are trained in the field of prenatal care, labour and delivery.
A family physician is a doctor with training in all aspects of health care for every member of the family. A family practice doctor can be your health care provider before, during and after your pregnancy. And your baby’s doctor too! Some family physicians provide obstetrical care (attending deliveries), others will refer you to another practitioner at a certain stage in your pregnancy.
A midwife is a trained professional who provides complete and comprehensive care at all stages of pregnancy and birth. The midwife will continue to care for both the birthing parent and the baby for six weeks after birth. Midwives can deliver babies at home, birthing centers and in certain hospitals.
A doula (or birth assistant) provides practical and emotional support to the birth parent(s) during and/or after the baby is born. Doulas are trained to provide non-medical services to assist during labour, delivery and post-partum (after birth). A doula’s services complement those offered by an obstetrician, family physician or midwife.
Thinking about your birth
A good birth experience can look like many things. What makes it good is not necessarily the specific location (home, birthing center or hospital), or the way to give birth (vaginally or via C-section). Not everyone wants the same thing or faces the same circumstances. Factors that can contribute to having a positive birth experience regardless of where or how it happens are: feeling respected, feeling connected to and in tune with the people around you during your birth, feeling like you and your baby are safe, feeling like you have some say in important decisions related to your birth, and having the information you need to make those decisions. Consider your own circumstances and wishes. Now ask yourself: what does a good birth experience look like for me?
Some people feel comfort in putting together a birth plan. A birth plan is an outline of what would be some of your preferences during childbirth. Making a birth plan is based on personal choices, comfort levels as well as circumstances. Many people have a birthing assistant (i.e. a doula, a midwife, a nurse) to help them find out the information they need and to make informed decisions about each option in the birthing process.
When creating your birth plan, it’s important to discuss your feelings about each option and to make a list of priorities. If you’re having your baby with a partner, it’s helpful to include them in this process. Because no one can predict exactly what will happen, you may want to think about which decisions are most important to you or how you’d react to a change of plans.
Talking with your health care provider is a great place to start. They can help assess whether your choices are realistic and safe or assist you in coming up with alternate plans if circumstances change. You may also want to discuss emergency situations and ask how your health care provider would handle different scenarios. Health and safety are crucial. If an emergency does occur, decisions affecting the lives and health of the person giving birth and the baby must be made quickly. Working as a team to create a positive birthing experience can help to reduce tension for everyone involved.
If you’re having a hospital birth
If you’re giving birth in a hospital, you may be working with staff who are not aware of your plan. You may find it helpful for you and/or your partner to discuss your birth plan with the hospital staff and to assess how you will work together to follow your preferences. You can also work with a doula who can help relay information to your care team.
If you’re planning a home birth
For healthy people at low risk for complications who choose skilled and experienced caregivers and have a good system in place for transfer to a hospital when necessary, a number of studies show that giving birth at home is just as safe as giving birth in a hospital. As you prepare for your home birth, it’s important to remain flexible and understand that if complications arise, you might have to transfer your care to another provider or give birth in a hospital. Make sure a backup hospital is relatively close and that you can get there quickly and safely.
Some tips for a healthy pregnancy
Getting early and regular prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy. Whether this is your first pregnancy or your third. Here are some practical tips for maintaining a healthy pregnancy:
Take a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid every day. They can be prescribed by a doctor or found in pharmacies and grocery stores. Folic acid is most important at the beginning of pregnancy. But it is recommended to continue to take it throughout your pregnancy. If you are planning to get pregnant, you can start taking folic acid in the months leading up to conception.
It’s important to see a health care professional during your pregnancy. Usually, someone will see their doctor or midwife about once a month for week 4 through week 28. Then about twice a month for weeks 28 through 36. And then weekly until birth. If you are older than 35 or your pregnancy is high risk, you’ll probably see your doctor more often.
Ask your doctor before you stop any medication or start any new ones. Some medications are not safe during pregnancy. Keep in mind that even over-the-counter medicines and herbal products may cause side effects or other problems. That said, not using medication you need could also be harmful so consult a health professional.
Avoid x-rays. If you must have dental work or diagnostic tests, tell your dentist or doctor that you are pregnant so that extra care can be taken.
Get a flu shot. Pregnant women can get very sick from the flu and may need hospital care.
Eat a variety of healthy foods. When possible, choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods, and foods low in saturated fat.
Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
Getting enough iron prevents you from getting anemia, which is linked to preterm birth and low birth weight. Eating iron rich food like leafy greens, red meat or beans can help you keep your levels of iron up. You can also add a daily prenatal vitamin or iron supplement to be sure you are getting enough.
Be mindful of food-borne illnesses. Help prevent them by washing fruits and vegetables before eating, cooking meat and fish thoroughly and properly handling, cleaning, cooking and storing food.
Limit your consumption of fish with high levels of mercury i.e. swordfish, king mackerel, shark, tuna, and tilefish.
Gaining weight during pregnancy is normal and desirable. Maintaining a healthy diet and keeping active will keep your body in good shape as it changes. The amount of weight gained during pregnancy varies from one person to the next.
Don’t smoke or use drugs. If you need support to quit, consult a health professional you feel comfortable with.
Studies show that drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol while pregnant does not appear to be associated with higher risks of adverse birth outcomes. Drinking the occasional glass of pinot or not is about personal levels of comfort and is one’s own judgment call.
Unless your doctor tells you not to, it’s recommended to include some exercise in your weekly routine. If you worked out regularly before pregnancy, you don’t need to change your habits as long as your health doesn’t change.
Don’t take very hot baths or use hot tubs or saunas.
Get plenty of sleep.
Get informed. Read books, watch videos, go to a childbirth class, and talk with parents around you. Find out if there are childbirth classes available for you to prepare for the birth of your baby.
Limit your exposure to chemicals like insecticides, solvents (like some cleaners or paint thinners), lead, mercury, and paint (including paint fumes). If you’re unsure if a product is safe, ask your doctor before using it. Talk to your doctor if you are worried that chemicals used in your workplace might be harmful.
If you have a cat, ask your doctor about toxoplasmosis. This infection is caused by a parasite sometimes found in cat feces. You can lower your risk by having someone else change the litter box for you and by wearing gloves when gardening.
Avoid contact with rodents (mice, rats), including pet rodents, and with their urine, droppings, or nesting material. Rodents can carry a virus that can be harmful or even deadly to your baby.
Wash your hands often to reduce your chances of getting sick.
Stay away from second hand smoke.
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