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Preparing for Baby's Arrival

January 03, 2012

Deciding to have a baby is probably one of the most exciting decisions that you will make in your life.  In addition to those feelings, it is perfectly normal to also feel a bit nervous.  Your body will experience changes during pregnancy that you have never felt before, and you might worry about what it will be like to take care of your new baby.  You may wander down the aisles of the baby store and wonder if you really do need all of this stuff to take care of the newest and smallest member of your family.  Pregnancy is a time of excitement and anticipation as well as uncertainty.

Here are some tips that will help you and your family prepare for your baby’s arrival:

Before you even get pregnant, start taking a multivitamin with folic acid.Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects, which are problems with your baby’s developing spinal cord.  The US Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to help reduce the risk of this birth defect.  Some foods in our diet, such as dark leafy green vegetables and cereal, will contain folic acid, but it is still very difficult for most women to consume the recommended amount of 400 micrograms every day from diet alone.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises women to take a daily multivitamin with folic acid in order to meet this daily requirement.  Research tells us that if all women who were capable of becoming pregnant met this daily folic acid requirement, nearly half of all neural tube defects in babies could be prevented.  Since a baby’s spinal cord begins to develop before most women even know that they are pregnant, it is very important to add folic acid to your diet as soon as you and your partner decide to start trying to have a baby.

In addition to supplementing your diet with folic acid, you will also want to talk to your doctor about making any necessary healthy changes in your life as you plan to become pregnant.  If you smoke, then stop.  Don’t drink alcohol or consume non-prescription drugs.  If you are taking prescription medications, talk to your doctor about how these medications will affect you and your baby.  Eat a healthy diet, and discuss an exercise plan with your doctor.  

Find an obstetrician to take care of you during your pregnancy.

An obstetrician (OB) will provide routine prenatal care for you while you are pregnant.  Your OB will perform lab tests, screenings and ultrasounds during your pregnancy.  Near the end of your pregnancy, you will probably feel like you are making many trips to your OB’s office (because you are!) for visits that don’t last very long.  Even though those visits are short, they are still very important.  Your doctor will be monitoring your blood pressure, your weight, the baby’s heart beat, and checking your urine.  By seeing you frequently, your doctor is making sure that you and your baby are staying healthy.  If any of these tests are abnormal during your visit, your doctor may order additional tests or admit you to the hospital to keep a closer eye on you and your baby.  It is very important to not miss any of these regularly scheduled appointments with your OB!

Talk to your OB about the Tdap vaccine, if you haven’t already received one.  The Tdap vaccine helps to protect you against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).  For newborns, pertussis is the most worrisome of these three diseases.  Babies do not receive their first vaccine against pertussis (DTaP vaccine) until their 2-month check-up at the pediatrician’s office.

Most of us were vaccinated against these three diseases with a series of DTaP vaccines when we were children.  However, as we enter adulthood, our childhood immunity to pertussis decreases.  If a mother becomes infected with pertussis, she will develop a cough.  The chance that she will pass it along to her unimmunized baby is very high, and her baby may have severe and violent coughing episodes.  Whooping cough can make babies very ill, and can even cause death in very young infants.  The only way to protect the baby is to make sure that the children and adults who will have frequent contact with the baby are vaccinated against pertussis.

Talk to your OB about optimal timing of the Tdap vaccine for you.  After my first son was born, I got my Tdap vaccine before leaving Winnie Palmer Hospital.  My husband and our parents received the Tdap vaccine during the following week.  I’ll be the first one to admit it; I am scared of pertussis in babies.  It is heart-breaking to take care of a baby who is very sick with pertussis, especially since pertussis is a completely vaccine-preventable disease.

Sign up for a prenatal class...or two, or even three!  Visit the hospital.

Empower yourself as a future parent by trying to learn as much as you can before your baby arrives.  Prenatal classes are a good place to start, and they can also provide you with the opportunity to meet other first-time parents too.  You will definitely still have a lot of “on-the-job” learning after your baby arrives, but hopefully the classes can help give you a general introduction to labor, delivery and basic infant care.

You can also take a tour of the hospital so that you can familiarize yourself with the labor and delivery area.  Ask about pre-registering your information at the hospital, so there’s one less step to worry about when you show up in labor.

If your baby has been diagnosed with a medical condition that will require specialized care by a neonatologist, you can also schedule a tour of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).  I chose to have both of my babies at Winnie Palmer Hospital because even though I had uncomplicated pregnancies, I wanted the neonatologist to be very close by just in case my baby became very sick during labor and delivery. Not every hospital has a NICU, and there are sick babies that are transferred from other hospitals to our Alexander Center for Neonatology almost every day.

When I was a pediatric resident on my NICU rotation, I remember taking care of babies that were brought by ambulance to our hospital from various community hospitals that did not have the resources or specialists that could take care of very sick babies.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for these families to become separated. I admire the strong mothers that have been able to tolerate that separation from their sick babies, because I’m not sure how strong I would have been.  When I had to decide where to deliver our baby, making that decision was very simple.  I wanted our baby to be in the safest place, just in case something happened, and I felt comfortable knowing that our NICU team and neonatal specialists were readily available if we needed them to take care of our baby at Winnie Palmer Hospital.

My babies never did meet a neonatologist or any of our NICU staff members, but I felt comforted knowing they were very close by if we needed their care.

We’ll discuss even more tips for new and expecting parents later this week.

 We also want to hear from you!  Do you have any advice you would give to new parents?  Is there anything you wished you had known, or done differently as a new parent?  Was your baby born at Arnold Palmer Hospital or Winnie Palmer Hospital?  Let us know!