If you’ve been following my blog, you’d know that I haven’t been impressed with the NCT antenatal classes so far (if you don’t know why, please do read my posts on what we did in the first and second sessions). Last week, my husband and I attended our third session, and again, we were disappointed. Honestly, we haven’t learnt anything at all. We talked about skipping the last 2 sessions, but when we thought about how much they cost (£200 for 5 sessions), we were like, “never mind, let’s just go”. That is until we attended one of the NHS antenatal classes, which made us realised that the NCT ones are a complete waste of time and money! I wish I had known better – I would have just gone to the NHS ones right from the start! I mean, we’ve only gone to one so far and already we’re finding it very informative, practical and useful.
Anyway, in the first session, we learnt about natural and uncomplicated labour (so things like: what are the signs of labour, how do midwives measure dilation, how will the baby descend, how and when to push, what can we expect after delivery, etc etc). There’ll be 2 more classes after this, which we will of course attend – in the second session, we’ll learn about painkillers and complicated labour (so things like: breech babies, inducement, assisted delivery (including c-section), episiotomy, and we’ll even be shown the ‘tools’ used in assisted births (forceps, ventouse, etc) – which I think will be very interesting); and in the third session, we’ll learn about breastfeeding. I can’t recommend these classes highly enough; I think they really prepare you for childbirth and beyond (unlike the NCT-run classes!). Plus they’re free and are actually taught by a midwife who will be able answer all of your questions (again, unlike the NCT-run classes!). So yeah, if you’re pregnant, do find out about the antenatal classes that are available at your local hospital. Even if you’re not convinced and prefer to pay for the NCT ones, you should still attend at least one of the NHS classes – it’s free anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose.
“You’ve survived the first trimester! Congratulations! But there’s still plenty to do before your baby arrives. Here’s a checklist to help you get organised.”
1. Keep taking your daily folic acid (400mcg) and calcium (10mcg) supplement
I’ve talked about the importance of taking these supplements before (see my post “Looking back at the first trimester“), so I’m not going to repeat it here. But I’d like to reiterate that if you’re like me and you can’t be bothered with buying different supplements separately, you can always take an all-in-one pregnancy tablet (such as Pregnacare) which contains all the vitamins your body needs. I just find it so much easier.
2. Keep going to your antenatal appointments with your midwife
If this is your first pregnancy, you’ll have 3 antenatal appointments during your second trimester (one at 16 weeks, another one at 25 weeks and the last one at 28 weeks); otherwise, you’ll have 2 at 16 weeks and 28 weeks. Your midwife will test your urine sample for protein, check your baby’s heartbeat, bump size and your blood pressure at every appointment, and at your 28 weeks appointment, she’ll also take your blood sample. They’re all pretty routine really and each appointment lasts about 40 minutes or so (depending on whether you have a lot of questions to ask or not).
3. Go to your anomaly scan appointment
This is a detailed scan, which checks how your baby is growing and for physical abnormalities in your baby. This is also the scan at which you’ll be able to find out the sex of your baby (if you want to, of course). It’s supposed to last about 20 minutes, but mine took almost an hour because my baby just refused to move so the sonographer couldn’t check everything properly the first time. I had to move around, jump up and down to encourage my baby to change position. Luckily, she did; otherwise, I’d have to come back for another scan and that would be a pain. As with your dating scan, don’t forget to bring some change if you want to buy photos of your baby.
4. It’s probably time to break the news to friends and family
At the end of the day, this is your pregnancy, so you should have the ultimate control as to when to tell your family and friends and how to go about it. My husband and I did it in stages – we told our family after my first scan and we started telling our close friends when I was in my second trimester. But that’s about it; I suppose, we’ll tell more people after the baby’s here.
5. Keep yourself active, healthy and comfortable
Basically… watch what you eat, listen to your body, take extra care when taking any medicine (check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist if you’re not sure), exercise, get enough rest, etc, etc. I’ve written about this in my post “Looking back at the first trimester“, because, well, you should start doing all the above right from the start anyway and continue to do so throughout your pregnancy.
6. If you haven’t already, start organising your finances and prepare for your new arrival
Again, this is something that I think you should look at from as early as possible, especially if you want to get your hands on amazing bargains. So, if you haven’t done so, make a checklist of what you need for your baby and slowly buy them when you spot a good price. My husband and I managed to save more than £1000 just by being organised. If you’re interested to know how we did it, read my post “For all those bargain and freebies hunters out there“. While you’re at it, don’t forget to think about insurance, childcare, benefits, etc. On that note, you might also be interested in “From bump to baby: understanding your benefits entitlement and financial options“.
7. Go for a holiday
You and your partner might not get the chance to go on a holiday alone together for a while after your baby is born. For most couple, the second trimester is the perfect time to book a vacation – you’re not feeling as sick and tired as you were in your first trimester and you’re also not feeling the strain of being heavily pregnant yet. My husband and I went to Tenerife for a week when I was 28 weeks pregnant – it was perfect, it was a beach holiday, so I was able to relax and it’s nice to be able to get some sunshine when it’s freezing in London. If you’re flying, remember to get a letter from your midwife stating that you’re fit to fly. I didn’t have to show mine but it’s good to have it with you just in case.
8. Start shopping for maternity clothes (if you need to)
I didn’t. I’m now 33 weeks pregnant and I’m still wearing my normal clothes. I just stay away from jeans, tight-fitting skirts, etc, and embrace leggings, loose dresses and jumpers. I personally think that if you choose your clothing smartly, you can get away from not having to spend money on maternity wear. My post “Style bible: ‘non-maternity maternity’ wear” should give you some ideas on how to choose what I like to call ‘double-function’ pieces.
9. Decide which antenatal classes you’d like to go to and book your place
The free NHS-run classes or the pretty expensive NCT-run classes or both – the choice is yours. I signed up for the NCT-run classes and paid £190 for 5x 2 hours classes. Why? Because I read and heard that they’re much better than the NHS-run ones. Unfortunately, I was wrong. In my opinion, they’re just not worth the hefty price tag. You can read all about it here and here… the classes are not finished yet, but I’ve come to terms that I will not learn anything from them. I’m utterly disappointed – I’ve attended 3 classes, that’s 6 hours, and I think it’s worth 10 minutes on google. So if you asked me, I’d say, go to the free ones and google everything else. And of course, bring your partner along to the antenatal classes.
10. Start thinking about your maternity leave, benefits and entitlements
Remember that you have to tell your boss that you’re pregnant by the 15th week before your baby’s due date and you also have to tell your boss in writing the date you propose to go on maternity leave. If you’re not entitled to receive statutory maternity pay, you may be able to apply for maternity allowance, and there also other benefits that you may be entitled to depending on your circumstances. So it’s a good time to start sorting these out and don’t wait until the last minute.
So, my husband and I had our second NCT antenatal class this week. You already know that we didn’t find our first session particularly useful, but we were willing to cut it some slack because it was the first class so it was kind of like an introductory session. I thought that the second one was definitely going to be better. Unfortunately, I was wrong. For me, it was a complete and utter waste of money and time (but mostly money). My husband didn’t enjoy it either. For 2 hours, we were split into small groups of 4 or 5 and asked to discuss among ourselves things like: what does it mean for us to be parents, what kind of parents do we want to be, what kind of things we think our baby would inherit from us, who does what at home at the moment and how do we think that’s going to change once the baby’s arrived, etc, etc… I mean, seriously? We paid £200 for this? Our trainer probably wanted us to bond with other prospective parents and what she asked us to do was a good bonding exercise – there’s no argument about that, but I just think that we could talk about these things ourselves outside the class over coffees or something (if we want to). What I expect out of a pretty pricey antenatal class is lots of useful and practical information that’s going to help me get through labour and birth and care for the baby. Leave ‘bonding with other couples’ out of it – we’re all adults, we’re all capable of talking to each other and staying in touch ourselves (again, if we want to); it doesn’t have to be forced on us. The trainer should have done most of the talking in class, not us. Anyway, we learnt nothing about labour, birth and baby care so far. And I thought that antenatal classes are supposed to shed some lights on these things. Oh well, we’ll see what happens in the third session.
Last week, my husband and I attended our first NCT antenatal class. NCT classes are supposed to be the queen of all antenatal classes. At least, that’s what people say online and offline. They say that NCT classes are typically smaller, so it’s easier to meet prospective parents in your area, and they’re also very informative. So despite the hefty price tag (we paid £190 for 5 sessions), we chose them over NHS. Are they worth it? Well, it’s too early to tell – if it was only based on the first session, I would say no, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and see if they get better.
We started our first session by introducing ourselves. I think that’s pretty normal, but then we were asked to introduce someone else (anyone except our own partner) to the group. I get it that the trainer probably wanted us to mingle a little bit, but it kind of reminded me of school and the whole introduction thing took more than 30 minutes. I personally think that it wasn’t necessary. She then went on to explain what happens during labour – the three stages of labour, how to recognise that you’re in labour, how to count your contractions, when to call the delivery suite, when to go to the hospital, etc. Now that’s useful and I actually took a lot of notes (so did my husband). Unfortunately, the usefulness of the session stopped there. We then took 15 minutes break and when we came back, again we were asked to talk to other couples – this time, it was about our hopes and worries, and about baby names (whether or not we’ve chosen one; if yes, how did we go about it; if no, why not… what’s the problem, etc). The session then closed with a 5-minute breathing exercise and that’s it.
So, in a nutshell, out the 2-hour session, we got: 45 minutes of introduction, 30 minutes of useful information about labour, 15 minutes break, 25 minutes of ‘sharing session’ and 5 minutes of breathing exercise. Was it worth £38? Honestly, no! But let’s see what happens this week.
“Just found out you’re pregnant and not quite sure what to do next? Why not start with these first trimester essentials?”
I kid you not, being pregnant is exhausting. Sure, it’s exciting – you’re bringing another life into this world after all; and sure, there are some magical moments that you’ll never forget, like when you first see your baby on an ultrasound or when you first feel your baby kick. But that doesn’t change the fact that being pregnant is exhausting, both physically and mentally, and the first trimester is the worst (at least for me): that’s when my energy level was at it’s all-time low and my morning sickness was at its prime. If you’re a first time mum-to-be like me, chances are, you’ll also find yourself becoming overwhelmed with the amount of information available about pregnancy.
So, I thought I’d create a list of first trimester essentials based on my personal experience, and I hope it would provide a useful starting point, especially for first time mums-to-be, to get organised.
1. If you haven’t already, start taking your daily folic acid (400mcg) and calcium (10mcg) supplement
These supplements are really important for your baby’s development. Ideally, you should start taking them when you’re trying to conceive, but if you haven’t done so, then start as soon as possible. You can buy them separately, or if you prefer, you can take an all-in-one pregnancy tablet – that way, you can be assured that your body will get all the vitamins it needs. I’m taking Pregnacare, but there are quite a few all-in-one pregnancy tablets out there – just pick the one that you like.
2. Book your first antenatal appointment with your midwife
Get a referral from your GP or if your local hospital has a midwife hotline you can call (mine do), by all means, refer yourself and save the trouble of having to make a trip to the GP. Ideally, you should do this between 8 weeks and 12 weeks as it can take up to 2 weeks for them to give you an appointment (possibly longer if you have to first made an appointment with your GP). At your first antenatal appointment, you’ll be given a record book (that is, your pregnancy notes, which you have to bring to all your subsequent appointments) and a Bounty pack, which contains money-off coupons, a mum-to-be pack voucher you can redeem at Boots, Argos or Asda, and a week-by-week pregnancy guide. Your midwife will take your weight, height, blood and urine sample, check your blood pressure, and calculate your BMI. She’ll also ask you about your medical history, lifestyle, etc, and give you information about eating healthily, exercising, who to call if you have any questions, and where to go in case of an emergency. Although, you won’t be able to see your baby or listen to your baby’s heartbeat at this appointment. If you haven’t heard from the hospital about your dating scan, tell your midwife and she’ll sort it out for you.
3. Follow up on your dating scan appointment
If one week has passed since your first antenatal appointment and you still haven’t heard from the hospital, call the antenatal clinic! I’m glad I did. The first time I called, I was told that they were dealing with a backlog of scans, but my name was on the list and I should receive an appointment letter from them within the next couple of days. One week later, I called them again; this time, they couldn’t find my name on the list. By then, I was almost 15 weeks and anxious. So, I was told to come in the same week. The scan itself lasted about 20 minutes. It was magical – I saw my baby for the first time and saw (not only listened to) its heart beating! Don’t forget to bring some change if you want to buy photos of your baby (mine was £4 each). At the scan also, you’ll be asked if you want to get your baby tested for down syndrome. If you’re too advanced in your pregnancy (like me), you’ll be offered the quadruple blood test instead of the combined test. Either way, you should receive your result within the week (earlier if your baby is in the high risk category).
4. Decide if and when you want to share the good news with friends and family
I’d wait until after you had your first scan, just to be sure that everything is okay. Not to be mean or anything, but sadly, miscarriage is an all too common event, particularly during the first trimester. It happened to me and it happened to some of my friends. That’s why most people prefer to break the news when they’re in the second trimester. Of course, the decision is ultimately yours.
5. Watch what you eat and listen to your body
No alcohol (or if you really must, limit it to no more than 1 or 2 units, once or twice a week). No raw or partially cooked meat, fish, eggs, etc (I think it’s easier to just avoid anything raw and make sure your foods are piping hot; I even grill cold cuts, like ham, etc!). No liver. No pate. No soft cheeses with white rinds. No soft blue cheeses. No unpasteurised milk. No vitamin A. No fish liver oil supplement. No shark, swordfish or marlin. Cut down on fish with high mercury level. Cut down on oily fish. Cut down on caffeine (limit it to 200mg a day). Cut down on foods that are high in sugar, fat, or both.
Other than that, I’d say, listen to your body and eat whatever makes you feel good. For example, certain kinds of food (like, cold sandwiches) make me sick, so, I avoid them; starchy foods, on the other hand, help with my morning sickness and keep my energy level high, so, I eat more of them. Seafood has no effect on me, so, I continue to eat them (despite people telling me that I shouldn’t be eating shellfish – but hey, as long as it’s properly cooked and piping hot, I don’t see why not). For me, there’s really no right or wrong way of eating when you’re pregnant. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I can say this because I had a miscarriage back in April and I did everything ‘right’. Go figure. Oh, and it’s a known myth that you have to eat for two.
6. Check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking any medicine
Certain medicines are not safe for your baby. If you’re not sure, ask. Better be safe than sorry. Paracetamol is fine (I’ve confirmed it with my midwife) – that’s about the only medicine I take ever since I found out I was pregnant.
7. Get a flu jab
Just because there’s a higher chance of developing complications if you get the flu when you’re pregnant. And it’s free, so why not? You don’t have to go to your GP if you don’t want to or if it’s not convenient to do so; I got mine at Boots during my lunch hour and my husband got his at Tesco. Remember to tell them you’re pregnant, otherwise you’ll have to pay.
8. Keep yourself active
Exercise! It’ll help maintain your weight gain, combat fatigue, and prepare you for labour. To be honest, I’d do anything that would help ease labour! Wouldn’t you? Be safe though – this is certainly not the right time to try out some adventure sports! I do yoga once a week and I cycle to work every day. Other kinds of activity that you could try include walking, jogging, and swimming. And don’t forget to do your pelvic muscle exercises daily.
9. Get enough rest
You’ll be exhausted… really exhausted… all the time… I know I am, and I’m in my second trimester. Yes, it’s worst in the first trimester (blame the rapid change of hormones level!), but it never truly goes away. So, rest whenever you can! Lounge in front of the TV, relax, sleep, or get a massage (pure bliss!).
10. Wear something comfortable
Chances are, you’ll feel hotter and you’ll sweat more than usual. So, wear comfortable clothing to stay… well, comfortable.
11. If you smoke, stop!
It’s bad for the baby. Enough said.
12. Take extra care when you clean the house or handle chemicals
My husband freaked out the first time I cleaned the house as a pregnant woman! I had to assure him (Google was my friend) that most cleaning products are safe to use during pregnancy. As far as I know, the only two things that you must absolutely avoid when you’re pregnant are oven cleaners and insects’ killer. Just make sure that when you clean, the room is well ventilated, and wear protective gloves (obviously).
13. Start organising your finances and prepare for your new arrival
It’s never too early to start. In fact, start now to get your hands on amazing bargains. You’d be surprised at how much you could save. Let this post be your guide: “For all those bargain and freebies hunters out there“.
You might also want to start looking into life insurance (if you don’t already have one). Some companies (such as, Asda and Post Office) offer up to £10,000 free life cover for new parents effective from the day you apply until your baby’s first birthday. Let me say it again, it’s free, so you’ve got no excuse!
14. Start looking into antenatal classes
There are NHS-run classes, which are free and held in your local hospital, and there are NCT-run classes, which can be quite expensive and held in a number of your local community centres. The NCT-run classes are supposed to be the Queen of all antenatal classes (at least, that’s what people say). Based on my research online, I decided to sign up for these; I can tell you it’s quite pricey: my husband and I paid £190 for 5x 2 hours classes. But, our first class is not until January 2015, so I can’t tell you yet whether they are worth the price. Nevertheless, start doing some research – apparently, these classes get booked up very quickly (I booked mine back in September). You might also want to start looking into pregnancy yoga. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the benefits of doing yoga. Even if you’re not a fan of yoga or have never done yoga before, this might be the perfect time to take it up – why pass up something that would help increase your strength, flexibility and muscles endurance needed for childbirth? After all, I thought we’d agreed that we’d do anything that would help ease labour, right?
15. Get dad-to-be involved
It’ll make your journey easier if your partner is aware of and understands what’s going on with your body when you’re pregnant. As I’ve said earlier, being pregnant is exhausting – physically and mentally – so, don’t do it alone! He’s sharing your joy, why not let him share your pain as well? Get him to download your favourite pregnancy apps on his phone or buy him a book. I bought 2 books for my husband: “The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide: Everything You Need To Know” and “Pregnancy for Men: The Whole Nine Month” – they’re now his bedtime reading; he said they’re not particularly good, but at least, he’s ‘in the know’ and I’m sure he’ll find some of the information useful at some point.
16. Educate yourself about pregnancy, follow your baby development, and talk to other mums-to-be
It has never been easier to do all the above today – there are plenty of great apps you can download, newsletter you can sign up to, websites you can go to, forums you can join and even free books you can order. Here are some of my favourites:
- Mobile apps: Baby Centre and Ovia Pregnancy.
- Websites: NHS, Baby Centre, Mumsnet , Netmums (one thing I like about Netmums is that you can search for news and events within your locality), and Tommy’s.
- Free books: Tommy’s Having a Healthy Pregnancy (they’ll post it to you if you order it from their website), Bounty‘s Pregnancy Guide (which you’ll get at your first antenatal appointment) and Baby Product Guide (included in the Bounty’s mum-to-be pack), Boots’ Bump, Birth and Baby catalogue (you can get this in store), and Babies R Us catalogue (you can order this online). I know the last two are catalogues, but they are pretty good and there are quite a few money-off coupons in there.
- Forums: Baby Centre Community and Birth Clubs (where you can connect with other mums-to-be, including those due in the same month as you, and share your experiences).
- Newsletters: NHS, Baby Centre, and Bounty (which includes weekly offers on maternity and baby products).
17. Call your midwife if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms or if you’re just feeling anxious generally
I suppose that’s it. I hope you find this post useful.