There are few more anticipated and exciting times in our lives than hearing and sharing the news of a pregnancy.
But it also heralds what should be the start of a carefully planned and organised care program to monitor the health and development of both mother and baby.
This is called antenatal care and refers to the specialised care you need throughout your pregnancy.
Quality antenatal care is about being prepared, putting steps in place to ensure a smooth pregnancy and being able to detect and act on any small issues before they turn into bigger ones.
If you’ve just discovered you are pregnant, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible and together, you can start mapping out your antenatal care program to help ensure your pregnancy is a happy and healthy one.
Antenatal health care professionals
There are three types of antenatal health care professionals you are likely to encounter during your pregnancy.
General Practitioners – Your family GP should be your first port of call. They will offer you general advice about how to remain healthy during your pregnancy, book regular visits to monitor your progress and link you with more specialised professionals who you’ll need to visit. Sometimes in more remote locations, a GP may also act as a midwife or obstetrician.
Obstetrician – This is a doctor who works specifically with women during pregnancy, birth and in the weeks that follow. Your obstetrician may also be the person who delivers your baby.
Midwife – Midwives generally work in hospitals or with obstetricians and are specifically trained to care for women in pregnancy, labour and birth. They may also deliver or assist with the birth of your baby and their ongoing care in the initial few weeks of life.
Importance of antenatal care
A comprehensive antenatal care program is designed to identify problems and potential risk factors during your pregnancy and prepare both partners for the life-changing role of becoming parents. It does this in a number of different ways:
Your doctor will monitor your baby’s development inside your womb and schedule ultrasound scans to track the health and size of the fetus to ensure it is growing as it should.
Both mother and baby should be screened to detect potential problems. Diabetes and high-blood pressure are two common conditions which need to be addressed because they can cause complications including premature birth. High blood pressure may also trigger pre-eclampsia which can put the life of both mother and baby at risk. Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) may also test the baby for a range of conditions including Down, Edwards and Patau syndrome.
The importance of eating the right foods cannot be understated during pregnancy. Even more important is not eating the wrong foods such as undercooked eggs, raw fish and unpasteurised cheese and milk. A supplement of helpful vitamins and minerals including folic acid and fish oil will also be advised at this time.
Women and their partners should be protected against measles, mumps, chickenpox, rubella, hepatitis B and in some cases pneumococcal before pregnancy. Women should have these vaccines at least 28 days before conception. This provides the best defence for babies before and after birth. Immunisation against whooping cough and the flu is safe and advised during pregnancy.
Your doctor may schedule further tests depending on their assessments and observations. These may include hepatitis B, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The results of these tests will determine the safety of a natural birth or the need for a C-section.
A new baby, particularly a first born, can be an overwhelming experience. But knowledge is power and your doctor or midwife can give you the confidence to help you care for your newborn as well as advise on the benefits of breastfeeding. Learning how to cope for both yourself and your new baby is a big part of the whole process.
Most new parents are recommended to attend antenatal classes that teach both mother and father what to expect during pregnancy, delivery and beyond.
Where to have your baby
There are several options to consider when thinking about where to have your baby, provided you are both healthy.
This is something you should talk over with your partner, in consultation with your doctor.
You will need to consider who you want to deliver your baby as well as what pain relief you would like.
Private hospital – If you have private health insurance you may choose a private hospital where you will be cared for by the obstetrician you have been seeing throughout your pregnancy. They will be assisted by midwives during the labour. Ask your GP for a referral to an obstetrician who will book you into a private hospital.
Public hospital – Most women in Australia give birth in a public hospital where they are cared for by midwives. A doctor will also be on hand if there are any complications. In a public hospital, you do not have the right to choose your doctors or midwives. Antenatal care is primarily without cost. Discuss your options with your GP regarding a local hospital in your area.
Birthing centre – These offer a more natural, home-like environment to women who are considered a low-risk group in terms of complications. They are often attached to hospitals where midwives and doctors provide care. Discuss this option with your GP if you are interested.
Home birth – This is another option for women considered low-risk. A private midwife can deliver your baby and this can be arranged via Homebirth Australia. If there are any complications, you may also need to see an obstetrician or be transferred to hospital. Alternatively, your GP can refer you to one of the many local hospitals that run public home birth programs.
Shared care – Occasionally, you may share antenatal duties between your GP and a public hospital or public birthing centre. This is not normally offered to private patients.
Book an appointment with a GP
Pregnancy is a wonderful time of your life but has its challenges and may seem intimidating especially to first-time mothers.
But it doesn’t have to be.
After family and close friends, your doctor should be the next person you ring!
We are here to help and advise you, walk you through every step of the process and set up all the care appointments you need to ensure your pregnancy is seamless.
Book an appointment today at the Seaford Road Day and Night Clinic or the Seaford Meadows Day and Night Clinic.