Parenthood: your changing lifestyle
Happy, healthy parents make happy, healthy children, so do your best to make sure you're fit for parenthood before getting pregnant.
All the things you take for granted about your life and what you do will be affected by the arrival of your baby.
Most of us live very busy lives and many new parents think that their new baby will just fit in somehow and life will go on as usual. It won't. Babies and children need a lot of time and attention, and as parents you'll have less time to spend with each other - and other people - than you did before.
Whatever you earn, you'll probably need to spend a fair amount of money on things to do with your child, such as clothing and equipment, although you may get some things second hand. Other household costs, such as heating, will rise too, and you may find you want extra items such as a new washing machine or even a larger car.
Your relationship with your partner will change when you have a baby and so do those with other people. You may start to feel closer to your parents - now they're your baby's grandparents - but you might find you have less in common now with your single and childless friends. It's good to make some new friendships with other parents if you can - they're going through the same experiences as you.
Change in your smoking lifestyle
This is one of the most damaging things you can do as far as the health of your unborn baby is concerned and it's the major cause of avoidable health problems. Risks linked to smoking include miscarriage and stillbirth, damage to the placenta, a low birthweight baby who fails to thrive, and a higher risk of fetal abnormalities. Smoking is one cause of a low sperm count, and a man who smokes while his partner is pregnant may damage his unborn baby's health through passive smoking. And the problems continue. When tested at five, seven, and eleven years old, children of heavy smokers were found to suffer from impaired growth and learning difficulties.
Alcohol during parenthood
This is a poison that can damage the sperm and egg before conception, as well as the developing embryo. The main risks to an unborn baby are developmental delay, growth deficiencies, and damage to the brain and nervous system - well documented as fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol can also cause stillbirth. Research suggests that the effect of alcohol on pregnant women varies: some are more affected than others. But one thing is certain: if you don't drink alcohol during your pregnancy you'll avoid any problems.
Only take over-the-counter medicines if you have to and always check the label. Your pharmacist will advise you about what's safe to take. Don't take recreational drugs if you're planning to conceive. Marijuana interferes with the normal production of sperm in men, and the effects can take three to nine months to wear off. Class A drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and morphine can damage the chromosomes in the sperm and egg, leading to abnormalities. When syringes are shared, there's a high risk of contracting HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. A mother can pass the HIV virus to her baby during pregnancy and the baby can become HIV positive in his own right. Cocaine use can also damage the baby's blood supply, and taking it in pregnancy can lead to the placenta separating from the womb and the risk of a stillbirth.
Change in your diet and exercise lifestyle
Both are vital to your health and the health of your baby. Do your best to eat a sensible balanced diet that's low in animal fat and includes at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day. Check, too, that you're getting enough folic acid in your diet because it's known to lower the risk of your baby suffering from any neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. It's a very good idea to take regular exercise, too. Pregnancy puts a strain on your body, so the fitter you are beforehand, the better you'll cope.
If you're fit and healthy, your pregnancy should not be any more difficult in your 30s or 40s than in your 20s. Whatever your age, you're likely to have a normal pregnancy and birth, although some problems such as infertility and chromosomal defects (for example, Down's syndrome) do become more common in older people. Older mothers, and younger women in high-risk groups, are always offered tests for chromosomal abnormalities.
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