Dr Dawn Harper
We’re proud to be working with Dr Dawn Harper to help you feel supported through pregnancy and the early stages of parenthood.
Has what I need in my hospital bag changed?
How does Coronavirus (COVID-19) affect pregnancy?
Pregnant women were included in the vulnerable group by the Chief Medical Officer on March 16th, as a precaution during the outbreak of COVID-19. There currently isn’t any evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk of becoming more seriously unwell with coronavirus, but as this is a new virus and we know that pregnant women can be more at risk of other viruses such as flu, the government decided it would be safer to include pregnant women in the clinically vulnerable list. Based on current evidence it is unlikely that, if you have COVID-19, it would cause any problems with the development of your baby.
- More information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and pregnancy
During full lockdown, would I have got enough Vitamin D?
We don’t know exactly how much time is needed in the sunshine to make enough vitamin D, but general advice is that most people in the UK should get enough sun exposure from late March through to September. Provided you included vitamin D rich foods in your diet, such as oily fish, eggs and red meat, then you should be fine. Between the months of September and March however, we advise pregnant and breastfeeding women to take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
Has what I need to consider in my birth plan changed?
Many hospitals are now divided into red and green zones. The red zones are for patients with known or suspected Covid-19 and the green zones for everyone else. The rules on visiting are changing all the time and may vary between different hospitals, so do check with your midwife on the rules in your local hospital.
- More information on Labour & Birth
How do you suggest coping with partners not being able to attend scans?
I think it is difficult for both pregnant women and their partners not to be able to attend scans and appointments together. The midwives and doctors are sensitive to this and will happily write things down for you to share with your partner and you can take photographs of the scan images.
General pregnancy FAQs
What are the symptoms of SPD and how can I ease the pain?
Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) is not harmful to your baby but it can cause significant pain around the pelvis sometimes radiating into the thighs and making it painful to move around. The pain is often worse when walking or going up and down stairs. Some women also find pain when moving their legs apart so even getting out of a bath or the car is painful. And some women are aware of a clicking or grinding sensation in the pelvis.
It is important to wear flat supportive shoes and try to get dressed sitting down, as standing on one leg to put on socks, stockings and trousers can exacerbate the pain. Some women find sleeping on their side with a pillow between their legs is more comfortable. Another thing to try is to turn over in bed with your knees together and get out of the car keeping your knees together.
If stairs are a problem, try going up and down one step at a time or even go upstairs backwards on your bottom.
A physiotherapist can advise on exercises to strengthen the muscles around the pelvis.
Hydrotherapy (exercises in water) can also help. Some women find using a pelvic support belt helps alleviate the pain and TENS machines can be very useful.
What is the best and safest way to exercise?
It is important to stay as active as possible during pregnancy. I think all pregnant women should be doing regular pelvic floor exercises. Your midwife or physiotherapist can advise on how to do these properly.
I am also a huge fan of Yoga or Pilates during pregnancy to maintain core strength. Gyms are still closed at the moment and it is important that pregnant women adhere to social distancing and hand hygiene guidance, but thankfully, there are lots of online resources now to help you exercise safely in the comfort of your own home. Here are some excellent examples of pregnancy safe exercises.
- More information on pregnancy exercise
Should I take vitamin and mineral supplements?
It is recommended that women trying to conceive, should take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid, which they should continue until they are 12 weeks pregnant to reduce the risk of spina bifida. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a daily supplement of vitamin D in the autumn and winter (September to March), but also in the summer months too if they’re not going outside much. Pregnant women should avoid any supplements containing vitamin A as too much vitamin A can be harmful to the unborn baby increasing the risk of birth defects, so always check the labels.
How much weight gain is safe?
Weight gain in pregnancy varies greatly, but as a general rule you can expect to gain between 22 and 26 pounds (10 – 12.5 kilos), and most of that weight gain occurs in the second half of pregnancy as the baby grows and your body starts to lay down fat stores in preparation for breast feeding.
- More information on weight gain in pregnancy
Which foods are unsafe to eat?
Pregnancy is a time to try to eat as healthily as possible, and most foods are safe but there are some that you should avoid. We used to say that it was OK to drink one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week, but guidelines changed to recommend that pregnant women avoid alcohol altogether.
You should avoid all mould- ripened soft cheeses such as brie or camembert and soft blue cheeses like Roquefort and gorgonzola (unless cooked until they are piping hot) and any cheeses made with unpasteurised milk as these could contain listeria which can cause harm to unborn babies.
You should also avoid raw or undercooked meat, as they could contain toxoplasmosis, which again can be very dangerous for unborn babies. This includes cured meats as they are not cooked.
Liver and liver products are rich in vitamin A, so should be avoided along with game, such as pheasant or partridge as they could contain lead shot.
Raw shellfish should be avoided as they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses. And you should avoid marlin, shark and swordfish as they are likely to be high in mercury, which can have an effect on the baby’s developing nervous system. For the same reason, you should limit your intake of tuna to two steaks or four medium sized cans per week and you should eat no more than two portions of oily fish per week. This includes mackerel, salmon, trout and herring, as they may contain pollutants.
Eggs with the Red Lion stamp, produced under the British Lion Code of Practice, are less likely to have salmonella in them as they come from chickens that have been vaccinated against it, so it’s a good idea to stick to these. Eggs with this stamp can be eaten raw or partially cooked e.g. soft boiled. If you do eat any other eggs it’s important to make sure they’re cooked thoroughly with a solid yolk and white.
- More information on foods to avoid in pregnancy
Will social distancing have an impact on my baby’s immune system?
Social distancing is important to protect you and your new baby from coronavirus and there is no evidence that it will have any impact on the normal development of his or her immune system.
How can I manage my newborn missing out on family contact? And is using Zoom etc safe for my baby’s eyes?
We are living in strange times and whilst some of the lockdown measures have been lifted allowing relatives to meet your newborn outside, a lot of us are still relying on technology including video calls to keep in touch with loved ones.
The blue light emitted from personal electronic devices is not bright enough to cause damage to the human retina, so you are safe to introduce your baby to family and friends this way, but one word of warning for all of you. The blue light emitted from personal devices can promote wakefulness so I would avoid too many Zoom or Facetime calls late at night.
What guidance is currently out there in the absence of face-to-face support?
Nearly all our consultations in recent weeks and months have been on the telephone or by video. Most surgery doors are still locked but GP practices are very much open for business and are starting to see more patients in surgery. Rooms are designated for any patients who may have coronavirus and they are cleaned thoroughly after each consultation. The other rooms are therefore, in theory, coronavirus free. You still can’t just make a face to face appointment yet. You will be asked to have a telephone call with a doctor, nurse or midwife first, but we are all there to support you.
For general advice and guidance there is NHS 111 as well as online, 1:1, confidential access to health experts including Midwives provided by Aptaclub. For medical emergencies 999 should still be used.
Should my baby’s hands be washed with soap if they have been outside? And should they wear a mask when leaving home?
As adults, we should always wash our hands as soon as we return home as we may well have touched communal surfaces like door handles, whereas a newborn is unlikely to have done so.
If your baby has touched any external surfaces you can wash their hands with a clean damp towel utilising a little unperfumed soap (only for babies aged 6 weeks plus otherwise use water only in they’re younger), then rinse off the soap with a second, clean damp cloth and finally dry their hands with a third, clean dry cloth.
Government guidelines on facemasks have recently altered, advising that facemasks should be worn when out in public in situations where social distancing may be difficult to ensure, such as on public transport. This advice, however, does not include babies and toddlers under the age of three, because they have smaller airways and would not be able to remove the mask if they were suffocating.
General baby FAQs
How can I relieve my baby from constipation?
Constipation is uncommon in babies but can become more of an issue when they are started on solid foods. If your infant is straining to pass motions or is passing hard or pellet like motions, try increasing his or her fluid intake. Small amounts of cooled boiled water are fine to give between feeds. If your baby is taking solids, try adding pureed prunes, peas or figs to the diet and choose high fibre cereals. But, if these measures don’t solve the problem, please do ask your doctor.
- More information on how to help a constipated baby
For how long and how often should Tummy Time be practiced?
“Tummy Time” simply means allowing you baby to spend time on his or her tummy, which allows them to strengthen the muscles in the neck and upper body and prepares them to learn to roll over and eventually to crawl. You can start small amounts of tummy time soon after you come home. You don’t have to wait for the umbilical cord stump to fall off. You could start by letting him or her lie on your chest, which also allows for eye contact and bonding. It is good for your baby’s development to have lots of visual and auditory stimulation, so make sure she or he has things to look at and listen to during waking hours.
- More information on Tummy Time
What is the best way to help my baby get to sleep?
Babies respond well to routine. So, try to stick to the same routine before bedtime. Perhaps a bath followed by a cuddle and a feed. Make sure the nursery is a comfortable temperature. Just like us, being too hot or too cold will affect sleep and avoid exciting or stimulating games just before bedtime too. Make sure any lighting is dim as bright lights stimulate wakefulness and don’t leave devices emitting blue light in the nursery.
- More information on how to get baby to sleep
Which treatments can help ease the symptoms of colic?
Colic is defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week for at least a week in an otherwise healthy baby. It can be exhausting for all concerned.
It can be hard to settle a colicky baby and they might appear quite distressed, clenching their fists and arching their back and going red in the face. The good news is that the symptoms generally subside by the time a baby is six months old, but that is a long time to wait!
If you have a colicky baby, try to feed them in a more upright position and wind them after every feed. Try rocking them gently and play soothing music to distract them.
If these simple measures don’t help, speak to your midwife or GP.
- More information on how to soothe a colicky baby
How can I soothe my baby's reflux?
Reflux in babies is very common and may cause your baby to be restless when feeding, often hiccupping or coughing during a feed and being sick shortly after. Try feeding your baby in an upright position and feeding smaller quantities more frequently, but if this doesn’t help, speak to your GP or health visitor.
- More information on how to help baby with reflux
What are the symptoms of and management options for lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is relatively uncommon in babies. The symptoms of lactose intolerance usually develop within a few hours of consuming foods such as dairy which contain lactose. These symptoms include bloating, tummy cramps, wind and diarrhoea. If you suspect your baby has lactose intolerance you should speak to your GP or health visitor, who may advise you to try eliminating lactose from your baby’s diet. It is really important that you do this with professional advice, so that your baby gets all the nutrients he or she needs to develop healthily. If you are breastfeeding, you may be advised to give your baby lactase drops to help them digest the lactose in breast milk.
- More information on lactose intolerance in babies
Dr Dawn Harper is a registered NHS GP, television presenter and author. She is regularly featured on television and radio shows to comment on topical health stories, and writes for several magazines, as well as writing her own medical books.
Education and career
Having studied at Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, Dr Harper has worked as an NHS doctor for over 30 years. Her main areas of focus are women’s health, fertility and obesity.
She splits her time between working as a GP in Gloucestershire and working in the media, on television and radio, as well as writing her own books and for magazines.
She is best known as a television presenter on shows such as “Embarrassing Bodies” and “Born Naughty?”, and regularly appears on ITV’s This Morning as their medical expert.
She has written 12 books, including “Dr Dawn’s Guide to Women’s Health” and “Dr Dawn’s Guide to Your Baby’s First Year”.
Since January 2019, she has been a Patron of the UK charity Action on Pre-eclampsia (APEC).
All content is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard or read here. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call the emergency services immediately. If you choose to rely on any information provided here, you do so solely at your own risk.
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.