Life moves so quickly and decisions about starting a family – which may have been put on hold while finishing studies, travelling, getting married and settling into your own place – are suddenly upon you. You may be asking yourselves:
“How do we know we are ready for a baby?”
Whilst some couples give little thought or preparation to planning their family, it would seem prudent to explore what being ready looks like.
For example – what changes need to happen in order to conceive? Where do we go for pre-conception counselling and advice? What level of health and fitness is best suited for a healthy conception and pregnancy?
Pre Conception Counselling
Pre conception counselling involves seeking advice from health professionals about physical readiness for pregnancy.
Both of you could have blood tests to ascertain that you are in optimum health, before falling pregnant. Folate levels are particularly important to prevent birth defects, while vitamin supplementation, pre-pregnancy, can revitalise the organs and balance any deficits.
Some medications for underlying medical conditions such as bipolar, depression, epilepsy and diabetes, may need to be adjusted during pregnancy or post-birth (during lactation).
Obesity is not conducive to a healthy uneventful pregnancy. It is wise to plan your pregnancy after a monitored weight loss program, in order to avoid complex health issues ranging from diabetes, blood pressure, circulatory diseases or medical interventions in labour.
Cessation of smoking, recreational drugs and alcohol, is strongly advised both before conception and during the pregnancy to optimise the health of your baby, and the environment in which it must grow. Placental efficiency relies heavily on the mother’s wellbeing. Drugs and tobacco can seriously affect the flow of nutrients to baby, and in turn affect baby’s growth and development. There are numerous poor outcomes and conditions attributed to parents’ continued use of these chemicals including:
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
- Developmental delays
- Premature birth
- Respiratory distress at birth
- Feeding difficulties
- Extensive time in the neonatal intensive care.
Getting help to quit  is one of the best investments you can make in the health of both you and your baby.
Some other conditions that are associated with pregnancy are high blood pressure and diabetes. These pregnancy-induced medical conditions often have an impact on management of the pregnancy and birth. These will be closely monitored by your obstetrician during your pregnancy and labour, and into the post partum period.
Once you are pregnant you will need to consider options for antenatal care.
Information about pregnancy care and birthing, including care providers, statistics and useful tools for decision making can be helpful .
What if we have difficulty falling pregnant?
It is very common to experience some difficulties in conceiving, according to recent Australian statistics :
- There is a 25% (1 in 4) chance of pregnancy for healthy couples in their twenties having regular unprotected sex.
- One couple in every six are infertile; 40% of these can be equally attributed to both partners.
- One third (33%) of women over the age of 35 are infertile.
- One in 25 (4%) of males have a low sperm count and around one in 35 (<3%) is sterile.
- The chance of conceiving in an IVF cycle is on average around 20% (but varies due to individual circumstances).
- More than 1% of Australian pregnancies are assisted conception.
A visit to your GP and naturopath can support your health goals and get you on track to be in the best of health before “becoming three”. Your GP can refer you to fertility specialists if required, and provide shared care during your antenatal period.
Planning to have a baby should include exploring what models of care are available in your area to support your values and wishes. Work out together what fits your values and lifestyle and shop around for care. It is easier than ever to get information if you have access to a computer. Make sure you access reputable sites to gather information on which to make informed choices .
Another top consideration of course is finances. The 2011-12 statistics for the costs of raising 2 children until they finish their education suggests it takes about a million dollars in a high income home and half that in a low income family .
Certainly having financial stability is useful – but, what is that exactly? AND is it ever really attainable given that we often live to our means (and in many cases live off credit!).
The top three costs for raising a child were transport, food, then recreation respectively.
Fortunately in our “government benefits society”, eligible couples and single parents may qualify for family assistance payments and childcare fee-help depending on income. Enquiries to the Family Assistance office via phone or online can resolve questions around benefits you may be eligible for .
Speaking to a financial advisor or your accountant may seem odd when deciding to have a baby. However advice on practicalities such as: adjusting super, creating a savings plan, changing home loan rates (variable/fixed) to help factor in the growing cost-needs of raising your child, could be useful in avoiding debt pitfalls later on. This is especially wise if you have been used to two incomes and are dropping to one, and if employment stability is questionable.
To Move or Not to Move?
Unable to find solid stats on women who move house in or near the end of their pregnancy, a request for a show of hands at the weekly antenatal classes held in a busy Queensland hospital, consistently identified 1 in 3 women were planning to move house, either during pregnancy or very close to when baby was due.
Moving may be for a variety of reasons but partner promotion or better job prospects tend to be the most common. Unfortunately, this often means the mother is moving away from her long-standing social supports just when she needs them most!
Social support is paramount to a woman’s mental health and wellbeing, particularly during pregnancy and after the birth of a child. Pregnancy is both the most powerful and most vulnerable time of a woman’s life.
If at all possible, plan home moves if you can with ample time for your family to connect into or develop social networks including medical expertise, friends, support groups and government agencies.
How will our relationship cope with a baby?
As romantic as it seems, having a baby does NOT correct or fix relationship problems. In many instances, it will drive you further apart if existing conflicts and differences are not resolved. If you have domestic violence in your relationship it is wise to reconsider bringing baby into the mix. First seek support to resolve the issues .
A new baby is not a plaything. A baby is demanding in the worst and best possible ways and requires attention 24/7. What if you have twins or triplets? Whether you have one (or more), you will be tired, lack energy and forget to care for yourselves and each other at times; all this is normal and yes, it is worth it in the end! But you will need resilience and a capacity to care and empathise.
Growing a child is challenging – it will demand everything you have and a lot of what you don’t have – and for the most part you will be okay with that. Of course the journey is easier if your relationship is solid, you communicate well “enough of the time” and if you manage conflict well.
The good news is there are courses that cover all these things – you can learn how to communicate better and resolve conflict in new and healthy ways. Having a partner or helpmate to share your vision as a parent will help you to embrace parenthood, and it will build you into stronger, better versions of yourselves.
Counselling can also help along the way to fine-tune and tweak what you already know, or introduce new skills in partnering and parenting.
Author: Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Diploma Midwifery.
Julie Fickel is a Christian Counsellor and midwife with a passion for supporting women and their partners.
With over 20 years in family health, Julie has developed skills around communication and supporting individuals and their families to cope with change, grief and loss; fostering resilience during times of crisis or distress and more recently trauma therapy. She worked for Lifeline as a telephone counsellor, and group trainer for 3 years, as well as facilitated women’s recovery ministry groups while studying pastoral care.
Julie has extensive experience in counselling couples in pregnancy, parenting and partnering. She has a special interest in perinatal women’s issues with additional training at Griffith University to provide counselling for pregnancy, parenting support, perinatal mental health (depression and anxiety), and perinatal trauma.
NB Julie Fickel’s books are closed, however we suggest that if you are looking for a caring Christian female counsellor, that you book with Sharyn Jones, instead.