Pregnancy isn't all about nesting and choosing the perfect pram – although shopping for baby is the fun part. Becoming parents involves making decisions about everything from giving birth to preparing for the early weeks of life at home with a newborn.
For first-timers, this new experience can be challenging. However, being well-informed and prepared for the changes ahead will help you enjoy it more. Here are 10 considerations to ponder over the next nine months.
1 Choose a location
Feeling comfortable with where you have your baby is crucial. If your pregnancy is low-risk, you can choose between a hospital, birth centre or home. Arrange visits, so you can see which facility you like best. Birth centres are run by midwives and are more homely than hospitals. If you're classed as high-risk, for example if you have a medical condition or are carrying more than one baby, you'll be advised to give birth in hospital.
2 Learn about pain relief
Finding the perfect pain relief depends on where you deliver your baby. Labouring at home means using natural pain relief options such as water (bath or shower), massage, walking and aromatherapy. Midwives at birth centres may offer the same natural methods and possibly a birth pool. In both instances, you'd need to transferto a hospital for an epidural or drugs. Fiona McArthur, midwife and author of The Don't Panic Guide to Birth (Penguin), says there's no need to be afraid of pain relief if your labour is not going as smoothly or as swiftly as you'd hoped. "Pain relief can help you doze for a couple of hours if needed and still wear off in time to push, or sometimes, even speed labour."
Three of the most common types of medicated pain relief are: drugs you breathe in which help you relax; drugs injected with a needle into a muscle or under the skin; and those injected near your spinal column that numb the area below the level of the injection. Don't feel you have to make a decision now – an open-minded approach allows you to make the right choice on the day.
3 Choose a class
These courses can be a real confidence builder for you and your partner, but how do you find the right one? Think about what you want to get out of the experience. If you're on a budget or want to familiarise yourself with your local hospital's maternity wing, opt for the hospital-run classes. There is a fee for courses in some states and condensed weekend workshops are also offered if you don't have time to go every week. If you prefer a smaller group and individual attention, consider an independent class; your GP or healthcare professional will be able to make recommendations on where to start looking. Whatever your choice, make sure you book by the 20-week mark as classes tend to be very popular.
4 Pick your birth partner
"New dads and new babies go together – but remember, you are the most important person in the room," Fiona says. "The people who support you in labour are crucial to your birth experience being positive, so choose calm people." According to a study by Canadian researchers, women tend to have a more positive birth experience with less chance of a caesarean or the need for powerful pain relief when an experienced woman is with them. If your mother isn't the right choice for you, try hiring a doula to support you. Contact one at www.findadoula.com.
5 Discover the gender
Thanks to ultrasound technology, whether a baby is male or female can usually be determined from around 16 weeks, and you can find out at your 20-week scan. Some parents prefer to keep it a surprise, but knowing could help you bond before birth. "I do think the trend is back to not knowing the sex, or keeping it very private between the parents," says Fiona. "What works for you is the perfect way to do it."
6 Prepare your mind
If you feel anxious about the birth, prepare yourself mentally. Research suggests that pain is a perception of the mind and directly linked to emotions and sensory stimuli, so if you can stay calm and create a relaxed environment, your labour will be more comfortable. Hypnobirthing can help as can antenatal yoga classes. Both teach breathing techniques and methods to divert your focus from the pain, which will empower women through the birthing experience.
7 Buy a pram
A pram is likely to be the biggest investment you'll make. Your baby will spend a lot of time in it, so it pays to do your homework while you have time. Size matters, but you may regret buying the largest model if it won't fit in the car boot or if you can't manoeuvre it around shops and cafes. Single-handed folding is also a consideration, especially if you use public transport often or have more than one child. To get value for money, choose a pram with longevity; one that features changing positions for the different stages from newborn to toddler, starting with a lie-flat position for infants.
8 Plan for after the birth
It's worth booking in extra help now for when feeding and settling your newborn become a full-time job, but consider your budget and needs. For example, engaging a private midwife for home visits might seem a reassuring option, but it's pricey and could be intrusive. Instead, ask your mum to visit to cook a few meals, and think about hiring a cleaner once a fortnight for the first three months while you and bub settle into your new life. Friends and family will want to help, so give them jobs like grocery shopping, folding the washing or babysitting while you sleep.
9 Sort your finances
Talking about money may not be as fun as spending it on baby gear, but it's important to discuss the future household economics with your partner. Effie Zahos, editor of Money magazine, says many expectant couples will move from a two-income unit to one. "While you may be eligible for the Baby Bonus or Paid Parental Leave, it's important to prepare your cashflow now. If you haven't built up a buffer and you're expecting soon it's not too late to start," she says. The easiest way to claw back cash is to look at your outgoings. "For instance, refinancing a $350,000 home loan from a standard rate to a discounted online home loan could save over $200 per month," she says.
10 Date your leave
While it's tempting to work up to your due date, bub is full term from 37 weeks and may arrive early. It's safer to start maternity leave a few weeks before your due date, which will allow you to shift mode from working woman to mum. You're obligated to give your employer at least 10 weeks' notice of your maternity leave and are entitled to one year of unpaid leave. For more information about your obligations and rights, visit www.fairwork.gov.au.