Top 14 Pregnancy Fears (and Why You Shouldn't Worry)
Doctors share the truth about your biggest pregnancy worries – and why they're not as scary as you think.
It's only natural to worry a bit throughout your pregnancy – after all, this whole thing is new and nail-bitingly unpredictable. All you want is for your nine-month gestation to go perfectly. And guess what? It usually does. Here, doctors explain the real facts about the things that freak you out most. Read on – and heave a huge sigh of relief.
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I'll have a miscarriage.
Most pregnancies result in healthy babies, and less than 20 percent end in miscarriage, says Karyn Morse, MD, an Ob-Gyn at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "Also remember that most miscarriages happen within the first few weeks of pregnancy, when many women typically don't realize they're expecting and wouldn't know if they did miscarry. They'd just get a normal-looking period," she says.
After your doctor can see a heartbeat (usually around 6 to 8 weeks) the risk of miscarriage drops to about 5 percent. And the odds of having a second miscarriage are very small – less than 3 percent, says Diane Ashton, MD, MPH, deputy medical director for the March of Dimes.
So what causes a miscarriage? Often, it's due to a chromosomal abnormality that prevents the fetus from developing normally, and miscarrying is totally unavoidable – not because of anything you did or didn't do. But you can lower your risk by not smoking or drinking alcohol and cutting back on your caffeine intake (aim for 200 milligrams or less, or one large cup of coffee, a day).
My morning sickness is terrible! My baby isn't getting enough to eat.
Pardon the comparison, but babies are very good parasites, says Dr. Morse. "They'll absorb all of the nutrition from the foods you do give them – so even if you're living on only crackers and juice, you don't need to worry," says Dr. Morse. Dr. Ashton agrees: "Unless you're sick to the point that you become severely dehydrated – and if you were you'd feel so lousy that you'd call your doctor anyway – morning sickness isn't going to cause any nutritional imbalance or affect the fetus."
Just be sure to take your prenatal vitamins and do the best you can, otherwise. "Eat small, frequent meals," adds Dr. Morse. "Little bites tend to be less overwhelming to your digestive system. And eating more often will keep you from getting too ravenous, which is when women tend to feel the most nauseous."
If you constantly find yourself over the toilet bowl, your doctor may prescribe an anti-nausea medication that is safe for the baby. Hang in there: Most women are able to stomach a wider variety of healthy foods after about 16 weeks, which is coincidentally about when your baby needs to start gaining more weight, too.
I'll eat or drink the wrong thing and harm my baby.
Women today feel a lot of pressure to do all the "right things" when they're expecting, says Dr. Morse. Beyond the basics like eating healthy and taking prenatal vitamins, pregnant gals today worry about every little "Is it safe?" question. But agonizing over every decision will drive you crazy – and there's no need for it. Your doctor should outline the big no-nos at your first prenatal visit, and you can ask about any major concerns then. Remember, no one can possibly follow every rule and guideline to the letter.
"Even the risks associated from things like eating unpasteurized cheese or dying your hair during your first trimester – both of which doctors advise against – are probably very, very small, and we're just being extra cautious," says Dr. Ashton. So don't fret if you accidentally order a turkey sandwich (oops...forgot that cold cuts are off-limits!) or sip a glass of juice at a brunch, then realize it's unpasteurized. And hey, we bet your mom didn't do half the things you're doing for your kiddo – and look how brilliantly you turned out.
My stress is hurting the baby.
Between those crazy hormones, the sheer exhaustion, and planning for a baby, most pregnant women feel a bit on edge every now and then. But stressing over your stress is useless, says Dr. Morse – especially because a super-taxing day at work is not going to harm your baby.
Most research shows that intermittent stress (the kind your body gets used to over time) has minimal impact on an unborn baby. While some studies show that acute, severe stress (like losing a job or a death in the family) can increase a baby's risk for things like premature birth, experts agree that it's all about how you handle the situation.
Bottom line: If you know you tend to get super-tense, try to take things down a notch, and find a way to reclaim your calm at the end of a bad day. This might be writing in your journal, venting to your husband, or going to bed an hour earlier.
My baby will have a birth defect.
Like many moms-to-be, you hold your breath during every single prenatal test, hoping the results will prove your baby is healthy and developing on track. And it's overwhelmingly likely that she is. The risk of your baby having any birth defect is only 4 percent. That includes serious ones as well as all of the thousands of other identified abnormalities, many of which are small and insignificant, like a problem with a toenail or a tiny heart defect that goes away soon after birth without causing any health issues.
Even if a screening test (like an ultrasound or quad screen) comes back abnormal, it doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem. In many cases, subsequent tests confirm that everything is fine, says Dr. Morse.
The best way to protect your baby: Take a multivitamin with folic acid before pregnancy and pop your prenatal vitamins daily to reduce the risk of brain and spinal defects. You should also talk to your doctor about any specific concerns you have. She should be able to give you a clear idea of the true risks, given your family history and age, and help put your "what if" worries into perspective.
I'll go into labor too early.
This one might be on your worry radar because the rate of premature births has been steadily increasing. But more than 70 percent of these babies are born between 34 and 36 weeks – far enough along in the pregnancy that the risk of serious complications or developmental issues is much lower.
Pregnant women can do quite a few things to lower their risk of delivering early: Don't smoke or drink alcohol, have regular prenatal checkups, and take prenatal folic acid supplements every day. A recent study of nearly 40,000 women found that those who popped the vitamins for a year prior to conception and throughout their pregnancies were between 50 and 70 percent less likely to deliver early than those who didn't take them. The researchers believe that folic acid may prevent certain genes from malfunctioning and causing premature labor.
I'll never lose the baby weight.
Almost every pregnant woman on the planet worries about getting her pre-baby body back. It certainly doesn't help to see celebrities snap back to their skinny selves the instant they're wheeled out of the delivery room. In reality, research shows that 14 to 20 percent of women do keep on at least some of their pregnancy weight, but there are ways to boost your odds of shedding every last pound.
First, try to stay within the weight guidelines during your pregnancy (that's about 25 to 35 pounds for normal-weight women). Research shows that women who gain more than what's recommended are the least likely to melt it off afterward. Another biggie: breastfeeding, which is known to rev up metabolism and helps a lot of moms naturally slim down. Once your doctor gives you the green light, it also helps to get some exercise. Brazilian researchers found that women who dieted and worked out after delivering lost significantly more pregnancy weight than those who only cut calories. (But remember, breastfeeding moms shouldn't cut back too much – you still need about 2,000 well-balanced calories a day to meet the nutritional demands of nursing.)
I'll have complications like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.
The risk of developing dangerously high blood pressure (preeclampsia) is just between 5 and 8 percent. It's more common in women under 18 or over age 35, as well as in women who have borderline high blood pressure going into their pregnancy. "But if you had any of these factors, your doctor would be monitoring you closely from the very beginning and would likely catch the condition early," says Dr. Ashton.
Preeclampsia also doesn't tend to develop until the second half of pregnancy, and in some cases, it arises so late that there are few adverse health effects. There's no way to necessarily lower your risk for the condition. But making sure you get regular prenatal checkups (during which your blood pressure will be checked) and alerting your doctor to any symptoms of preeclampsia, – such as swelling of your hands or face, blurry vision, or major headaches – will ensure it's caught in its earliest stages.
As for gestational diabetes – a condition where your body becomes unable to process sugar properly, so it accumulates in the bloodstream – the risks are similarly low. Simple dietary changes, like limiting your intake of starchy carbs, are usually all it takes to get gestational diabetes under control. For healthy women with no history of diabetes, a routine blood glucose test between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy can spot the condition.
Sex will never be the same.
After Baby makes her way out, it's hard to imagine how everything “down there” will get back to normal. But you just need to give your body time to heal, and your libido a chance to fire back up again. During the first few months, odds are you and your hubby will crave sleep more than sex, anyway.
Once your doctor gives you the green light, take it slow. Sex may hurt or feel uncomfortable the first few times (lube will be your new best friend). But the human body is an amazing thing with an incredible ability to snap back and recover. In fact, nearly 70 percent of women report that things are back to business as usual by six months after delivery, according to one study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. And once the initial ouch-ness passes and your muscles regain their strength, a lot of new moms actually find their sex lives improve post-baby. They crave it more often and find the intimacy more satisfying than before.
Labor will be too tough or painful.
At some point, you’ll realize that your baby needs an exit strategy, and you’ll probably worry about labor and delivery. First, take a step back and realize that women have been doing this since the dawn of time – and these days, there's plenty you can do about pain. Read up on pain management techniques, attend childbirth classes, poll all your friends for tips on how they got through labor, and draw up a birth plan to discuss with your doctor. "Regardless of your worrying style, it's most important to have a doctor you trust and can chat openly with about your fears and wishes in the delivery room, and who can talk you through what to really expect," says Dr. Morse. "That will go a long way toward putting your mind at ease."
Delivery will be gross or embarrassing.
You've likely heard about women in labor who poop on the table, throw up on their doctors, or curse out their husband in front of everyone. But doctors and nurses deliver countless babies, so they've likely seen everything before. "Nothing grosses us out," says Dr. Morse. "So put it out of your mind!" If it will ease your nerves, go ahead and get waxed before D-day, or institute a "stay north of my waist" rule for any family or friends keeping you company.
- RELATED: Labor Tips for First Time Moms
I'll need an emergency C-section.
One-third of all babies are born via C-section, but many of these surgeries are scheduled in advance. In other words, they’re not the scary last-minute, rush-into-the-OR kind, says Dr. Morse. A C-section might be planned, for example, if the baby is breech or very large, if there are problems with the placenta, or if the mom has had a previous C-section. "I can tell you from my own experience that emergency C-sections are not common. But if something happens and you do need one? That's why you're in the hospital," she says. " As scary as it may be to get whisked into surgery, the mom and baby usually come out of it just fine."
I won't make it to the hospital in time.
Maybe you read one story about a mom who delivered her baby in a car, and it scarred you for life. In truth, though, you'd probably have enough time to fly across the country between your first contraction and hearing the baby's first cries. Official stats say that, on average, labor and delivery last between 12 and 21 hours. "It's usually toward the longer end of the range for firstborn children," Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. Have a chat with your Ob-Gyn or childbirth-class instructor to make sure you're completely clear on when to head to the hospital. Doing a trial run, so you'll know exactly how long it takes to drive there, may also quell any lingering apprehension.
- RELATED: Signs of Approaching Labor
I'm not going to be a good mom.
You know exactly who you are as an individual now, and perhaps as a partner, a professional, and even a pet owner. But what will happen when you throw a child into your established mix? Will you be able to balance the needs of your new life with your old one – not to mention figuring out how to teach your child, discipline her, and build her self-confidence? "Our ability as humans to bond is endless," says Steven R. Goldstein, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine. "If you're concerned about being a good parent," he adds, "it's a positive sign. It means you really, deeply care. And if you care, you are going to be a good mom."