It’s almost bathing suit season and, to prepare, I’m going to…
Do absolutely nothing.
You see, I’m now well into my second trimester of my second pregnancy, and this time I’m doing things a little differently.
During my last pregnancy I tried to be calm and relaxed at first about all the rules, prohibitions, and recommendations during pregnancy. But it was impossible for me. I became a woman obsessed with having a perfect pregnancy. I had a stack of pregnancy books next to my bed for “leisure reading.” (In reality for panicked late night reading about rare conditions.) My primary source of online reading was BabyCenter, and I became a regular poster on my birth club site.
I internalized the rules….
Don’t eat lunch meat. Exercise every day (but not too hard). Drink caffeine sparingly. Eat ginger for morning sickness. Don’t garden. You’re gaining too much weight. You’re not gaining enough weight. Eat more fiber to fix constipation. Don’t touch wine ever. Sleep on your left side. Forget about sushi. Check your cheeses. Take prenatal breastfeeding classes. Do Kegels. Swelling in your ankles is normal (until it’s not). And on and on and on….
This time, except to consult about a prenatal test that I wasn’t sure about, I have not opened a single fear-mongering pregnancy book. This time my only pregnancy bible is Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-and What YouReally Need to Know by Emily Oster. I wrote a review of it (pre-pregnancy) and knew that if I ever got pregnant again, this would be all that I needed. It confronts everything you’ve ever been told about pregnancy with facts, in a reassuring, funny, and evidence-based way. The author is, by profession, an economist, and one of the best parts of the book is her decision-making model of balancing risk (yes, based on actual statistics and evidence) with personal preferences and needs. Thus, there is no solid set of pregnancy do’s and don’ts, no hard and fast “rules” about many things (except, of course, things like smoking, drugs, and basic prenatal care). To me, it’s comforting to just let go and prioritize based on facts and my own values, to know that there is no magic prescription for creating a perfect baby.
So here are my new rules:
1. As noted earlier, I am skipping regimented exercise. That doesn’t mean that I’m not taking relaxing walks with my toddler (or is there actually such a thing with a toddler?). It just means that I’m not obsessive about doing my prenatal exercise video EVERY SINGLE morning, like I was last time. By the end of the second trimester, I had added practice labor and breathing exercises to my daily routine. Most days I would spend more than an hour and a half on pregnancy-related exercises. Crazy. And made ironic by the fact that after all those labor and breathing exercises I had an emergency c-section.
After reviewing the studies on pregnancy and exercise, Oster concludes, “Exercise doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on anything. No change in preterm birth, or gestational age, or rate of C-section, or fetal growth…. So there is not a lot of reason to start exercising. There is also no reason to stop.” Good enough for me. So my motto this time: Take a nap.
Relatedly, I refuse this time to obsess about my weight. I don’t know my current weight or how much I’ve gained during pregnancy so far and don’t plan to think about it. Last time I was given quite a hard time about gaining too much weight, too soon. I ended up gaining about 35 pounds during pregnancy, within the normal range, especially for a thin-ish person, almost all of it during the early parts of my second trimester. When I gained several pounds by the mid point of my second trimester, my OB/GYN suggested that I see a nutritionist. This time I know my pattern: I lost a bit of weight during the first trimester and then gained quickly during the second and plateaued. End of story. And I will continue to eat my ice cream, thanks.
2. I ate what I wanted during the first trimester. If you’re anything like me, you feel so sick and miserable during this time that you’re barely eating anything. During my first pregnancy, I was wracked with guilt over not eating enough nutritious food, like fruits and vegetables. This time I just listened to my body: some days I only ate Skittles and bowls of oatmeal and that’s it. If you’re lucky (and it seems that my morning sickness has finally faded away), this period of nausea only lasts for weeks and won’t negatively impact your baby at all, no matter how many food groups your diet temporarily lacks.
3. I am drinking alcohol (a bit). Last time I had barely touched a sip of anything by this point in my pregnancy. Probably the most controversial aspect of Oster’s book is her review of the pregnancy literature and conclusion that “there is no good evidence that light drinking during pregnancy negatively impacts your baby. You should be comfortable with: up to 1 drink a day in the second and third trimesters. 1 to 2 drinks a week in the first trimester.” So not heavy drinking but still not exactly what What To Expect tells you. Her meticulous explanation of the subtleties of the pregnancy research literature (probably more than most people would ever want to get into) convinced me. A few days a week I have a glass of wine or a beer.
4. Don’t fight the misery. I have a generally low threshold for pain, discomfort, or sleep deprivation. This time I didn’t fight it kicking and screaming during the first trimester. I gave in. During my pregnancy with my son, I felt similarly awful: exhausted to the point of collapse, nauseous, moody, constipated, bloated. But I tried just going about my normal schedule when I really didn’t have to. I was preparing to begin my dissertation research and helping to teach at the university so I could have taken it easy for a month or so. But I felt like my body was betraying me, and I hated it and resisted.
This time I was all about sleeping. My motto: sleep my way through the first trimester misery. Sleep through the nausea. I know that this option does not exist for the vast majority of women. For me, it worked. My husband was supportive enough that he took care of my son’s wakeup and preschool dropoff, and I could sleep as much in the morning as I needed to. I sometimes slept 12-14 hours a day, and feeling crappy was manageable. I wasn’t productive, but I knew it was temporary and I slept to escape. Now I’m back to seven or eight hours of sleep per night.
5. I’m advocating for myself. Last time I was intimidated by my OB/GYNs at Mass General, one of the best hospitals in the country. I listened to their advice carefully and followed it religiously, particularly around things like prenatal testing. This time I’m doing it my way, asking questions respectfully and even considering switching doctors if the practice doesn’t seem like a good fit.
Really all of my “new rules” can be boiled down to one piece of advice: Lose the guilt and ditch the panic. I’m never going to love pregnancy, but it can be a lot more fun when you’re focused on what really matters to you.
If you read my blog even somewhat regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been MIA for the past month or two. Now you know why….. First trimester (and a bit beyond) discomfort and fatigue left me uninspired with writing. Thank goodness it’s temporary! And thanks for hanging in there with me….