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Pregnancy

Once you've discovered that you are pregnant, it's important to get health advice to help make your pregnancy as safe and comfortable as possible. Routine tests, scans and check-ups are usually carried out or organised by your midwife or doctor and will continue throughout the pregnancy.

Regular check-ups
These check-ups will probably include:
• taking your blood pressure
• weighing you
• checking your urine for infections and blood sugar problems
• checking your general well-being

Then later in pregnancy:
• feeling your tummy (to check your baby's size and position)
• listening to your baby's heartbeat

Blood tests
During pregnancy you will be offered a number of blood tests, which provide information that helps you deliver a healthy baby. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the tests you are offered, what they will and will not tell you and what further decisions you may have to make depending on the results. Discuss any concerns you have with your midwife or doctor and feel free to take time to consider your options.

You may have your blood group and type identified and can be tested for:
• Anaemia
• Hepatitis B
• HIV
• Conditions such as syphilis, or sickle cell disease
• Immunity to rubella (German measles)
• Rubella and HIV

Screening tests
These tests are used to check for problems with your baby such as spina bifida and Down's syndrome. If you are offered a screening test, ask your midwife why you are being offered the test. All women regardless of age can be offered the tests for spina bifida and Down's syndrome, however, older mothers are at greater risk of having a baby with Down's syndrome. At age 35, the chances of having a Down’s baby are 1 in 270. At age 40, the chances are 1 in a 100.

Some tests, such as amniocenteses, carry a small risk of miscarriage so ask about potential risks before agreeing to have a test.

Ultrasound scans
An ultrasound scan involves having a hand-held scanning device rolled over your stomach. This allows images from inside your womb to be shown on a screen. These may be used to:
• determine the size and age of your baby
• check for physical problems in the baby or placenta
• determine whether you are expecting more than one baby
• check the position of the baby and placenta
You may be offered a scan at:
• about 10 to 14 weeks
• about 20 to 22 weeks

Ante-natal classes
Ante-natal classes provide expecting parents with information about pregnancy, labour, giving birth and early parenthood. Ante-natal classes aren’t compulsory but are recommended, and you are entitled to take time off work in order to attend. Research suggests that women who have attended ante-natal classes cope far more comfortably with the labour and birth process than those who haven’t.

Subjects covered in ante-natal classes
Although there are many different kinds of classes, the topics covered will be fairly similar. Ante-natal classes are about preparing for labour and childbirth and most will cover:
• the physical and emotional effects having a baby will have, both during and after pregnancy
• how to look after yourself and your baby during pregnancy, including exercises and tips on nutrition
• screenings and check-ups you will need to attend during the ante-natal period
• what to expect in labour and childbirth
• the best ways to relax and the pain relief available
• effective breathing techniques for a smooth delivery
• the medical procedures involved
• how to care for your baby after the birth, including breastfeeding and medical troubleshooting

Ante-natal classes are also an ideal opportunity for expecting parents to socialise with other people in the same situation as them. Friendships made at ante-natal classes can be useful in early parenthood, when new parents can sometimes feel isolated from their social circles because they now have a baby.

Ante-natal classes are either provided free of charge through the NHS or at a cost through private organisations. NHS classes are generally organised and run by midwives or health visitors and take place in health centres, hospitals or children’s centres.

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