I get ridiculously excited when a friend tells me she’s pregnant for the first time, especially now that I’ve experienced mamahood firsthand. I feel like I know this little secret that she hasn’t discovered yet: that life is about to get more fun and so much more wild than she could ever imagine. I also immediately think of the million things that I wished I’d known when I was pregnant with Phoebe.
Pregnancy is one of those things that no one really prepares you for: there are so many details to think about, from a healthy pregnancy all the way through to what you need to know when you actually bring your babe home from the hospital, and I when I went through it for the first time, I was surprised to discover that it’s not all intuitive. There’s no single guidebook, and everyone’s experience is different.
Since I find myself compulsively texting my pregnant friends at all hours of the day with random pieces of advice that might be helpful (sorry, can’t help it), I thought it might be even more helpful to consolidate my tips and suggestions into one post. These are the things that were especially confusing or surprising to me – the ones that aren’t in every pregnancy book, and that your OB-GYN might not tell you. Scroll on, and I’d love to hear in the comments what advice you give your preggers friends so our expecting ladies can learn from all the other wise moms out there, too!
Get clear on what matters to YOU.
Buckle up, ’cause a lot of people are going to start giving you advice. Pregnancy and child rearing are topics that people tend to feel pretty strongly about, so for me, the best approach was to listen with an open mind – then listen to my own gut to see what it was telling me. Just because you listen to someone’s advice doesn’t mean you have to take it, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should feel any sense of shame if you’re following a different path. It’s your body and your baby – and these decisions are too important to let anyone peer pressure you into doing something that’s not right for you.
When I was pregnant, I dove headlong into reading all sorts of books about pregnancy, childbirth, sleep training, raising kids – I definitely did my homework. And at the end of the day, this is the book that I recommend most frequently to friends who are newly pregnant. I say “newly” because much of the health advice is geared towards women in their first trimester, and the last thing I’d want is for an 8-months-pregnant gal to read this book and freak out because she drank out of plastic water bottles for the first half of her pregnancy. (Really, you’ll be fine.) What I loved about this book is the balance of research and storytelling, and important health precautions that pregnant women should take told in a totally non-alarmist or stressful way. I felt like I walked away from this book knowing which safety measures were actually important to me, and which seemed more like old wives’ tales that I didn’t need to worry too much about.
Prepare your bod for diastasis recti.
I truly don’t know why more people aren’t talking about this. Usually when I bring it up to a pregnant friend, they’re like “diastasis what?” and even I didn’t learn about it until I was postpartum with my second baby. In a nutshell, this is when the rectus abdominis muscles in your abdomen separate during pregnancy. It’s totally normal and often goes back into place soon after pregnancy… but sometimes it doesn’t, which causes the permanent “pooch” that so many moms think is just an inevitable part of having a baby, especially since it’s more common after two or more kids (I had it after Henry.) What most women really don’t hear about is that they can actually make the diastasis worse if they jump back into certain routine fitness moves like crunches or planks before the muscles have healed. The good news is that there are specific exercises you can do to prepare your body during pregnancy and help the diastasis recover more quickly after giving birth. A few of my favorite resources are this episode of the Mom Brain podcast (episode with Erika Bloom) and there’s some great advice in this article that just ran on goop.
Don’t stress out about weight gain.
If I could go back and tell my pregnant self a piece of advice, it would be “Don’t worry about gaining weight!!” I loved my bump, but to be totally honest I had nagging anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to lose the weight post-baby. Now I look back at photos and love how my body looked more voluptuous, and laugh at how big my bump was with Henry. And I feel totally good about my post-baby body, too, so I wish I’d just enjoyed every moment of my changing shape and fully celebrated how incredible it was. One other note here: I had friends who swore by wearing those postpartum corsets that are supposed to make your abs and internal organs “tighten back up” faster. I tried them and could not bear to wear one for more than a day. They’re really not backed up by any hard research, so my take is: be kind to your body and don’t put yourself through the torture. Your amazing body knows what to do without being constricted into a corset.
“Eating for two” doesn’t mean “two adults.”
Okay, hear me out because the last thing I’d ever do is shame a pregnant woman for eating whatever she damn well pleases while pregnant. During my first trimester, I literally subsisted on chicken fajitas and toast with butter since the mere thought of eating vegetables made me gag. That said, I’ve had multiple friends who thought they were “supposed” to nearly double their calories while they were pregnant by letting any semblance of healthy eating go out the window. Your baby is very, very small, and you don’t actually have to increase your caloric intake by that much (here’s a good guide.) Eat what you want, give your body the nutrients it needs, and stop eating when you’re satisfied. Listen to your body and you won’t put yourself through the unnecessary pain of having to jump through hoops to lose the baby weight later.
photo: kristen kilpatrick
Melasma: don’t panic but be prepared.
I didn’t know what melasma actually was… until one sunny poolside afternoon while I was pregnant, I went inside and almost screamed when I looked in the mirror and saw a large dark patch on my forehead. Often called the “mask of pregnancy,” this skin discoloration is super common but no less alarming if you’re not expecting it. Be diligent with sunscreen, and if you do still get it like I did, don’t panic: most of the time it fades postpartum, and if it doesn’t, my dermatologist (who just had a baby herself) swears by this to lighten any lingering skin discoloration or patchiness.
Hug a pillow.
When your bump starts to make sleeping uncomfortable, get a huge down pillow, turn on your side, shove it between your legs and sleep with your arms wrapped around it in a big ole hug. Your partner might not love this new member of your sleeping arrangements, but take it from me, you’ll sleep so much better.
Don’t take Advil.
I’m not sure how this happened, but I somehow didn’t realize you weren’t supposed to take Advil while pregnant until I was already 6 months along. Luckily I don’t take a ton of it anyway and obviously everything was fine, but it was kind of stressful when I found out that Advil may increase risks of miscarriage. Same goes for Aspirin and anything with Ibuprofen. If you need to take pain meds while pregnant, stick with Acetaminophen, which is the main ingredient found in Tylenol.
It’s really common to feel “unprepared” in the months leading up to a baby – I hear so many friends stressing about the fact that their nurseries aren’t ready or they “still need so much stuff.” Don’t sweat it, mamas! Turns out, babies don’t actually need that much stuff. It’s later when they turn into toddlers that all the gear and toys comes a bit more into play (though even then, I try to take a minimalist approach as much as possible – easier said than done, haha.) As long as you’ve got a bassinet, feeding supplies (breast pump, bottles, whatever you need based on your situation), a bunch of onesies, diapers, and wipes… you’re gonna be just fine. In fact, loading up on too much gear that you rarely use will actually stress you out because it’ll lead to a lot of clutter that’ll make you feel crazy. Keep it tight when it comes to your registry – I used this one as my starting point, and then whittled it down by asking my knowledgeable mom friends which items they actually couldn’t live without.