The Needs of Pregnant Women Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Needs of Pregnant Women

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A pregnant woman stands with a man behind her who has his arms around her and his hand on her 'bump'.

When the weather gets hotter and the prospect of a walk in the sunshine becomes more attractive, you'll notice one or two individuals walking slowly, trying to be sure and flat-footed, but leaning backwards slightly for balance. The layers come off and a bulging and beautiful tummy is revealed. The persons in question are pregnant.

Being pregnant is supposed to be a special time of your life, and if you believe the adverts it's full of smiles, knowing looks and diddy little cute clothes. But when were adverts anything to do with reality? OK, so pregnancy is not an illness and you might be lucky enough to breeze through the requisite nine months without so much as a stretchmark, but pregnancy can bring with it a whole host of discomforts and vulnerabilities. Tiredness, raging hormones, hunger, sickness, backache, legs hurting, hair falling out, fear about the birth and the enormity of bringing up a child all take their toll. That's quite a few discomforts and worries to deal with, which is why we asked you, the h2g2 Community for your advice on the matter. This is what you came up with...

No Nonsense

Not everyone needs to be looked after. There is a tendency to treat pregnant women with kid gloves - some women love being the focus of attention, but others find it irritating and patronising. So don't rush up to a newly pregnant woman plumping up pillows, and taking her shoes off if she's not receptive to the idea. Ask first.

Also, don't touch them without permission, and don't ask to touch the baby unless it's a really good friend. For some reason, when a girl gets pregnant, her tummy becomes public property. Be respectful.

While it's important to learn about pregnancy and birth, it's also important not to become overwhelmed by your situation and to concentrate on being yourself rather than a walking incubator. Obviously, there is apprehension about the birth (or absolute terror about the first, in many cases), but it's all over pretty quickly and you have a baby as reward for all your hard work.

Well Meant Advice

However, even if you're having a 'textbook-normal' pregnancy doesn't mean that you're worry-free. One of the greatest factors you have to combat is well-meant advice. Everyone seems to want to give you their opinion and it feels as if the world and his wife wants to be involved in your pregnancy.

Every woman who has been through a pregnancy herself will no doubt have plenty of tips and advice to pass on to a first timer, which can be really helpful, but then again, as every single pregnancy is different, not all these titbits are actually as helpful or supportive as intended...

I spent a lot of my pregnancy in hospital, surrounded daily by women who had seen or done it all before, and while I did learn some vital coping tactics, I was also scared witless when a woman told me my baby should be moving 40 times an hour like hers was!

It can be very daunting to be told endless horror stories of marathon labours or weird discomforts. Not to mention feeling overawed by things she does not need to know until she finds out for herself, as this Researcher describes:

This being my first pregnancy, I don't want to hear how awful and long and gruelling your labour was - I can read the books and be freaked out enough, thank you very much. Yes, I know those are nice and clinical and don't tell half the story, but I have an imagination, and that's bad enough... After all, I haven't much choice now, do I?

So just remember when passing on your wisdom, answer questions by all means, but try not to overwhelm the poor woman.

It isn't just well meaning friends, relations and random people off the street that take an interest; a pregnant woman is bombarded with so much official information and advice that she would need to have the brain of a polymath health freak to absorb it all. Be sensible, but don't try too hard to remember every nugget of advice at the expense of just enjoying the experience.

Oh, and a tip for the men, don't try to imagine you know how it feels, or try to compare any discomfort or pain you have ever had to being pregnant. It is not the same.


Horrible hormones run riot in your body when you're pregnant, and can have a marked effect on your personality. In these days of equality, it's sometimes hard to admit that pregnant women need a lot of understanding...

I completely lost my sense of humour - I took everything very seriously and was grouchy and grumpy the whole time. Aside from it being a nightmare for my partner to live with, I was a nightmare for me to live with - I could recognise that I was not my usual self and I hated me.

The best coping tactic for this is to remind yourself and everyone around you that it is a temporary state, and that normal service will be resumed in about nine month's time.

If you're a man, develop a thick skin for the inevitable abuse that will come your way when she can't get comfortable in bed no matter what position she tries or how many pillows she stuffs between her knees. Most of all, persevere - and that goes to all partners, husbands, boyfriends, whatever. The time will pass fairly quickly for you and at the end of it all you get a brand new baby - if that isn't worth you being extra kind and nice to your loved one, what is?

Be Supportive

As a man, since you can't have the birth for your partner, you should make up for it as far as possible by being supportive...

I remember when my wife phoned about 4pm and told me her waters had broken. I said I'd just finish work and come home, and she said 'Come home now'. No matter how long you expect labour to go on (24 hours for this birth) there's no excuse for not making every effort to be there - even if there is little you think you'll be able to do.

One way to show support is to get involved, and know what is going on, especially during a first pregnancy. Going to National Childbirth Trust classes, or whatever is available in your area, together is a good idea, and meeting other men at the meeting in a similar situation is a bonus.

Giving Up

If your partner is having a baby, offer to quit all your vices together. While pregnant she shouldn't smoke, drink alcohol or imbibe lots of caffeine. That is a huge sacrifice as anyone who has ever tried to quit just one of these can tell you. Doing them all at once is simply brutal! Misery loves company. So when she gives them up, offer to do so also. But in doing this, you can't be cranky or grouchy when you start having headaches and cravings. She won't want to hear how badly you want a cup of coffee while she's going through the same cravings and is pregnant.

It is important to take on advice about eating properly and restricting alcohol, but if your pregnant partner makes an occasional slip, do not be a tit about it, as one Reseacher describes...

I have a friend whose husband was a such a w**ker about her having one glass of wine on her birthday (she was about five months pregnant and hadn't drunk until that point in her pregnancy at all) that she ended up in tears. Remember that an occasional slip up is no big deal - and you would probably do a lot, lot worse in her position. That's not to say it's ok to be glugging back the Chardonnay and on a pack a day when pregnant, but we all know the difference between an occasional slip-up and a problem habit.

Be Nice to Her and Offer Practical Help

Hopefully partners are loving and caring most of the time, anyway. Just being affectionate is lovely: a kiss, a hug, a loving smile means a lot to a hormonal, fat, tired, cranky woman.

From about seven months it can get really difficult to reach your feet, so tying shoelaces, cutting toenails, rubbing cream into dry skin and so on takes a ridiculous amount of effort. Having an offer of help with things like that is wonderful.

Short mothers run out of lung space fairly quickly, so bending in general can be really hard for more than a few seconds; if you notice them stopping to gasp for breath every few moments, be sympathetic and offer to help.

Don't assume that someone on their second, third or fourth pregnancy needs less help and assistance. They will obviously have more experience than a first-time mother, but if anything they'll be even more tired since they're running round after a toddler, possibly coping with terrible twos, teething and toilet training at the same time as being pregnant. The most wonderful thing you can do for this woman is to take the older child(ren) well out of the way for a couple of hours and let her sleep.

In fact, lend a hand whenever you can...

I appreciated how my partner would automatically offer a hand to help me up from a seat. Once I got heavily pregnant I had real problems getting up from a low seat or a reclining position, I was like a dying fly, arms and legs wiggling ineffectively in the air. He would give me his hand and heave-ho without even thinking about it, it was great.

Sitting Down

It's nice to sit down when you're pregnant.

Yes, you're carrying extra weight (not just an 8lb baby, but a couple of pounds of placenta, a two litre bottle's worth of amniotic fluid and quite a bit more besides) - but there are other forces at work as well...

Your heart is having to work at least twice as hard to pump all that blood all that distance (you're obviously bigger, plus you have extra fluid in your body when pregnant). The baby also presses down on some of the main arteries which take blood down into your legs, and - just as important - back out again. Sitting down and putting your feet up can make the job easier for your heart, because the blood isn't having to fight gravity quite so much. These issues can also help to give you grief with a condition called oedema, when your legs, feet and fingers swell up. It's very uncomfortable and can be painful. Sitting down and putting your feet up can help to reduce the swelling (please note that swelling which does not go down can be a symptom of serious problems, and should always be brought to the attention of a doctor).

So - forget the women's lib and take a seat if it's offered to you. Stick your belly out on the bus or train and if necessary announce that you need a seat! Don't be afraid to slip your shoes off under the desk and stick your feet on an empty chair. And colleagues: please be understanding about this. The poor woman is not being lazy and the jokes about smelly socks wear thin very quickly!

Positive Body Image

For men: tell her that you still find her attractive (even if you don't) and show her in lots of tender physical ways that you mean it (even if you don't).

For me at least, I found her irresistible during the pregnancy because she was carrying our child. She seemed to appreciate all the extra attention and didn't really suffer from a negative body image because of that.

Also, never, ever tell them that they look that fat.


Under any circumstances.

I have never told a woman this, but have seen it done. The man in question was called into the other room and came back with a startled look in his eyes.


After all, you did this to her. And more importantly, she knows that you did this to her! There's all sorts of ways you can pamper women. Moisturise, for example. Rub her belly with moisturiser to avoid stretch marks. It doesn't always work, but it's a nice experience and you can bond with your bump. Alternatively, one of the best things that you can do for a Mum-to-be, is to pack her off to a massage therapist.


My feet were cripplingly sore with both pregnancies, so do offer foot/back rubs - it is no joke to be in constant pain and discomfort for months on end. Even if your massage attempts are less than professional, being rubbed at all is nice when you're sore and I always appreciated the attempt.

Shiatsu (a Japanese form of bodywork/massage based on all the same principles as traditional Chinese medicine) is great for helping to alleviate problems such as:

  • Backache
  • Nausea
  • Fear
  • Heavy legs
  • Tiredness
  • And helps the woman feel nurtured and cared for at a time when she is using all her physical resources on nurturing her baby.

Be warned, though, that there are a few points on the body that are 'forbidden' to massage during pregnancy (in case they 'uproot' the foetus), so do your research thoroughly or seek professional help.


Particularly in the later stages of pregnancy, it can be very uncomfortable lying down, because a vast weight is pressing down on all your internal organs and back. To get comfortable, the best thing to do is to lie on one side with the lower leg stretched out straight and raise the upper leg and cross it over the other and that way the bulge is resting gently on the mattress. It really works well.

Still on the subject of keeping comfortable, consider your clothing, especially as the warmer weather approaches. Wearing loose cotton clothing is helpful, especially as bumps can itch a lot in the warm weather. Avoid wearing tights and stockings like the plague.

Ginger for Morning Sickness

Whatever way you take it, powdered, in a biscuit, in a drink, stem, root, crystallised, the most sure-fire cure for morning sickness is ginger, providing of course you actually like ginger, otherwise it's sure to give you morning sickness.

In fact ginger helps an upset stomach in many situations - you don't have to be pregnant. To make ginger tea, simply add about three tablespoons of grated ginger to a small pot of ordinary tea, leave to brew a few minutes, add whatever milk or sugar you'd normally have and then drink. Or make it in advance, keep it in the fridge and serve it iced.

Have a couple of ginger biscuits by your bed so you can have them first thing when you wake up, as the nausea usually only sets in after you start moving about. Obviously the best way is for your wonderful partner to have made you a cup of tea to go with the biscuit and have it ready as you wake up.

Buying Presents

Don't just buy a present for the baby - try and get something for the mother, that isn't for a 'mother', but is for a 'woman'. It doesn't have to be big or expensive, but it does have to be for her. A bottle of her favourite tipple is likely to go down well, although she won't be able to drink it if she's breastfeeding). Or some unpasteurised cheese or pâté - anything you know she was missing for the sake of the baby during pregnancy. A home-made book of baby-sitting vouchers is another good one, so she knows she is going to get at least the occasional respite.

Don't forget Daddy either, as he may be feeling left out, too. And for the older sibling, if there is one. It can be a difficult adjustment from being the only child to being an older brother or sister. Everyone tends to coo over the new arrival - visitors should remember to pay some attention to the existing child, too. In fact, seeing as this present-buying lark seems to be turning into a very expensive business, why not cook a meal for the expanding family instead? Or prepare a few meals that can be stored in the freezer. The first few days and weeks are going to busy, and it's a fabulous way to help out.

If you must buy the baby a present (as well as the parents) then don't buy them 'newborn' clothes - they'll have loads of those and the child will very soon grow out of them, instead buy clothes in a larger size, appropriate for the season. So if the baby was born in June, and you're thinking of buying something sized six months, remember that it will be winter by then, and a cute pair of shorts on sale in Baby Gap won't be suitable in December.

Asking Questions

Be sensitive when asking questions. Some don't mind telling you all about every detail, others are more private, so before you get down to the nitty-gritty, think about the following...

  • Don't ask questions about bodily functions. They're already uncomfortable. Asking 'so, planning to breast feed' is a little too personal for the water cooler.

  • Never ask a woman who may or may not be with child when they're due. If she's not pregnant, it will embarass both of you. Also, some women wait for a specific moment to break the happy news to the office. So it may be wise to keep your observations to yourself.

  • Stick to simple topics. Are you sleeping? Is the nursery finished? What do you still need? These are all appropriate baby conversations. Questions that are likely to earn you a smack include: Are you retaining water? Have you seen your feet in a while? How much do you weigh now?

Do You Know What it Is Yet?

'Do you know what it is yet?' is the dullest thing you can say to a pregnant woman, and it can actually be quite offensive.

Here's why. In most cases, the way to find out the sex of a baby is a scan, done sufficiently far on in development that the sexual organs can be recognised. In some places, the only scan a woman normally receives is in the first two to three months, when no such identification is possible. Other scans are only done if there is reason to be concerned about the baby. So, for a woman, helplessly submerged in her world of antenatal knowledge, that question 'Do you know what it is yet? is like someone saying 'Have you found out what is wrong with your baby yet?'

Not subtle. In areas where later scans are routinely available, women may choose not to have them. They may resent too much medical involvement in what is after all, a very normal human process, or they may not want to know the sex of the baby. Your question, and the lengthy explanation she has to give to justify her answer - will be very tedious to her. Even if she has found out the sex, she may be keeping it a private matter - your question can actually feel quite intrusive - why are you only asking about her baby's sexual organs?

While some women may be 'wanting a boy' or 'desperate for a girl' for most Mums-to-be there are far, far more important concerns than the sex, so give this question a rest. If you get the answer 'Yes, I know what it is; it's a baby' then it's all you deserve.

And don't try to change her mind if she tells you that she and her partner are waiting to find out the sex of the baby. If your timing's bad, your head may well get bitten off. Besides, even if a couple wants to know whether it's a boy or a girl, and has a scan late enough that it's possible to tell, they could still not know, if the baby's being unco-operative the day of the scan, or perhaps the umbilical cord is lying just right... Other than genetic tests, there's really no way to be 100% certain what the baby is until the grand arrival anyway.

Oh, and don't say 'Just as long as it's healthy' either. Chances are she's going to love her baby whatever; don't put a limit on someone's capacity for affection.

So what do you say to a vague aquaintance with a bump? You don't need to say much. If she's baby-obsessed, she'll chatter on anyway, if she's taking it in her stride, then the conversation will flow as if the bump wasn't there. Make a general enquiry about her health - as you might for anybody - and see the way things go.

Listen to your Body

As one Researcher advises...

I have been pregnant three times now and two of my babies have required special care after birth. Unfortunately the pregnancy in between ended in miscarriage. My first baby was born ten weeks prematurely, but probably would not have been here at all had I not listenend to my own body and mind.

Always remember if you are pregnant that any concerns should be taken to your doctor, that headache you've had for just a few days may seem trivial and you might feel silly to see your doctor because you can't remember last time baby kicked but it is better to be safe than sorry.

I had a similar experience. I've had three pregnancies, the last of which ended in my daughter being born five weeks premature. This was due to pre-eclampsia, an illness which only arises in pregnant women. Its main symptom is high blood pressure and it can be fatal for both mum and baby. I had to spend three weeks in hospital resting and being monitored. It was actually a relief to get away from all the other stresses at home due to also having two other kids. After two weeks in special care my daughter came home and is now a healthy and thriving seven month old. The lesson I learned from this was not to ignore advice from the midwives. I felt fine apart from being tired, but they insisted that my blood pressure needed monitoring. I didn't realise how serious it could get. The thing about pre-eclampsia is that it has only one cure - delivering the baby. Luckily things didn't get serious for me until 35 weeks when the baby had a very good chance of being fine. She needed help breathing for a few days, but that's all! If I ever did it again, I'd spend more time resting and let my partner do a bit of pampering; it might not have helped with the pre-eclampsia, but would have made it a lot more of a relaxing experience.

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