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Pregnant for the first time? Here’s what you need to know.

Pregnant for the first time? Here’s what you need to know.

We’re talking about “firsts” this month at LOLA: first periods, first time having sex, and first pregnancies. To find out more about the latter, we reached out to the mothers in the LOLA community, asking what they wished they’d known going into their first pregnancy. We saw a common theme emerge from their responses: 

Women want to know how they can prepare themselves for the changes they’re bound to experience — emotionally, mentally, and physically — during their first pregnancy, and after.

For advice on this topic, we turned to our team of medical experts: Dr. Wendy Hurst, gynecologist and founding partner of Englewood Ob/Gyn, and Dr. Katie Morel, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in maternal mental health. Whether you are expecting your first child, a seasoned parent, trying to conceive, or just curious to learn how you can be more supportive to your expecting friends, their guidance is worth a read.   

Pregnancy is not one size fits all

Advice from Dr. Hurst

There are obvious physiological changes that occur with everyone’s pregnancy. That said, your pre-pregnancy physical status will probably impact how significant some of those changes are. Changes can be impacted by previous health status, genetics, cultural and racial differences. It’s not a one size fits all. 

In the first trimester in particular, it’s very typical to experience nausea, vomiting, hyperemesis, and fatigue. Most of the time those things can be treated simply by adjusting what you’re eating, making sure you hydrate, and keeping your support systems close. But other times, those symptoms become more severe and can require hospitalization. Again, everyone’s different. 

Advice from Dr. Morel

During pregnancy, some may feel emotionally labile, while others may feel grounded. Some may feel “out of it”; others may feel very focused and motivated. Everyone reacts differently to the experience of pregnancy. If the predominant emotions you are feeling are worry or sadness, or if intense, intrusive thoughts begin to interfere with your ability to function, it is important to seek help right away. Here are some ways to handle the emotions: 

• talking about them 

• writing down feelings and worries

• reframing cognitive distortions and thinking errors

• working on accepting the unknown

• using distraction, like listening to music and exercising

• practicing mindfulness, through tools like meditation and breathing exercises

Remember that it’s your body’s first time being pregnant, too

Advice from Dr. Hurst

If it’s a first time pregnancy, you won’t show as quickly. Many women can go 18 to 20 weeks without showing their first time. The muscles in the joints have not been stretched and softened, as opposed to a subsequent pregnancy where things are looser and you start to show much more quickly. 

Fetal movement follows a similar pattern. Women generally feel it sooner with subsequent pregnancies, than they will during the first. I personally think it’s just because there’s a familiarity and awareness of it, but regardless of the reason, in the first pregnancy you typically won’t feel fetal movement until 20 to 22 weeks.

Be prepared for the unknown

Advice from Dr. Morel

One of the issues I see most often is difficulty tolerating the uncertainty of pregnancy. There is so much that is outside one’s control, from the health of the baby, to the inability to predict the ways in which your life will change. Especially at the beginning of pregnancy, it can feel challenging to navigate changing your lifestyle while also knowing there is a risk of miscarriage. With so much outside of one’s control, I have seen many people become very strict about what they can control, leading to significant pressure to follow “the rules.” 

It is important to develop strategies to tolerate and accept the uncertainty of what you cannot control, such as the risk of miscarriage or the percentile the baby measures at a sonogram. It is also an important skill to strengthen for parenting, which involves substantial uncertainty.

Postpartum can be wonderful and hard at the same time

Advice from Dr. Hurst

It is now standard for every obstetrician to screen a patient for postpartum depression after delivery. There are standard guidelines and questions that doctors are supposed to ask to try to identify which patients are prone to depression postpartum.  

Postpartum can be uncomfortable and exhausting. You don’t know what to do with this living thing that’s in front of you, and you’re probably not getting enough sleep. It’s very important for the doctor and the patient to communicate, in order to be able to discern what is normal postpartum response, and what’s really clinical depression. 

Advice from Dr. Morel

The first weeks are all about getting adjusted to a new reality. The baby is not very interactive, and many report feeling filled with worries about keeping their baby safe and making sure they are “doing the right thing.” This new identity and role may make you feel a lack of control over your schedule, or may make you feel stressed or depressed. 

I would recommend you figure out a way to prioritize what is important to you, and include self-care into your daily routine. Even if that just means finding a way to take a shower or get out for a walk. Prioritizing can help you figure out a plan to adapt to your new circumstances. 

It might take time to get used to. Thirty minutes of self-care is not going to “fix” the feelings of distress, or the loss of freedom some describe feeling. It is okay to hold both positive and negative feelings around the transition to parenthood. You can love your baby more than anything and also hate rocking them back to sleep at 3am. 

Know when to listen, and when to speak up

Advice from Dr. Hurst

The best thing you can do during and after pregnancy is listen to your body.  You have to feel comfortable asking questions of your obstetrician. Rely on guidelines and resources that are evidence-based, not chat rooms or opinions or what celebrities are saying on social media.  

Advice from Dr. Morel

It is really important to be straightforward and honest with healthcare providers about how you are feeling. Sometimes, care can feel rushed or like you are just another patient. But it is important to express what you are feeling and ask any questions you might have. Definitely communicate openly with your partner, family members, and friends about how you are feeling, and what would help you to feel better.

What do you wish you’d been told before your first pregnancy? Share in the comments!