Many pregnant women struggle to get to sleep
Q: I want to get a 4D scan of my baby done privately, but my midwife doesn’t recommend it. Is there any medical reason why I shouldn’t have this scan?
A: There aren’t many medical reasons to have a 4D scan. It’s mostly a research tool that can reveal a lot about early development. For parents-to-be, it’s more of a bonding experience, and the pictures can be a very lovely keepsake.
On the other hand, there’s no medical reason to avoid a 4D scan, so I can’t really say why your midwife wasn’t keen. While 4D scanning is pretty new, in terms of the amount of ultrasound rays your baby gets, it’s about the same exposure as from a conventional antenatal scan (which is 2D). However, remember that even if you have a 4D scan, you still need your usual antenatal tests and scans.
Q: I am 26 weeks pregnant and I am a bit of a sun-worshipper – is it safe to sunbathe? I tend to keep my belly covered, but only with a thin cotton vest.
A: While a bit of sunbathing is safe enough, it’s not a great idea to sunbathe a lot during pregnancy. Yes, it’s good to get out and about, and the vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight is good for you and your baby. But skin can become very sensitive to UV light when you’re pregnant, and if you sunbathe you’re more likely to develop patches of pigmentation, especially on the face. Your baby can also become uncomfortably hot, so a high body temperature is not great for his health. Also avoid very hot baths, Jacuzzis and saunas.
Q: I am 26 weeks pregnant and am finding it impossible to sleep, and I’m constantly exhausted. Will this affect my baby?
A: This is a time of rapid growth for your baby, so it’s not surprising that you’re tired and not sleeping well, but it will really help your baby’s wellbeing if you do manage to rest more. Waking up every hour may be unavoidable, but you can increase blood flow to the placenta by staying lying down in bed when you do wake up, and by putting your feet up more during the day or even having a nap. Can you get a break during your working day for this?
As for the early starts and the long commute, these can be added stresses, which can also increase the level of stress hormones in your baby, and that can in turn affect his growth and development, possibly long-term in subtle ways that experts are still debating. What’s more certain is that stress is linked with premature and low birth-weight babies
You can’t always avoid stress, but it’s worth doing whatever you can to reduce it. These are the most important months of your baby’s life, so workaholic mums-to-be need to have a re-think.
The other thing to do is make sure you’re not anaemic. You should be having a routine blood test soon but, if you’re exhausted, your midwife or doctor can arrange a blood test earlier than scheduled.
Q: I’m planning to go to a rock concert in a couple of weeks, when I will be nearly six months pregnant. Will the noise harm my baby?
A: You’re right to be aware of the dangers of noise, because it can cause cumulative damage over a lifetime. Babies can probably hear well from 18 weeks of pregnancy, and by six months there’s no doubt that your baby will be aware of loud music, as well as subtle sounds like your voice, heartbeat, stomach gurglings and so on. However, your baby is partly protected because amniotic fluid dampens sound waves.
The protective effect is greatest for high pitched sounds, which could leave a baby vulnerable to lower frequencies – like the bass in rock music. Research suggests that noise in excess of 115 decibels for a long period of time might damage an unborn baby’s hearing. Rock concerts often reach 110 decibels, but only last a couple of hours. It’s hard to be certain how large an effect one concert will have, so you’ll have to go with your instincts.
Q: Nearly a year ago I had a back injury, which was diagnosed as prolapsed lumbar disc. After a slow recovery I am keen to try for a baby. I am 38, so don’t want to put it off for too long. Will I be able to cope with pregnancy?
A: It all depends on how bad your disc problem was – whether any nerves were affected or you had surgery. Even without previous trouble, back pain is common in pregnancy. But many women with back trouble are able to carry a pregnancy to term. At the age of 38, it’s probably best not to delay, but get an opinion from the doctor who treated your injury.
During pregnancy, make sure you do pelvic floor exercises. Swimming also really helps the back, and can be done at any stage. You might also like to consult a physio about other specific back exercises too. Buy equipment that will make it easier to look after your baby once he’s born, and plan for your partner to have some time off to help.
Q: Eczema runs in our family and I know I suffered particularly badly as a baby. I’ve just found out I’m pregnant. Is there anything I can do to reduce the chances of my baby inheriting eczema?
A: You cannot influence which genes your baby gets from you and your partner, so sadly you can’t change the chances of your baby inheriting eczema from you.
However, eczema is sometimes linked with other allergies, such as asthma, hay fever and food allergies, and you may be able to reduce the chances of your baby developing symptoms of these by avoiding eating peanuts and other nuts during pregnancy. This is advice often given to women who have allergies in the family. It won’t alter your baby’s genes, but it may prevent some of those allergy genes from being ‘switched on’. However, there’s no guarantee (continue to avoid peanuts yourself if there’s a family history of allergies). Try to keep your newborn’s skin well moisturised with a bland lotion, and make sure that her clothes are made from soft natural fabrics like cotton. Use a mild detergent for her laundry and always rinse clothes thoroughly.
Q: I’m pregnant for the first time and have just got to 10 weeks. I am so worried about my baby getting exposed to environmental chemicals that might cause cancer. At the moment I still work, and use the car each way. Is there anything I can do?
A: The placenta is pretty good at filtering out harmful things, with some exceptions like alcohol, tar and other chemicals from cigarettes, and some drugs (including street drugs). The situation regarding other pollutants is less clear. Common sense tells you that they can’t be good, but research isn’t conclusive. One study that got a lot of publicity suggested that vehicle emission might be linked with childhood cancer. However, many experts dispute that work. It certainly doesn’t square with the fact that leukaemia and other childhood cancers are similar in number in industrial and non-industrialised countries.
What is known is that extremes of hot and cold (including high fevers caused by viral infections) can be bad for a pregnancy. Then there are foods like soft ripened cheeses and pates that contain a lot of listeria bacteria, which can also harm an unborn baby. It’s worth your while trying to avoid these factors. And it goes without saying that in pregnancy you shouldn’t smoke or take any street drugs or unnecessary medication (if in doubt, speak to your pharmacist). Be very careful with alcohol. Many pregnant women avoid it altogether, but it’s almost certain that the odd celebratory drink does no harm. If there are specific dangers in your workplace, like radiation or heavy metals, you are entitled to change your duties or have time off to avoid damage to the baby. Once you’ve taken action about the known dangers, try to relax a bit and enjoy the rest of your pregnancy. Worry and stress won’t help you or your baby.