As a family doctor specializing in obstetrics, a midwife for 25 years, and the mama of four grown kids (meaning I've been through the pregnancy worry-thing, too), I know firsthand what women go through during the precious nine months of pregnancy. And if there’s one universal emotion I’ve seen, it’s worry. Worry is a normal response to the uncertainties of pregnancy, as well as to caring deeply about our babies. And there are a lot of legit things to be concerned about, like the health effects of the chemicals in our cosmetics and the antibiotics in our foods.
The truth is, though, that most of our worries just never come true, and that most babies are born healthy – even perfect. And when there is a problem, it’s just not your fault, and no amount of worrying would have done anything but have made you miserable. While we should definitely pay attention to the risks we can avoid – and make the most educated choices we can – worry itself doesn't help. In fact, it tends to make us lose sleep and feel overwhelmed, and can even affect stress hormones in ways that impact pregnancy and labor.
The 12 Issues You Can Stop Worrying About, Right Now:
1. Harming your baby.
I find that the most common fear is that we’re going to do something that harms our baby. The truth is that most congenital problems are a result of genetics or an environmental exposure that we didn’t even know about or had no control over. If you’re reading this, my guess is you’re already a health-conscious adult and aren’t regularly engaged in activities that can harm baby, like drinking excessively or using cocaine.
Most babies are born healthy and perfect. And when there is a problem, it’s just not your fault. Period.
2. Eating for two.
The idea that we have to “eat for two” in pregnancy is a flat-out myth – and one that has encouraged women to both suspend good dietary habits and worry about whether they're getting enough. The truth is that during the first and second trimesters, you don’t need any more calories than usual. And by the third trimester you only need 300 more calories a day (double that if you’re pregnant with twins). That's the equivalent of just a glass of milk and half a sandwich. So if you're eating an overall healthy diet, let go of the worry that you’re not eating enough for baby.
3. Having sex during pregnancy.
Having sex while you're pregnant doesn't usually cause miscarriage or preterm labor. The only precaution? Making sure your sexual partner doesn't have any diseases that could be passed on to the baby.
But if you're having symptoms of miscarriage, preterm labor, or have what's called placenta previa, that’s a different story – follow the “nothing goes in the vagina” rule until your midwife or doctor clears you.
4. Eating foods that could give your baby allergies.
A lot of food-conscious mamas avoid dairy, gluten, nuts, and soy during pregnancy, worrying about how it will affect their baby. But while nutrition is super-important, restricting foods during pregnancy has not been found to prevent allergies. In fact, it may even increase risk. So unless you have to restrict certain foods for your own health, liberating your diet can actually be beneficial to your baby. Keep it healthy, but don’t restrict.
5. Sleeping on your back.
You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t sleep on your back during pregnancy because it can cut off oxygen to your baby – and that might be leading to a lot of uncomfortable nights on your side.
But until you’re six months pregnant, this isn't something to be concerned about. After six months, the weight of the baby and your uterus can cause pressure on a large vein called the inferior vena cava, restricting blood flow to you and baby. However, if you find that you’ve rolled over onto your back during the night, don’t worry! It’s very unlikely that this would cause harm to baby.
6. Stress during pregnancy.
You might have heard that a mom being stressed during pregnancy can affect the baby’s long-term mental health. The irony is that this very information is what gets pregnant mamas all stressed out! The truth is that you’d have to be under a lot of stress (we’re talking war zones or violent homes) for stress to have a serious impact on your baby’s health. The normal stresses most of us experience daily – money worries, relationship tensions, and job anxieties – are not going to cause your baby to have three heads or lifelong depression. As a species, we’ve given birth to healthy offspring under much worse threats.
7. Being a vegan or vegetarian.
No, you don’t have to eat meat and dairy – you can be vegan or vegetarian and have a perfectly healthy pregnancy. In fact, I was vegetarian for three of my four pregnancies. Just make sure your diet includes plenty of vegetarian protein sources (legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds), calcium (organic tofu, almonds, tahini, and green leafy veggies), and iron (legumes, green veggies, red beans, dried apricots, and raisins). And if you're vegan, make sure to take a B-12 supplement. Work with your midwife or an integrative nutritionist who is pregnancy-savvy to make sure you’re meeting your prenatal nutritional needs.
8. Normal pregnancy symptoms.
Pregnancy brings with it some quirky symptoms, including nausea, increased urination, round ligament pain, breast tenderness, changes in your sense of smell and taste, sleep disturbances, mood changes, and many more. Knowing what’s normal – and what’s not – can make a huge difference in letting go of unnecessary worries. There aren’t too many symptoms to worry about, so make sure to talk with your midwife or doctor about those. You can also learn about natural solutions for common symptoms in my book, The Natural Pregnancy Book.
9. What labor will be like.
Labor can't be controlled. All you can do is set a destination on your GPS, prepare well for the journey, and then move gracefully through any obstacles on the way. You can’t force a homebirth, vaginal birth, unmedicated birth, or a perfect story. And worrying about it is not going to get you there. The best thing you can do is prepare for labor. Take childbirth classes and read books that are supportive of the kind of birth you hope to have. (I recommend Spiritual Midwifery and Birthing From Within to start.) You can also take a hypnobirthing class to give you mind-body skills that can help. If something comes up that requires you to reroute your plans – for example, a medical reason to have a cesarean – it’s totally normal and healthy to grieve. Be gentle with yourself. It’s all good.
OK, truth be told, the most common fear that women experience is probably fear of death – our own, our baby’s, or our partner's. Fear of our own death stems from the intense uncertainty of the process of birth, compounded by the historical risks, magnified by movies in which birth is depicted as dangerous and even life-threatening. That can make birth feel really terrifying. The reality is that there is an infinitesimally low risk of dying in childbirth for healthy women in the U.S. There's also a very low infant mortality rate.
Remind yourself that it’s normal to have such thoughts. And then have an affirmation or meditation you can use to transform the fear. Talk your worries out loud with your midwife or other women, or write them down in your worry journal. If you're severely plagued by worry or anxiety, see a pregnancy knowledgable functional medicine doctor or prenatal mental health professional who can help you untangle the root causes of your anxiety, some of which can be physical (i.e., imbalances in your microbiome can cause anxiety, as can gluten intolerance), or rooted in old stories or experiences.
11. What other people think.
The hard fact is that women can be really judgmental with one another around pregnancy and parenthood choices. I’ve had many wonderful women tell me they were kicked out of natural mom online groups because they had an epidural or needed a C-section. My response? What other people think is not your worry. How you do your pregnancy, birth, and parenting is your business alone. If you’re worrying about what other people think, please, stop right now – because it will keep you from making the choices that are best for you and your baby. And when you make the choices that are right for you, your family and friends will get on-board, and you’ll find the right mommy groups for yourself too!
12. Being “The Perfect Mom”
I’m going to spare you a lot of misery right now. You’re going to make mistakes. There. Now you can relax about it and not worry about that as an uncertainty! You can just assume it’s going to happen and laugh about it now!
There’s no such thing as a perfect mom, no matter what you’ve seen on TV or read in a magazine. She doesn’t exist. She’s just a myth to make us miserable. There aren’t really even any rules for what constitutes a great mom, other than being loving, present, caring, listening, and taking good care of your kids. Working moms, stay at home moms, single moms, playful moms, serious moms, gay moms, straight moms, rich moms, struggling moms – we’re all human and we’re all doing our best.
There’s no such thing as a perfect mom. She doesn’t exist. She’s just a myth to make us miserable.
If you accept now that you’re going to make some mistakes, and you can lovingly forgive yourself for these ahead of time, and when they happen, you’ll enjoy being a mom so much more. I promise. We’re all even going to do some of the things we swore we’d never do (like those things that our moms did); in fact, by the time you have teenagers, you’ll likely have a lot more compassion for your mom). We’re all going to say the wrong thing sometimes. I once told my daughter she was such a hearty athlete, because she kicked ass in a tennis match. I was complimenting her strength and stamina; she thought I was calling her fat (and she was a trim little thing!). I promise you’ll have your own battle stories. Trying to be perfect, however, is exhausting and gets you nowhere, including not closer to your kids or being the kind of mom you want to be. Instead, find your own inner compass of how you want to be as mom, and use that to guide your decisions. As long as you’re loving and kind to your kids and yourself – 95% of the time – you’re golden!
Accept that you’re going to make mistakes & forgive yourself ahead of time – you’ll enjoy being a mom so much more.
So What's a Pregnant Mom to Do When Worries Pop Up?
Of course worry is sometimes going to sink your heart, grip at your throat or bite you by the ankles once in awhile, even in a perfectly normal healthy pregnancy. Because like I said, it's totally normal to worry in the face of big, giant, unknown situations. I mean, you'd probably be nervous before going bungee jumping for the first time, and many people get so nervous before public speaking they have to self-medicate. Let's compare the magnitude of events there – public speaking and having a baby. See what I mean? A little nervous is par for the course. But you don't have to get stuck there! Here are some of my favorite fear antidotes:
Laughter truly is great medicine for fear. It restores inner peace, and also restores harmony in your stress hormones and immune system, which get out of whack when we’re doing too much worrying. There’s nothing better than a great comedy movie to make you forget your worry, better when watched with friends and a good snack! There are also mommy blogs, humorous books, and even just commiserating with another pregnant mom to make you laugh. I want to say ‘to make you pee your pants,' or ‘bust into stitches' – but those are not funny expressions if you’re pregnant
Meditation (which can include prayer and ritual) can take you right out of worry mode and back to inner calm. Here’s a meditation I call on a lot in my life, called The Quickie (because it's fast, ladies…). Here's how to do it: Center yourself, either feeling your feet on the ground if you’re standing, or sitting comfortably. You can do this with your eyes open or closed. Now breath in deeply through your nose for a count of 4 while saying to yourself “I AM.” Breathe out deeply through your mouth for a count of 6 while saying to yourself “At Peace.” Take several deep breaths this way. Rinse and repeat whenever needed.
Keep a Worry Journal
A worry journal is a place where you do just that – journal about your worries. It’s an amazingly simple and effective tool, especially for worries that pop up at night when you’re falling asleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night and worries keep you from going back to sleep. Here’s how it works:
- Purchase a cheap spiral bound notebook
- 30 minutes before bed (or whenever you feel worried) you find a quiet place in your house that is NOT your bed, and you write down all of your worries. Seriously, everything on your mind that’s plaguing or annoying you. No need to be a great writer, use bullet points if you have to. Then put away the notebook.
- Next do a Quickie Meditation, and/or take a shower to rinse away the stress.
- Rinse and repeat each night before bed, plus or minus the shower.
Note that writing down worries is scientifically proven to help reduce them.
Talk it Out
Talking with another woman can ease your worries. If it's a midwife or birth friendly obstetrician, she might be able to settle your worries with helpful facts and experience. But also, when we connect with each other, we release the hormone oxytocin, which not only makes us feel more loved, but also makes us feel safer and braver. I call this the BFF factor, and from an evolutionary perspective, it's a great antidote to the fight or flight response, as oxytocin calms cortisol release, reducing your stress response and its impact on your body.
Wishing you a peaceful mind and joyous pregnancy and birth.