Over the next nine months, you will go through tons of changes, both physical and psychological. Not only will your belly expand as your baby starts to grow, but so will your butt and your breasts. You'll also be dealing with some serious emotional changes, everything from killer mood swings to anxiety about what life will be like with a new baby. Don't worry, it's completely normal to feel out of whack every now and then. If you know what to expect, and the best way to handle things, you can have a smooth ride.
Weight gain is essential to a healthy pregnancy; doctors say most women should put on 25 to 35 pounds. But accepting your fuller figure can be hard, especially in those pre-bump months when you just look like you've been eating a lot of pasta. Keep in mind that most of your added weight doesn't come from fat. Those extra pounds include the weight of the placenta and amniotic fluid, your enlarged uterus and breasts, and the increased amount of blood in your body, all of which you need to support a healthy pregnancy.
If the number on the scale bums you out, stand backward when being weighed at your ob-gyn's office, and simply ask her to tell you whether you're on a healthy track. Working out also helps you feel better about your body. "Exercise keeps you toned, which reduces how heavy you appear, and it releases endorphins that can boost your feeling of well-being," says Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ph.D., professor of child development at Columbia University, in New York City. Make sure you consult your doctor before starting any fitness regimen. And remember, the weight gain won't last forever. If you exercise regularly and follow a sensible diet, the chances of getting your pre-baby shape back are really good!
...I just cried because I got a paper cut!
Blame those mood swings on hormonal changes. In the first few months of pregnancy, estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones are produced at higher levels in order to send signals to your body that it needs to start working for two. All those hormones surging through your system can have the unpleasant effect of making you feel irritable, just as with PMS. And don't discount the fact that while pregnancy is a time of great joy, it's also a major life transition. Worrying about how a new baby will affect your marriage and your finances can do a lot to dampen your mood.
Most mood swings will dissipate somewhat after the first trimester, when hormones level off. In the meantime, you can help steady your moods by making smart lifestyle choices. Eat frequent small meals so your blood-sugar level doesn't drop, and try to cut back on sugar and caffeine to avoid crashes. Make it a point to enjoy some downtime at least once or twice a day, and get to bed on the early side. Feeling tired is the easiest way to trigger emotional outbursts.
Some women use the term "mommy brain" to describe the forgetful moments that can occur anytime during pregnancy, or even when you're breastfeeding. Point the finger on high levels of progesterone, a hormone that has a sedating effect, which can cause mental slowness.
Make lists, lots of them. "During this foggy time, don't rely on your memory alone," says Lucy J. Puryear, M.D., author of Understanding Your Moods When You're Expecting. "If you do, you'll just beat yourself up if you repeatedly forget things."
Soon after you get the good news, fear may start to settle in as you realize what an enormous responsibility lies ahead. Thoughts like, "Can I actually do this?" and "Will I repeat my parents' mistakes?" don't mean you're going to be a bad mom. In fact, having these feelings shows that you will probably be caring and conscientious.
Try not to get overloaded by all of the information that's out there. There are countless baby books on the market, and those varying opinions can just create more anxiety. "Pick one or two books that are in sync with your parenting philosophy, and stick to those," says Dr. Puryear. Be sure to develop a plan with your partner so you'll have support in the initial weeks after you bring your baby home. Even after the newborn period, don't be timid about asking for extra help from family, friends, or a local moms' group.
Originally published in the January 2009 issue of Parents magazine.