Pregnancy health – our expert tackles your Q&A’s

Whether you’re having trouble sleeping with your bump, or are finding yourself getting frazzled, our expert can help as she answers your dilemmas…

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What can you do once you go overdue?

Q: I’m really stressed out at the moment, and worried that this could be bad for my baby. Can you recommend any stress relief techniques?

A: Researchers have found that stress hormones can cross the placenta, but stress would usually have to be extreme or prolonged to adversely affect a pregnancy.

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Feeling stressed out does have a physical effect, though, and while it may not be affecting your baby as much as you fear, being proactive will contribute to a healthier pregnancy, birth and postnatal experience. To a certain extent, raised levels of progesterone keep you feeling calmer, but using therapies that are proven to reduce the effects of stress – like yoga, pregnancy massage, reflexology, flower remedies such as emergency essence and burning neroli or lavender oil – will help to relax you and your baby. In addition to these physical techniques it is vital to identify and develop strategies to deal with the causes of your anxiety, because these stresses are unlikely to disappear after the birth. Sharing your concerns and obtaining support from someone, whether that is your partner, midwife or practitioner, will be invaluable.

Q: Although I don’t have problems falling asleep at night, I keep waking up in the early hours and can’t get back to sleep again. I’m in my third trimester and exhausted, and I think it’s the stress of the impending birth that’s affecting me. Can you help?

A: It’s important to explore what it is about the birth that’s keeping you awake. Usually at this point in pregnancy, our deepest held beliefs about labour and our ability to birth come to the surface. Be aware of what you were told about birth from others, including your mother. Each birth is different: focus on the positive, confidence-building stories, and read up on how your body is designed to help you during labour. Hypnobirthing either as classes or via CD can be great to relax your mind or help prepare for what’s ahead.

Foodwise, the amino acid L-tryptophan found in milk, oats, bananas, turkey and eggs makes you feel sleepy by raising levels of a chemical in the brain called serotonin. You could also ask your partner to give you a massage before bed. Try using calming camomile oil (add one drop per teaspoon of carrier oil – such as sweet almond oil – and blend before using), or put an oil burner in your bedroom.

Q: Both my previous babies have been overdue and I’m keen to stop this happening with my third pregnancy. Is there any reason why I always miss my due date, and is there anything I can do to bring on labour safely?

A: Due dates are referred to as ‘estimated’ because each pregnancy has its own natural gestation period. It’s worth considering that studies show average pregnancy length as 41 weeks, and that longer menstrual cycles mean you are more likely to be considered overdue when you are not. The baby decides when it should be born, signalling your body to release the hormones that initiates labour. Spontaneous labour is preferable to induction, whether by natural or drug methods, as both you and your baby are physically and hormonally ready for the birth.

However, circumstances on the mother’s side can affect progress in the pre-labour stage. If she feels anxious, underprepared, unsupported or has had a previous birth experience that makes her apprehensive, the release of stress hormones can interfere with the natural progress and initiation of labour. Used weekly from 35 weeks, reflexology, acupuncture and pregnancy massage help to reduce physical and emotional stress, balancing hormonal levels and minimising interference with the natural timing if labour.

Self-help techniques will not start a labour that is not ready, but then can be used to ripen the cervix in preparation. Nipple stimulation encourages uterine contractions and the prostaglandins released in semen during sex help to ripen the cervix safely.

Q: I suffer from hay fever and am concerned about taking medication while pregnant. Are there any alternative treatments?

A: Hormonal changes in pregnancy can make you more susceptible to allergic triggers, and hay fever is a common result. A good holistic option is homeopathy. It’s best to visit the homeopath to get the correct remedy for you, but you could try Allium Cepa or Euphrasia. Allium Cepa is used where the nose and eyes stream and sneezing is severe, when symptoms are worse in the morning, indoors and when in contact with flowers. Euphrasia may be appropriate when the eyes burn, itch and water, and symptoms are worse at night. Treatment is best started before the hay fever season to strengthen your constitution. 

Q: I suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome, and was given glucophage to help me get pregnant. At the same time, I was also taking agnus castus daily and would often use geranium and melissa essential oils in my bath of help balance my hormones and stimulate ovulation. Happily, I conceived, and stopped these treatments as soon as I found out – at 4 ½ weeks. However, I’m now worried that these remedies may have harmed my baby in the early stages. Is it possible that I might have caused him any damage?

A: It is extremely unlikely that any of the remedies you mention will have harmed your baby. Many women use essential oils and herbal remedies to help them get pregnant.

Agnus castus in particular has been investigated for its ability to improve fertility by regulating the menstrual cycle. In these studies no evidence was found to suggest that taking this remedy in the early stages of pregnancy damages the baby. However, it is important to bear in mind that some herbs and oils are contraindicated in pregnancy, so you should always consult a qualified practitioner before you use any natural remedies to help you conceive or help you during pregnancy.

The irregular hormone levels in polycystic ovarian syndrome cause problems with ovulation and egg development, making it more difficult to conceive and maintain a pregnancy. By using these particular remedies as part of your preconceptual plan you have actually given yourself a greater chance of a healthy pregnancy. Both geranium oil and agnus castus work by normalising hormone production, creating a more regular ovulation pattern with healthier eggs, which in turn means a healthier baby.

However, you shouldn’t use geranium oil now that you are pregnant as it carries a very slight risk of miscarriage. I hope this helps to put your mind at rest, so you can continue enjoying your pregnancy with confidence.

Q: Can you help with hair loss after the birth? I’m losing loads every day and need some advice!

A: Hair loss after pregnancy can feel quite terrifying. It’s a normal occurrence, however, that probably 50% of women experience.

Hair growth is divided in to three phases: actively growing, transitional and resting. The extra oestrogen in pregnancy means much more of our hair enters the growing phases. However, hormonal changes after birth put all these extra follicles into the resting phase, which leads to excessive moulting. Most hair loss usually happens between 12 and 30 weeks after the birth. After this point it should tail off – if it hasn’t, you should speak to your GP.

A good postnatal diet will assist re-growth: lots of fruit, vegetables and sufficient protein. The natural iron tonic Floridex, found in most chemists, can also be useful. I sympathise with you: my baby is now 8 months and while hair loss has stopped, I have a rather attractive mini fringe to content with!

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Q:  I’ve struggled with my own sleep patterns for years and now I’m worried about how my new baby will affect it even further! What can I do to avoid exhaustion?

A: You need to make the most of opportunities for sleep. If you find it easy to drop off but have problems staying asleep then you must try and sleep whenever the baby sleeps. If you have difficulty falling asleep then the regular nightly feeds could end up blending into one. It will be important to show your baby good sleep habits – make night feeds as quiet and non-stimulatory as possible so that your baby can differentiate between night and day. Postnatal exhaustion is worsened by missing meals, so organise good-quality whole foods and protein to eat throughout the day. Before bed try milk, oats, bananas, turkey or eggs; these raise levels of the sleepy brain chemical serotonin. Finally, don’t feel alone; speak to your health visitor if necessary.

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