With booking appointments and understanding what to expect in the pre and post-natal stages, navigating the system can feel like a maze, and it's easy to feel lost. We asked a midwife - who's also a mum - how to navigate the system, along with what advice she had for expecting parents.
There are many sources of antenatal advice out there - including family, friends, TV, social media, and classes. There is a lot to be gained from the private classes that are available - you meet local women in your area at the same stage of pregnancy to you, and get general advice about signs of labour, the birth itself, the postnatal period, and life with a newborn.
There is also a huge benefit in attending your local NHS antenatal classes too. They provide you with specific information about your local Trust, as well as specifics about what care you will receive in the hospital. You may find that your hospital offers a tour of the maternity unit either in person or virtually.
Either way, it's a really good idea to speak to your midwife at around 20-25 weeks to ensure you are booked into a class appropriate for your gestation stage.
At your first appointment with the midwife, which is likely to be between 8-12 weeks into your pregnancy, it is helpful to ask them to run through your 'schedule of care', which will detail all the appointments during your pregnancy. Depending on your NHS Trust, this care will either be midwifery-led, shared care with your GP or - if required - midwifery and obstetric care.
Knowing when your appointments are scheduled and keeping a calendar where you can outline your plan, will help you to feel like you are in control in the months leading up to the birth.
Towards the end of your pregnancy, you are likely to have developed an idea of how you would like your labour and birth to progress. Your midwife will encourage you to write a birth plan. Depending on your NHS Trust, there may be a place in your maternity notes for you to write this; you can use the NHS Choices website to read about the options and write your plan, or you can find a template such as those listed on the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
It’s great to have an idea of what you want but remember that flexibility is key and, what feels right at the time may be very different to what you have written down.
It may be obvious who you want as a birth partner, and indeed for many that is the baby’s father but for others it may prove tricky who you want by your side. What’s important is to decide who will best support you in a confidential, sensitive and non-judgmental way. Would you prefer someone who is a mum themselves or is that not important? Should it be your best friend?
Equally, you don’t have to have anyone as you will be well-supported by your care team. The most important thing is to do what’s right for you and your baby.
Before the baby arrives, research local breastfeeding support and find out what is around in your local area in the way of breastfeeding cafés, milk spots or groups. There are many peer support and midwife or health visitor led groups. Speak to your midwife during pregnancy to get an idea of what is local to you.
Many women are very keen to leave hospital and return to their home to begin their new life; however, before you are discharged be sure that you have answers to all your questions, are confident with your breastfeeding, and know what to expect in those first 24-48 hours.
Once home, it may take that length of time for the midwife to come and visit you - all NHS Trusts are a little different, but a midwife should have visited you within 48 hours of stepping foot inside your front door. This block of time - between leaving the hospital and seeing the midwife in your own surroundings - can often seem daunting to a new family, so be sure to discuss all your questions with the midwife in the hospital before you go.
Once you're home with your baby and become more confident in those early days, you will still be receiving midwife visits and gaining a lot of information before she hands over your care to the health visitor. This happens approximately 10-14 days after you give birth. The midwife will provide you with details of when she will visit next, but on occasion due to her work load she may be vague about timings of visits. It is helpful to ask her whether she will be visiting in the morning or afternoon so that if you feel up to it, you can take your baby out for a walk without being restricted by expecting a visit sometime between 9am-5pm.
Life with a newborn can be lonely, despite all the support from family and friends. It is helpful to meet other women locally who have babies similar in age to your little one, as well as those a little older so you get an idea of what to expect as your baby grows.
Having a class or group that you know you can attend each day of the week can give you a reason to leave the house and make the transition into parenthood easier. Perhaps there is a local breastfeeding drop in or café, a music group, or playgroup - the list is endless.
Don't expect to make it to every class but have something planned that you could attend if you and your baby feel ready. To begin with, I suggest afternoon groups as you will find the mornings disappear in those first few months.
Life with a new baby takes some adjustment for both parents. There are many incredible moments and memories in the making.
A baby's main form of communication is crying, and as adults it can take us time to work out what a baby is crying for. After a clean nappy, feeding, cuddles and tons and tons of love, a baby may continue to cry for another reason. It can be incredibly stressful to hear a baby cry and some babies do cry for longer periods of time.
It is helpful to be aware of this and dip into resources to ensure you are prepared including Cry-Sis.
When friends and family ask to visit, don't be afraid to ask for help and support.
Don’t be afraid to ask them to bring food or pick up some shopping. Think about what they can do to make life easier for you ...even if it is to run the hoover around the house.
When you have visitors, instead of jumping up to make them a cup of tea, get them to put the kettle on and don't be afraid to ask them to wash the dishes or put the washing on. True friends will only be too glad to be helpful.
You and your partner are a team. Keep this in mind once you go home with the baby. Communicate and make time with each other and remember this is a new experience for you both, no matter what number baby this is.
You are embarking on a lifetime of parenthood - be easy on yourself, as the expectations you had for yourself as a parent before may have changed once your baby is here. This is okay! Relax, breathe, and be kind to yourself.