Friday, October 14, 2011

A relatively short guide to pregnancy for the completely clueless

A couple of my commentors were kind enough to say they learnt a lot about pregnancy from my humble posts, and some even followed up with more questions. I realised that we have access to very few sources about actual health experiences, pregnancy related or otherwise.

When I worked/trained at DMH and Castle Street, I used to spend a lot of time chatting with the mums-to-be and giving them advice on diet, exercise, what to expect in the labour room etc. Quite often though, I'd feel like a complete fool, because it was all "book-learnt" and never from actual experience. In fact, I had a 17 year old girl (let's ignore the underage bit for the moment) tell me off in the labour room after asking me how many kids I had. Her scathing comment went along the lines of "you haven't a clue about what you're talking about and what I'm going through, so be quiet and concentrate on getting this thing outta me!"

So this is one of the Bibles for our Ob/Gyn appointments.

Image from here

So as soon as the test came positive, I blew the dust off my copy and started thumbing through. My reaction was one of deep disgust, since (although it was obvious) everything was clinical and from the point of the doctor, not from the point of the mum. In addition, none of those much revered "Ten Teachers" were female... and the book was summarily discarded.

My cousin then lent me her copy of this.

Image from here

It's a bit wordy, but it became standard bedside reading and it includes chapters on pregnancy planning, week by week update about the baby, labour and best of all bits for the proud papa to read.

I'm not going to reproduce the book here, but just include a few highlights from my own experiences (wow, it feels so good to say that... am not a pregnancy-noob anymore!)

How do you know you're pregnant?

I've mentioned several times that I figured it out a couple of weeks before my period was due. One reason is that I'm frequently invited to do a lecture on the "physiological changes in pregnancy" to nursing students, paramedics etc., so I knew what to look out for!

It helps of course, if you're planning to get pregnant and have thrown your stash of pills/condoms out of the window. There are many ways to time doing "it", including counting dates off a calendar, checking your temperature daily for subtle changes. I personally recommend just getting rid of the... um... preventives and having a lot of relaxed fun with your significant other, but of course, to each his own.

The first thing I noticed that I was uncharacteristically hungry all the time and felt quite bloated. Then my boobs started to hurt (gah!!) and I actually went to work bra-less for a few days (no one notices under a saree anyway). Then came the need to pee all the time. By then, I just knew.

Of course the only way to be completely sure is to do a pregnancy test. The urine test (dipstick) costs between 40-50 rupees at the pharmacy and is simple to use... just stick it for a few seconds (5-15, it varies from brand to brand) and wait for the results. It's good to have a wide mouthed container (e.g. marmite jar) handy for moments like that. Note however, you need to be at least 5-6 weeks pregnant (i.e. about 2 weeks after your period is due) for this to be reliable, so any time before that, you may as well stir your urine with a hairpin.

Image from here

Unfortunately, when my test came positive (yay!) I noticed that the strip had expired (it was a remnant of my days working in the female casualty wards). So we went and got a blood test done the next day. The blood test is a bit more reliable and can read positive as early as 3 weeks after your last period. There are 2 methods, one tests just positive/negative, while the other gives the actual hormone levels, so that the doctor can estimate how far along you are... this is useful if your periods are irregular. The test can cost between Rs. 1500/- to Rs. 3500/-, and if you're doing it, I would recommend one of the more established/reliable labs.

To be 100% sure, an ultra sound scan is needed, and this gives additional information like where the pregnancy is (some conceive outside the womb), whether it's a singleton or multiples (eeek!) and a more reliable estimate of how many weeks the baby is. The test can cost between Rs. 1500/- to 3,000/- depending on the hospital and doctors charges. You'd also probably need a referral or at the very least a positive urine/blood test, before you saunter in and ask for a scan!

Planning for a pregnancy

Of course, it's always better if you can do this (cue flashbacks of all catastrophic-unwanted-unexpected pregnancy movies). If you like, you can have a pre-conception chat with a doctor/nurse/midwife/nutritionist and find out how you can optimise yourself for the baby. This is very important if you have a medical condition needing long term treatment.

This means having a chat with your significant other, checking your blood sugar, blood pressure and haemoglobin, avoiding smoking (even second hand) and alcohol, getting a dental check up etc. It's also good to start on the vits: vitamin B-complex, vitamin C and folic acid. In fact, I'd recommend them to any young female of reproductive age because, apart from being good for the teeny tiny baby, they give you nice healthy skin and shiny hair. You can also take iron and calcium if you like, but this can be saved for later in the pregnancy as long as you have a healthy diet.

AVOID the vitamin A supplements and foods that have loads of it like liver and cod liver oil because it can cause birth defects. Some acne medications contain retinol related compounds and should be avoided as well. The usual amounts of vitamin A obtained from yellow fruits and veggies are perfectly adequate and necessary for mum and the baby.

If you HAVEN'T planned and still find you are pregnant, no need to get all worked up and panicky about bygones... just decide to take it from there... :D


Hmmmm... I just realised that the "relatively short" in the title is totally misleading. I'm not even sure if anyone wants to read all these details. Anywez, await part 2 soon (unless the Baby arrives, in which case, await part 2 later!)


Darwin said...

Hah interesting. For a second when you said that first book was disgusting I thought you were referring to the realities of pregnancy itself!

It's hard for me to see pregnancy and labour as anything other than something horrendously gross and disgusting. Sure the end result might be worth it, but that doesn't negate how horrid the process can be. I'm being very honest here. Especially the labour part. You know, the bit where everything literally _rips_ down there and stitches are required and women shit themselves while going through it. That's the stuff no one talks about. Sure, you get a baby at the end of it but...ugh. Kudos to you for going through this, I'm not sure I could.

Angel said...

Hey Darwin, how you been doing?

And you're absolutely right... pregnancy is no picnic and the um... grand finale... is nothing short of awful.

Painful, messy, bloody, odiferous (a cross between an insanitary public toilet and a butcher's shop) and the shrieks of the women who curse their beloved husbands all but drown out the strains of pirith.

In fact, during those few short months of work at maternity units, i was emphatic that I would never go through it and would NEVER consider having kids, unless they were adopted. Yes, I'm a coward!

Pregnancy hormones haven't totally pulled the cotton over my eyes, but I'm lucky to have had a relatively comfortable 9 months.

Time and energy permitting, I will be going into all the messy and painful realities...

So gentle readers, be warned! :D

Delilah said...


but no seriously, good stuff to know.

ok i'm gonna go freak out some more now.

bingo said...

akki i hv some awesome snaps on how a baby is developed in the womb... if you like to see it I wud mail that to you...:D

Cadence said...

Thank You! Very Informative! :) *Mails a copy to hub* ;)

cj said...

Hi Angel, Since I was the only one not to wish you on your previous post I thought it would be appropriate that I should do so now. Wish you all the best and congratulations in advance.

The Puppeteer said...

Okay, just read your comment... Butcher's shop, eh? Yeah, adoption seems nice...

santhoshi said...

I think Angel You should write a book on what to expect while expecting!!!