News you can use
Want to keep up to date with all the latest pregnancy research? Helen Foster has been doing her homework
A less painful labour
According to a recent study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles (where stars including Victoria Beckham, Kate Hudson and Penelope Cruz gave birth), women who have lower levels of vitamin D are likely to need more pain relief than those who have higher levels – possibly because lower vitamin D levels reduce the strength of the uterine muscles. It's recommended that all women take a supplement of 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D during pregnancy anyway – and this is one more reason to do just that.
There's 24-hour help
Did you know that your local maternity service has a midwife available by phone 24/7 to help if you're worried or have a question? Lots of women don't, according to a recent trial at Bradford University, which found that 2,022 pregnant women rang their out-of-hours GP service instead. 'The service aims to reassure women who have a problem or a question about pregnancy or birth,' says Jacque Gerrard from the Royal College of Midwives. 'Some centres give out the labour ward number, while others have a triage number – but whichever it is, your local number should be written on your notes. If it isn't, ask your midwife for it.' Also, check out the new technology in your area. Lewisham and Greenwich in London, for example, have an 'e-midwife' called Edie that patients can tweet, and other areas are following their lead.
Sit on a peanut ball
Things to take to the hospital with you: overnight bag; birthing partner; large peanut-shaped exercise ball... Researchers in the US found that women using a peanut ball decreased labour time by two hours and had a lower risk of needing a C-section. 'The ball is placed between your legs, which helps increase pelvic diameter, optimise gravity and allow more room for foetal descent,' says the study's author Christina Tussey, from Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix. Find peanut balls online at stores like physioroom.com.
The bug to avoid
Do you know what CMV is? If you don't, you're not alone. A recent study by the advice group CMV Action found that only 14 per cent of women had heard of it – yet cytomegalovirus (as it's officially known)
is more common than toxoplasmosis, spina bifida and rubella, and affects an estimated 1,000 babies a year, causing problems such as hearing loss. 'Because it doesn't cause symptoms in pregnant women... many don't find out they are infected until after the baby is born,' says Professor Paul Griffiths from University College London. CMV is passed via body fluids, so the most common way to catch it is while caring for other small children – changing nappies, wiping away drool, kissing etc. It doesn't mean you can't do these things when pregnant, but Caroline Star from CMV Action suggests the following: don't put things in your mouth that have just been in a child's mouth (such as cutlery or dummies); kiss kids on the top of the head or cheeks, not the lips; wash your hands for 15-20 seconds with soap and water after changing nappies, or wiping a tot's nose or mouth.
There's bound to be an app for that
The recent AXA PPP Health Tech & You Awards had a special category for maternal technology – and the winner was the (free) app Baby Buddy, which offers advice throughout pregnancy and up to six months after birth. Check it out at bestbeginnings.org.uk.
Feeling a little dry?
If you're planning to breastfeed, then take note that it might get a bit, erm, dry down there for a while. After giving birth, your oestrogen levels drop. And if you're breastfeeding, those levels can stay low for six weeks or more. And that – according to a new study published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine – can cause menopause-like symptoms such as vaginal dryness, which can make sex more painful. Now, if you just laughed out loud at the very idea of sex that soon after delivery, then there's nothing to worry about here, as things will probably revert back to normal by the time you're ready again. If you are feeling frisky, though, experts recommend having some lubricant at hand, just in case.
New down's syndrome testing
Called IONA, the latest check for Down's syndrome is a non-invasive test that looks at foetal DNA in a blood sample taken from the mother-to-be. While non-invasive Down's testing isn't new, this is the first test to be given the government-approved CE mark and to be used both privately and on the NHS (at London's St George's Hospital). Plus it offers results in 72 hours (most tests take at least a week). Find details of the clinics offering it at premaitha.com.
Leave 12 months between babies
Leaving a year between having babies lowers the risk of premature birth. That was the finding presented at the recent meeting of The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, which studied mums who'd already had a premature birth. The 12-month time lapse gives the body time to repair and strengthen.
The solution to stretch marks?
Secret Saviours is a band you wear around your middle throughout your pregnancy. Designed by vascular surgeon Stephen Barker from University College London, it's covered with tiny pads looking a bit like bubble wrap, that put gentle pressure on the skin, preventing it from stretching unevenly and causing marks; it also comes with skin strengthening gels. 'We can't guarantee that it will stop all stretch marks, but we can guarantee that it will significantly reduce the risk of developing them, and minimise the appearance of any stretch marks that do appear,' says Stephen. In fact, in a trial of the device on 159 willing volunteers, 66 per cent of women using Secret Saviours developed no stretch marks, and those who did get them had them independently marked four out of ten for severity, while in a group not using the band, 66 per cent did get stretch marks, and the severity of theirs rated seven out of ten. See more at secretsaviours.com; it costs £69.95.
Yoga can help fight depression
When US researcher Dr Cynthia Battle asked pregnant women who had mild depression what they would choose to use to tackle their symptoms, many of them weren't keen on taking drugs. However, they were keen on the idea of trying yoga. So she conducted a study to see if the practice could actually help symptoms – and it did. 'We need to do some more work to clarify exactly why this worked, but one possibility is that yoga may help women become more mindful,' Cynthia explains. 'This helps you feel more fully in the present moment, so you don't focus or ruminate so much on unpleasant past experiences, or dwell on worries and concerns for the future.' If you want to give it a try, the women in the trial did pregnancy-based hatha yoga once a week, and were also encouraged to practise at home with a suitable DVD.
If you don't feel that your symptoms of depression are improving, however, it's very important to see your GP or speak to your midwife about it.
Talking to your bump is a good thing
Well, it's long been suspected, and now scientists have clearly demonstrated that chatting to your bump will benefit your baby. The research was carried out by doctors at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, on babies born extremely early (25-32 weeks). One group listened to a recording of their mum's voice for 30 days; the second group didn't. At the end of the trial, ultrasounds showed that the part of the brain involved with language was larger in those whose mothers had 'chatted' to them. But we had to ask lead researcher Dr Amir Lahav one thing: does it matter what you say? 'Good question,' he replied. 'The simple answer is, I don't know. In our study, recordings include mums singing songs, reading books and talking directly to the baby, so we don't know if simply babbling would have the same effect.' Ah, well, at least now you know what does work... Think it's time to get your karaoke on!