Pregnancy can bring a lot of restrictions for the mother-to-be. This is when ante-natal classes help both husband and wife cope with the change in their lives.

Men, even a couple of decades ago, were strangely disassociated from their wives pregnancy. Many still are. Yet, with changing times, this ‘disassociation' is changing too. For the better.

A pregnancy was called a ‘confinement', meaning the woman was restricted from doing a lot of things: different things in different homes. One mother confided she was not allowed to wear a brassiere or anything around her waist. “If I do that, the baby will be born with a line around his head,” she said. Actually, wearing a proper brassiere is a must for a pregnant woman as it supports the growing breasts. The only time a woman should take it off is at night.

Reassurance and knowledge

With changing times, women need reassurance and knowledge from a professional who is qualified to teach them about the changes in their lives and bodies right through the pregnancy and into parenthood. “We learnt a lot,” says Suresh who attended antenatal classes with his wife, Vanitha. “The relaxation techniques are very useful for the father too. These classes involve the father too, which is vital in building a bond.” Clearly, he has become more involved in his wife's pregnancy and showed signs of being a really good labour coach.

“We haven't told my mother-in-law about the classes as she would not permit it,” Vanitha confided. “She is full of old-fashioned ideas not backed by any reasoning, and I'm the sort of person who needs to know why I'm doing something.”

For this couple, antenatal classes were a real eye-opener. “Even though the exercises are very simple, they are very useful,” Vanitha pats her almost flat post-pregnancy abdomen. Holding her baby son perfectly as he feeds, she says “I do the tummy flattening exercise regularly. My stomach has gone in a lot.” Breastfeeding also helps the mother lose pregnancy fat stored in her tissues.

Classes are best during the second trimester. Couples learn about how the mother's body prepares for birth, nutrition, how to get the best out of food, exercises a pregnant woman can do both before and after the baby. An entire session deals with breast feeding: how she needs to prepare her breasts for feeding, how to feed the baby, techniques to ensure the baby gets all he/she needs.

“I had many doubts during my pregnancy,” says Hemlatha who came all the way from Kanchipuram for her classes in Chennai. “My legs were swollen. In my class I learnt why it happens and what to do. I found the exercises and home remedies taught to us were most useful.” Surprisingly, it was her father-in-law who made sure she attended the classes regularly. He went through her notes and the handouts given at the end of each session, even asking his children questions.

Often, husbands who accompany their wives become really interested and come up with their doubts. “Will I actually be helpful during labour?” Hemalatha's husband Pradip wanted to know as soon as he finished coaching his wife through a breathing practice session. Ravishankar, another dad has similar doubts. “I will coach her outside the birthing suite,” he says. “But I have my doubts about being there when the actual action takes place.”

Useful techniques

Quite clearly, those coming to antenatal classes do so because they find them useful. “I came because a lot of my friends were having problems during their delivery. Their doctors then remind them that they should've gone to antenatal classes. It would've eased the birthing to a great extent.” Ramya Ravishankar says.

While the expanding abdomen is there for all to see, what the parents go through is a very personal experience that only they understand. The classes help them in their journey from being husband and wife into becoming parents.

Myth Busting

Myth: Exercise is bad in pregnancy.

Fact: Sustained exercise is good for the mother and the baby. Research indicates that women who exercise through their pregnancy have shorter labours and deliver healthy, alert babies.

Myth: Wearing a bra during pregnancy is bad for the baby. He will develop a line around his head.

Fact: Pregnancy is a time when a woman's breasts need to be well supported as they grow in size.

Myth: A pregnant woman needs to eat for two.

Fact: She needs to eat quality rich, nutrition dense foods. Quality over quantity is the way through the pregnancy. Her weight gain must not exceed 25 per cent of her non-pregnancy weight.

Ameeta Agnihotri is a Childbirth Therapist based in Chennai. E-mail: littlemiracles.10@gmail.com or call 9840284249.

Keywords: pregnancy

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012