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Ensuring health for mom and baby

The nine months leading up to childbirth can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling times in a woman's life. However, choosing to have a baby is also one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. It is therefore vital that you become informed about the many facets of pregnancy.

As part of the Government Employees Medical Scheme's (GEMS) ongoing effort to educate our members and future members on a range of healthcare topics, we would like to provide you with some valuable information about Pregnancy Awareness Week.

The South African Department of Health has declared 7 to 14 February Pregnancy Awareness Week, during which time pregnancy education is reinforced. The aim of this week is to equip expectant mothers with the knowledge that will help them to ensure they make the right health decisions for themselves and their babies.

There are a number of issues that mothers-to-be need to consider when preparing for a healthy pregnancy and birth. Below are seven points for a healthy pregnancy to help you along your way:

Seven points for a healthy pregnancy:

  • Getting tested
There are a number of tests that should be taken early on in your pregnancy, including an HIV test. If you are HIV positive and decide that you still want to have a child, your doctor will be able to tell you about the appropriate treatment you will need to prevent transmission to the foetus.

There are a number of other pre-existing medical conditions that can affect your pregnancy, such as diabetes, hypertension or anaemia. It is therefore vital that you get tested for these, as there are often additional steps that must be taken to manage pregnancy if you suffer from any of these conditions.

Other illnesses can also be a threat to pregnant women, such as german measles, toxoplasmosis and syphilis, for which you will need to be tested as well. Contraction of these can be highly dangerous for mother and baby. Your doctor will advise you about these and other tests that you may need to take.

  • Antenatal classes
Attending classes before your baby is born will give you an idea of what to expect leading up to the birth. This helps you to better manage your pregnancy and birth experience so that you can enjoy the special time to the fullest. With antenatal classes you will learn things you did not know and meet other parents-to-be with whom you can share your concerns. You can also discuss different birthing options to find the one that is right for you. Many mothers-to-be find that antenatal classes provide a unique opportunity to bond with their partners, making it easier to share this special experience and gain the support that they so often need.
  • Nutrition
It is essential for your health and that of the baby that you receive the correct nutrients during pregnancy. A healthy eating plan should include plenty of fruit, vegetables, protein, whole-grains and lots of water. You will require supplements over and above this as well, such as folic acid, preferably from before conception and then throughout the pregnancy as it helps to prevent spinal defects in the baby. There are a number of other supplements that may be necessary but each and every woman's body is different and has different needs. Speak to your doctor about what you should be taking.

A healthy diet during pregnancy does not only mean eating the rights foods. It is also necessary to avoid certain foods, such as raw fish, rare and cured meat, soft cheese and raw or soft egg yolk. This is to protect you and your baby from any harmful parasites or bacteria.

When it comes to nutrition, many women battle to strike the balance between gaining enough weight to support themselves and their babies during pregnancy and gaining too much. If you are of a healthy weight when you fall pregnant, then you will probably need to put on approximately a kilogram a month. Your doctor will be able to advise you about your weight gain so that you can plan to manage it effectively.

  • Exercise
One of the ways to help you stay healthy and in shape when pregnant is to engage in some form of exercise. While certain women may have a condition that prevents them from doing exercise, it can be highly beneficial for most. Physical activity helps you to stay fit and toned during pregnancy. It can also produce endorphins, which make you feel happy. You should only do exercises that your body can handle during this period. Mild activities such as walking, water aerobics and gentle forms of yoga are often most enjoyable for pregnant women.
  • Avoiding unhealthy substances
This is a time when your child's life depends on you and the decisions you make. This means that your choices do not only affect your life anymore, but that of your baby as well. Cigarettes, alcohol and drugs can be extremely damaging to the baby's health and can result in premature and underweight babies. Using such substances has also been proven to result in learning disabilities in children. Even certain medications can be dangerous. The high toxin levels in many drugs, such as strong painkillers, can result in birth defects if consumed often. Mothers-to-be are advised to avoid the use of medication altogether unless absolutely necessary and to always check with their doctor before taking anything.
  • The role of your partner and family
Pregnancy is a wonderful experience but it can also be very overwhelming. It is therefore helpful to have someone who you can rely on for emotional support. If you have a partner, it is important to understand that there may be some emotional tension between you during this time. This is completely normal and you should not spend time worrying about it. If you are going to be a single mother then your family may play a bigger role in your pregnancy and birth. It is good to ask a relative or a close friend to be your companion during this time, as you may want someone to come with you to antenatal classes and to share this experience with. Whether single or in a relationship, take time to think about the kind of support that you are going to need and discuss this with those who you would like to be there for you.
  • Being positive and enjoying the pregnancy
This is one of the most wonderful times of your life and you have every reason to be happy about bringing your little bundle of joy into the world. Try not to worry too much as most of the time it is not worth your while and can prevent you from fully enjoying the experience. For example, you may be concerned about the changes in your body but remember that pregnancy is natural and beautiful. If you are finding that your worries are getting you down, talk to someone about it. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and sometimes all you need is a shoulder to cry on. It can also be beneficial to listen to music that you enjoy, read an uplifting book or do something a little special for yourself at this important time.

GEMS offer a Maternity Programme that has been specially designed to provide you with the medical support that you need during pregnancy. This programme ensures that expectant mothers receive high-quality care and helps reduce the risk of possible complications. As a member on the programme you have access to a team of experienced midwives for assistance with general health and pregnancy-related questions.

For any GEMS member queries, please contact the GEMS call centre on 0860 00 4367 or visit our website at GEMS will assist you in every way possible to ensure your family's health and wellbeing.

Pregnancy Awareness Week - South African Government Information -
Health and pregnancy - WebMD -
Childbirth education - The Mayo Clinic -
Pregnancy stages - MedicineNet -

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