You're pregnant! Congratulations! You're planning on doing everything yourself this pregnancy, and having baby at home? Also congratulations! You want to keep prenatal records for yourself, but don't exactly know where to start?
This post is for all you ladies who've decided you want to do some form of DIY Records. Like me, you want to be able to track and evaluate data points in time. Perhaps it's just for fun, like me, or perhaps you have more specific health reasons for taking notes. Whatever your reasoning, you are free to do your own prenatal care. A majority of the things even a doctor would be tracking can be done at home at very little or no cost.
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What tools do you need?
You could buy some items for "super detailed records" like a cloth tape measure, a fetoscope, blood pressure cuff, blood sugar glucometer, and urine test strips, the cost of these items is not exceedingly high.
- Cloth tape measure: I would say this was my most used tool - they can be found in the sewing section of a store like Walmart, or on Amazon. (Here is an example, 2-pack for $5.00).
- Blood Pressure Cuff: My second most used item (Here is one on Amazon for $39 identical to the one in our doctor's office).
The other items, while I owned them myself, I didn't really use that much and don't feel are necessary - even the fetoscope (Here for $11.95) or stethoscope weren't as helpful to me in hearing baby's heart beat as I expected.
Think through why you are tracking
For an average, run-of-the-mill, nothing out of the ordinary pregnancy there are a number of measurements that doctors and midwives always seem to be taking. You can copy their example and track the same. Weight, fundal height, and urine test strips being the most obvious ones. (After all, if you've ever had prenatal appointments, you know that some of your visits are hardly anything more than getting weighed, peeing in a cup, and having your belly measured... Then being asked "any questions?" and sent on your way.)
Buy why are they tracking those things? Have you ever thought about what the doctor/midwife/nurse might be looking for? (Oh and here's link to a pdf on "how do perform" a lot of these measurements, compiled by the midwives at Indie Birth)
Doctors are famous for giving advice on how much weight to gain, and how much NOT to gain. Midwives are more known for giving nutritional advice, and encouraging you not to weigh yourself or restrict your weight gain. But if you are tracking weight for yourself it's good to know what you're looking for.
Normal weight gain is something you can google, so I won't give numbers. But excessive weight gain (for you) could indicate something is wrong. You might be retaining fluid and swelling, and would want to consider paying closer attention to your nutrition. Gestational diabetes can cause this rapid weight gain in the mother and also in the baby. Or maybe it's a good indication that icecream every night is a little excessive and you should tone it down a little. Or maybe you were under-weight to start with and your body is *demanding* adequate nutritional stores to build your baby.
(Nausea and appetite do a great job directing you to eat enough to grow that baby!) Interestingly enough having too little salt in your diet can cause thirst and swelling. Using mineralized salts like Celtic Sea Salt, Gray Salt, or Himalayan Sea Salt can help you not retain too much water, and sometimes decreases nausea as a bonus. So if you start to notice unusually high weight gain pay attention and start asking yourself what your body is trying to tell you?
While it's normal to lose some weight due to nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite in the first trimester, weight loss isn't necessarily what you want your body to be doing during pregnancy. If you are concerned about losing weight, then you probably should become a detective and figure out why! Do you know why? Excessive vomiting or can't keep anything down, even water, is called HG (hyperemesis gravidarum) and is an extreme version of morning sickness. Yes. Throwing up and being nauseous during the first trimester is normal. Throwing up greater than 5 or 10 times a day is NOT normal.
If you have this condition, it's your choice what to do. Tough it out? Maybe. Go to a doctor? Maybe. Some women are hospitalized for dehydration because they can't keep water down. I'm happy to say that in all the stories I've heard of HG, even amazingly extreme cases, the baby seemed totally unaffected by the mother's condition and grew normally. YOU on the other hand... Don't feel bad if you need to abandon self-care, and seek out medical care. ::Hug::
No Weight Gain:
Okay, but what if you aren't gaining anything? There were about 8 weeks during each of my three pregnancies where I literally gained no weight. Baby was fine, I wasn't restricting my eating, but I simply didn't gain any weight. However, prior to those 8 weeks I had been gaining 2 pounds a week for a few weeks, and afterward I went back to gaining 1 pound a week... I think I was just evening out after several over-indulgent weeks.
If you are worried about a lack of gaining weight, then become a detective and see what you can figure out!
Though I've never had any issues with my blood pressure, I liked to keep track of what it was. Some people go to Walmart or the grocery store and test their blood pressure on the free machines outside the pharmacy. I have a blood pressure cuff, and could take it from the comfort of my home, and whenever I liked. For me normal was around 106/89, and 90bpm. Sometimes a little higher, sometimes a tad bit lower, but roughly it landed at the same spot. Interestingly, during pregnancy it is common for women to have a lower blood pressure than not pregnant.
For those of you who tend to have high pressure -- its good to notice if it's getting higher. For those of you with very low, it's equally good for you to be aware of your normal baseline. If you have a SUPER low normal, like 90/50 and then notice it's gone up to 110/80, YOU should be aware that's a huge jump! Even though a medical professional might see that second number as "normal" -- Advocate for the fact that it is not your normal.
What about Fundal Height?
This might be my favorite part of "Self Prenatal Care" -- That beautiful round baby bump growing and revealing that new life is coming. For some women the belly is more noticeable, while others hide the bump longer, or never feel they look very pregnant to bystanders. Regardless of maternal shape, measuring the fundal height of your own uterus gives a nice reassurance that baby is growing in there.
Is this topic intimidating to you? Do you think you might be doing it wrong, or you don't even know where to begin? Let me encourage you, in the privacy of your own home you can do it for fun, practice any time you wish, and your skill will improve naturally! Besides, no decisions are being made based on your measurements - so why not try and see how it goes?
Twenty weeks is the magic number when you are "supposed" to start measuring. Supposedly that's when your fundus will be level with your belly button, and it will also measure approximately 20cm from your pubic bone. I enjoyed watching this tutorial video called "Learning to Feel Your Own Fundus" on how to do it, but also had been figuring it out on my own for weeks by the time I watched it.
What I learned about fundal height...
It's best to only start recording after the recommended 20 week mark. Though it was fun to feel my uterus grow and rise up out of my pelvis, and measure... I found my enthusiasm for measuring early turned into "early-and-often," and I began to obsess about the possibility of twins.
No woman needs to spend THIS much time obsessing over fundal height, and measuring/re-measuring, etc. There was only ONE beautiful baby in there. Once I hit 20 weeks gestation my uterus stayed firmly at 25cm for the next five weeks. After that point I only measured once a week and wrote it down, and stopped obsessing. 🙂 But boy was it fun while the dream of twins lasted!
Peeing in a cup, and dipping those sticks!
Full disclosure, I thought about buying my own pee sticks and dipping them, but never did. That is, until half way through my second unassisted pregnancy, then I wished I *would* have gotten some! I'll explain...
Urine test strips can measure up to 10 variables (maybe more? I haven't seen any with more though). Depending on the test it can give clues as to what's going on with the mother. "High Leukocytes" indicate a bladder infection. "Nitrites" also indicate bladder infection, because the bacteria involved in the infection produce nitrites. "Protein" gets spilled into the urine for various reasons. Your urine "pH" goes up with a bladder infection, but there may be other reasons. Blood can be detected on the strips. "Specific Gravity" tells how dilute your urine is, and may help you know if you're hydrated or not. Ketones... That's the one I wish I was testing during that second unassisted pregnancy.
Quickly, I'll tell you the story.
My second unassisted pregnancy (third child) we had just moved into our new house the same week we found out we were pregnant. I had horrible food aversions and nausea, paired with extreme fatigue. (And yes, I thought I was having twins because my uterus felt so big so early!) Being confident in my body's ability to grow this baby, I was doing very little measuring and recording this time.
Each week I took blood pressure measurements, fundal measurements, and recorded symptoms... But I lived for the day when my symptoms would fade and I would feel better in the second trimester. That day didn't come. At 19 weeks I made an appointment with a local midwife to "get checked out." I was desperate and so tired that I didn't want to even try to figure it out anymore, I just wanted to be told what was wrong and what to do.
This midwife asked all her questions
I cried (from exhaustion) and answered them, feeling so relieved that someone was going to be able to help! She felt my belly (didn't think it was twins) and finally had me pee in a cup. When she came back from checking the strip she asked me what I eat? I told her.. "Salads with lots of protein and dressing on them, avocados, tuna, lots and lots of veggies. I was craving them finally after not being able to eat much at all for the first trimester." She then said, "Your Ketones were the highest I've ever seen... You're in ketosis. Great state to be in, but not during pregnancy. You're burning fat, and that's why you don't have energy. Start eating more carbs!" Oops! Ketosis? More carbs? Huh...
I hadn't been avoiding carbs, I just hadn't been craving them and wasn't making any particular effort to eat them! My body needed more fuel but I didn't realize I wasn't giving it enough. During ketosis one of the symptoms is a lack of appetite. Your body becomes super efficient at burning fat, and your appetite decreases. NOT what I was trying to do during pregnancy, and it worked against me to "eat to my appetite." So I started eating more sandwiches with bread, potatoes, rice, some fruit, etc. Within two week I had much more energy! And I purchased my own bottle of pee strips. Though I have to admit, I hardly used them even then.
Okay, what else?
Belly mapping? I loved laying on my back, feeling my stomach, and trying to determine how baby was situated. Head up? Head down? Sunny-side-up? I've had each one of these three variations. It wasn't a one time, "feel around and know" sort of thing. But over time I got familiar with that foot that ALWAYS poked out on my right side (head down, back to my left, feet pushing on my right). Or the head up in my right rib, right arm sweeping up and down my right side belly, and left foot kicking my left hip bone (breech.) And the tickly feeling fingers down low in the front, feet up in my right rib, and the head that refused to drop into my pelvis (sunny-side-up). Spinning babies' website does a good job of helping women belly map. If nothing else, it's a lovely mystery-adventure for your afternoon enjoyment!
Checking your cervix
Something women are vehemently cautioned on internet baby forums NOT to do themselves. Most likely those doing the cautioning have never actually tried, and don't realize it's a regular and normal part of some natural family planning methods (to check the cervical position, and mucous) and that some of us have been checking daily for years. During my pregnancies I continued checking my cervical position for a while, then lost interest as I knew exactly what was going on -- a baby was growing in there!
But late in my pregnancies I returned to checking with the curiosity about dilation in mind. Sadly, for my two unassisted pregnancies my cervix was far too high to reach or evaluate myself for several weeks (or more?) before delivery. My sweet husband really is a trooper. I asked him to check my dilation for me during one of my pregnancies. After describing in my own words what he was looking for, I gave him a pair of gloves and a flashlight. Yup! He really is a sweetheart. I was a few days from my due date, and SOOO curious to know if I was dilated?! Turns out I was maybe a tiny bit dilated (one or two?) and softening. That was enough information for me to be happy I had asked! I doubt I wrote anything down in my notes. More for interest sake of course. 😉
Keeping track of symptoms
After two unassisted pregnancies I have now come to the point where I value symptom-noticing above everything else. Sure the other measurements are interesting to keep and to compare. I still keep those in a spreadsheet. But symptoms are the most fun, the most meaningful, and the most satisfying to track.
Even if you are seeing a medical provider for your pregnancy, unless it is a high risk pregnancy that warrants extra visits, you will only be seeing them about 10 to 15 times throughout the pregnancy. Every other day of your pregnancy you will be with yourself. Noticing the nausea coming and going, strange symptoms here and there, and symptoms that might feel or be alarming! It's worth paying attention and writing down what you noticed and the date. That way you can look back and see a pattern emerge, OR you will have a good idea of the timeline progressing (in spite of pregnancy-brain!).
This is your chance
To be as thorough and detailed as you like, or as bullet-point-minimalistic as you wish. "Threw up twice today" is perfectly valid to make note of. "Baby had hiccups for the first time" is also valid. But just think, if you started to notice that you're throwing up far far more than you ever did with other pregnancies. Or that you realized that your baby's hiccups are always felt down low, then suddenly you realize you feel hiccups in your ribs (did baby flip?).
One strange symptom that I noticed with one pregnancy was teeny-tiny little red dots around my eyes. They looked like broken blood vessels. Very strange! I tried taking a picture but I couldn't get my camera to focus well enough to see them (truly tiny little spots). Months later, after giving birth, I discovered that it could be a sign of low iron. Who knew?! And had I known at the time I would have started taking my iron supplements more religiously. Nothing bad happened, but it really was nice to be able to look back on my notes and see when I'd noticed, and be proud that I *had* been paying attention. (Even if I didn't know what it meant at the time.)
You Keep Your Own Records
However you decide to do it, whether on a spreadsheet on your phone, or a piece of paper by your bed, or a notebook tucked on the shelf, you get to keep your own records how you want to. I plan to tuck a copy of mine into the girls baby books for them to discover in a far distant future. Perhaps they'll be curious when they themselves are pregnant what it was like for me to be pregnant with them? Maybe not. But I know for myself that the vivid memory of certain dates and certain symptoms fades quickly. Even during pregnancy I forget "was it last week, or three weeks ago that I was experiencing that?" so keeping notes kept me from wondering too hard.
Enjoy your pregnancy. Take charge of your own care. Pay close attention. Sometimes you'll have to ponder and wait and watch for a few days or weeks or months to make sense out of it all. But the records will belong to YOU. The things you care to notice will all be recorded nicely in the way you want to organize them. You'll never have to "request copies" and wonder what they mean.
What Will I Do Differently Next Time?
Actually, I'm glad you asked! For the last two pregnancies I kept weight, body measurements, symptoms... This next time I'm probably going to have blood panels drawn. I'm curious! And I've never tried it before. Did you know that you don't have to go to a doctor to get bloodwork ordered? I know, right?! Google it. Look online and see how to order your own bloodwork.
The question will be... What do I want to have run? Complete Blood Count? Yeah, probably. I'd like to know what my iron levels are. I'd like to see if my thyroid is doing weird things, and those weird things may be completely normal for pregnancy! Before I go and order testing I'm going to have to think long and hard about what I want to know. And if I don't have any non-pregnant levels to compare to? No worries, it's all for my own curiosity and musing anyway! I'd just like to know...