These days, pregnant women don't have to go far for information. They're bombared with information, not only from their doctors, family members and friends but also from countless books, websites and magazines.
When it comes to the basics of what to expect when you're expecting, Lowcountry moms-to-be seem to have it covered.
But it's the little things that catch you unprepared. The nitty-gritty details.
To help, we talked to local moms about where to go, what to do and how to get help for all your pregnancy and childcare needs right here in the Lowcountry.
Getting Ready for Baby
The countdown starts the minute you see that positive pregnancy test. You now have less than a year to get ready for your bundle of joy, who will be here sooner than you think.
Stephanie Coffin, Charleston baby planner and author of the local website Bellies, Babies and Beyond, said the first step is making sure you have a doctor you're comfortable with. You may already have a relationship with a doctor or you may want to start shopping around while you're “trying,” she said. There are plenty of great options in the Charleston area including private practices, birthing centers and midwives.
“The biggest thing about finding an OB/GYN is finding one you are comfortable with and who you believe listens and understands your needs and wants,” she said. “Remember, you can always change doctors during your pregnancy if you feel uncomfortable.”
Once you have your doctor squared away, it'll probably be hard to not start shopping. The Charleston area has a great selection of baby and maternity stores — from the boutiques with pricey Southern smocks to the great deals you can find at the many resale shops.
Keep an eye out for large consignment sale events, too, which usually happen a couple times each year. A few mom-favorites include the twice-annual Charleston Repeats sale, the Kids Exchange of Greater Charleston and the Jr. League of Charleston's annual Whale of a Sale. Several of the sales offer first-time moms access to presale events — an opportunity to shop before the selection gets picked over.
Coffin said that around week 20, when you can find out the gender of your baby, it might a good time to start shopping for the nursery. Whether you're getting hand-me-down furniture or planning on purchasing an entire nursery suite, there are ways you can save money in the process, she said.
“The items I think are worth investing in would be the crib and the glider or rocker, but they don't need to break the bank,” Coffin said. “There are great options at every price level. Look for cribs that convert into a toddler bed then a full size bed, so it will last a while. When purchasing a glider or rocker, take into account you will be spending a lot of time in it, so get one that is really comfortable.”
If purchasing a used crib, make sure it hasn't been recalled, Coffin suggests. It's important to think about all the other baby gear you may need, too, such as a stroller, bathtub, high chair, swing or play pen. But remember, you'll probably want to register for some of these items, so there's no need to buy them right away.
“I recommend to go ahead and buy your nursery furniture and a car seat; everything else you can wait to see if you get them as a gift or purchase them closer to the time of the birth,” Coffin said.
Classes are a great resource for expecting parents to learn about all things baby, including everything from cloth diapering to childbirth to infant massage. While you might be hard pressed to find a traditional Lamaze class so often featured in TV and movies, the classes today are even more tailored to new parent's needs. Local hospitals and birth centers often hold childbirth classes for free or low cost.
Staying Healthy During Pregnancy
Fitness, nutrition and, of course, that dreaded number on the scale can be a big concern for many pregnant women, especially if they were leading active lifestyles before the pregnancy. It's important to discuss all these matters with your doctor and remember everyone is different, and so is every pregnancy.
Charleston personal trainer, yoga and spin instructor Erin Hopkins said she learned the hard way not to have too many fitness expectations going into her pregnancy.
“We were excited to get pregnant, and I thought life would go on as scheduled, I would run and spin and do yoga. That was just my expectation,” she said. “And then I found out I was pregnant with twins. That really changed the game for me. There were days that were frustrating because I'd think, 'I used to be able to do that and now I can't.' But I was comparing myself to my non-pregnant body.
“What I learned is I just had to respect what my body was going through. I'm not going to be able to do what I used to do, but that just has to be okay. My priority was the safety of my babies.”
Although Hopkins' high-risk pregnancy limited her fitness activities, she still continued to do yoga, spin classes and even weight training until she was put on bed rest. She said remaining active helped her during and after the pregnancy.
“When you're pregnant, you don't have to change that much you just have to lower the intensity, listen to your body a little bit more, change up your workouts a little bit,” she said. “Continuing to work out with my doctor's approval really helped me bounce back afterward.
“It's frustrating to watch your body change, but I've learned to respect what it went through and just take every day as it comes. I may never be what I was, but I'm going to be strong, I'm going to give it everything I have. I think now more than ever fitness is important to me because you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your babies.”
There are plenty of prenatal fitness options in town for those looking to remain active during pregnancy. Yoga is a popular option for de-stressing and remaining flexible as your body changes over those nine months.
For those experiencing aches and pains during pregnancy that seem to make even walking a chore, chiropractic services have become a popular option for expecting moms. Dr. Tara Miller with Family First Chiropractic in North Charleston specializes in prenatal chiropractic services that focus on the changes of a woman's body during pregnancy.
“There are so many changes going on to the woman's back and spine, and there's really not a lot of options as far as pain relief,” Miller said. “Midwives or doctors might recommend Tylenol and frankly that doesn't really cut it. The stereotype is that you're miserable for nine months and you're supposed to live with all these aches and pains and all these other changes in the body because they're technically normal. I don't really classify them as normal, maybe just common.”
After 10 years of practicing chiropractics on pregnant women, Miller said she notices they are more comfortable, they carry better, they feel better and their energy is good. Studies show it may reduce the length of labor also, she said. Miller recommends first-time moms see a chiropractor between 16 and 20 weeks and can continue until 36 to 40 weeks. The techniques used on pregnant women are gentler, can help with symptomatic relief such as back pain, headaches and even nausea, and are done with mother and baby in mind, Miller said.
“When everything is balanced and aligned, it decreases the stress on the body,” she said. “We find the more the mom is de-stressed or the better she's feeling, it's better for the baby. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the baby is.”
Your Birth Plan
When it comes to labor and delivery, it's a good idea to think about it sooner rather than later. It's not the most glamorous part of pregnancy, but in the end it's the most important. Lesley Rathburn, certified nurse midwife and owner/director of the Charleston Birth Place in North Charleston, said she's met too many first-time moms who put off the decisions on their birth plan far too long.
“Someday I'd like for every girl to have a dream pregnancy and birth Pinterest board and not just a wedding Pinterest board,” Rathburn said. “Most women spend a ton of money and a ton of time on planning their wedding, and virtually none on the birth of their baby. It's just as important, if not more important. They just sort of get in line with everybody else and they don't realize until well into the pregnancy that what they want for their birth is totally not what they signed up for.”
The first step is researching options, Rathburn said. You can turn to books and websites for information, but make sure what you're reading is up-to-date and based on scientific fact. Rathburn suggests Childbirthconnection.com as a resource.
“We live in the information age, but it's not all good information,” Rathburn said. “Some websites would be better, because the problem with books is as soon as they're published, the information is usually out of date. With maternity care, you really need to look at what is evidence-based, not just what is routinely done but what has been scientifically shown to be helpful, not harmful, for women.”
While going to an obstetrician and having the baby in a hospital is still the most popular way to give birth, it's not the only way.
“Women in Charleston are actually very lucky because they do have more than just the hospital option,” Rathburn said. “They can choose the medical model of care with a physician, the midwife model of care, the birth center model of care or a home birth.”
A midwife can perform deliveries at the hospital, in a birth center or at home. Doulas are trained, paid labor support people who are not medical providers, Rathburn said. They can do everything from rubbing your back, encouraging you and acting as a moderator between you and the healthcare providers if giving birth in a hospital setting.
If seeking a natural, un-medicated birth, Rathburn suggests looking into the alternative options for pain management. These options include a water birth, aromatherapy, self-hypnosis and even nitrous oxide (or laughing gas.)
Once you've decided on a birth plan, talk about it with your doctor or midwife as soon possible so everyone is on the same page when baby arrives.
After the Baby Arrives
The big day has come and gone, you now have a newborn and a whirlwind of activity going on around you — adjusting to eating and sleeping schedules, taking care of medical needs and friends and relatives visiting the baby.
One of the first things that may come up, even in the hospital, is baby photography. If you haven't already planned a newborn photo session, the window of time to think about it is pretty limited, said photographer Tamara Hart of Bump Meet Baby photography in Goose Creek.
Ideally, you should schedule a newborn photography session one to three months before you're due, Hart suggests, because photographers will get booked and may not be able to fit you in once the baby arrives. You probably won't be able to book the exact date, but booking the session means the photographer will work with you to get the photos usually 5-10 days after the baby is born, Hart said.
“Between 5-10 days old is when you can get a lot of the squishy, curly, womb-like poses,” she said. “As newborns get a little older, they're not going to sleep as deep, so they wont tolerate being messed with as much. At 2 to 4 weeks of age, babies are not going to curl anymore, their bellies have enlarged and they're not going to bend in half as well, so it's going to eliminate a lot of the posing we can do.”
Birth photography is growing in popularity, Hart said. Options include having a photographer capture the whole birth process or just the first few days after the baby is born.
“You want something more than iPhone photos of your child in the hospital,” Hart said. “Parents hire me to come into the hospital to photograph siblings or grandparents meeting the baby for the first time, the hospital bracelet, who their nurse was. All those crazy, exhausted days that will be a blur to the parents, I come in and photograph every detail I can to help them remember those days.”
Area photographers offer a range of packages and options for newborn sessions and can be found at varying price points. Though the photo sessions can be expensive, Hart says most parents realize it's worth the investment.
“Newborn photography is kind of like wedding photography,” she said. “In a way it's moments and days that you're never going to get back again. Your baby at five days old is going to look different than your baby at ten days old and at two weeks old. There's no way to reschedule that.”
Once the photos have been taken, the relatives have gone home and life starts to slowly get back to a normal pace, there are still resources in the Charleston area that can benefit new moms adjusting to life with a newborn. Whether it's trouble breastfeeding, lack of sleep or just the everyday difficulties of caring for a baby.
Postpartum Support Charleston has support groups for postpartum depression as well as one called Moving Into Motherhood for moms who may not have postpartum depression but are struggling with the transition into their new role. The group's facilitator LeAnn Gardner said it's important for new moms to ask for help and grieve the loss of their old, child-free life.
“I think one of the problems of our culture when it comes to marriage and having kids is everyone says things that make you feel like it can't be hard,” she said. “Facebook doesn't help, and some blogs don't help because they paint this shiny picture of, 'Everything's great, I have this cute baby.'
“It makes people afraid to say, 'Sometimes I just wish I was back to being single or married without kids.' Not that I would want anything bad to happen to my child, but I'm grieving this stage I was in. I'm grieving the losses that come with being a mom. And there are losses. Every stage of life, you give up something, and I don't think our culture allows us to grieve that.”
In Charleston, there are several groups, business and organizations offering help for new moms. Sometimes just gathering with other moms who're going through the same thing can help, Gardner said. You can find mom groups in every area of town on Meetup.com.
At some point during your pregnancy, you'll need to have the talk about who is going to care for your child during the day. It's one of the hardest choices every mom must face. Will you stay home? Will you go back to work? Will you hire a nanny or find a childcare center?
If you will need infant care, it's especially important to start looking early for a nanny or childcare center. Candace Jaruszewics, director of the nationally accredited N.E. Miles Early Childhood Development Center at the College of Charleston, advises parents to start looking while they're pregnant as many childcare facilities in Charleston have long waiting lists.
“Put your name on multiple lists,” she said. “Have a priority list: This is my first preference, second preference, third preference. But don't limit yourself to one program because if something happens with that, you're going to have difficulty. Especially with infant care because infant care in this community is not sufficient to meet the demand at all.”
While cost, location and availability will likely be huge factors in the childcare decision, remember to look for other things, too, like safety, curriculum and teacher qualifications, Jaruszewics said. Research the centers beforehand and make an appointment for a visit.
“I always tell parents to trust their instincts,” she said. “If they walk in and feel welcomed and feel like it's a happy place and what they observe is a good vibe, pursue it. If they walk in and anything strikes them as a red flag, there probably is something that needs to be further explored.”
Whether it's a daycare center or a private home provider, check to see if they are licensed with the state. At the very least you want to make sure they have clearances and they've met the kind of requirements the state has for abuse clearances, TB tests and things like that, Jaruszewics said.
Nowadays, parents have many options when it comes to early childhood curriculum at childcare centers. Whether it's Montessori or the now-popular creative curriculum, these learning philosophies are what separate custodial daycare and early childhood education, Jaruszewics said.
“Most good programs understand that it's not just their responsibility to take care of the child's physical needs during the day,” Jaruszewics said. “They also have a responsibility to provide experiences, language, exposure, diversity, different kinds of things that a child will benefit from and will make them more curious and will be challenging for them.”
If you decide to go the nanny route, there are many resources in the Charleston area. You can run the search for a caretaker yourself, with the help of sites like Care.com, SitterCity.com or the College of Charleston's online job board, or hire an agency to place one for you.
Trish Digliodo, president of Sweet Pea Nanny and Babysitting Agency, said when hiring a sitter, do a background check, check their references and make sure their personality is a good fit for your baby and your family. Have them babysit for a night, or during the day while you're there, before you hire them as full-time care for your child.
Nowadays the going rate for nannies and sitters tends to be between $12 to $20 an hour, depending on how many children there are and qualifications of the sitter, Digliodo said. Though it can be expensive, she's noticed more parents opting to hire a nanny who will be an extension of their family rather than leaving their children at childcare.
“People always put their children first,” she said. “They realize it's not as expensive as you think. A nanny is no longer just for the Kardashians. It can be affordable and you get that one-on-one care that is so valuable.”
Babies don't come with an instruction manual, but luckily there are plenty of classes in the Lowcountry that can help you prepare for becoming a parent.
• Childbirth Prep
Learn what to expect during labor and delivery, relaxation and breathing techniques, pain management options and how to handle emergencies. Most area hospitals offer these classes along with a tour of their facility so you'll know exactly what to expect when you arrive on the big day.
Find 'Em: MUSC Health, East Cooper Medical Center, Charleston Birth Place, Coastal Birth Services, Mother's Helper, Roper Saint Francis, Trident Medical Center.
• Infant Care
New and expecting parents can learn the basics of caring for a newborn at these classes offered around town. Topics usually cover hygiene, behavior, feeding, safety, signs of illness and diapering.
Find 'Em: MUSC Health, East Cooper Medical Center, Roper Saint Francis, Trident Medical Center.
• Just for Dads
Don't leave Dad-to-be out of the loop. More hospitals are now offering classes just for dads, often taught by veteran dads, with hands-on opportunities to practice diapering, burping, swaddling and soothing a crying baby.
Find 'Em: MUSC Health.
• Sibling Classes
Becoming a first-time big brother or big sister can be a big change for your oldest child. Hospitals offering sibling classes often include a visit to the nursery, diaper changing techniques, bottle-feeding and how to hold a baby. Children can practice on a baby doll or stuffed animal they bring from home.
Find 'Em: East Cooper Medical Center, Trident Medical Center.
• Cloth Diapering
Katherine Loitchinger with Lowcountry Diaper Service often teaches this one-day class on the advantages of cloth diapering. Parents to be can see the different options and ask questions.
Find 'Em: Charleston Birth Place, From Here to Maternity.
• Infant Massage
Learn the techniques to massage your infant from birth to pre-crawling, as a way to bond with your baby.
Find 'Em: Charleston Birth Place, From Here to Maternity, Mother's Helper, Trident Medical Center.
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