Before getting pregnant, I knew very little about babies. I'd barely spent any time around them, and I'd never once changed a diaper. I didn't really think too much about giving birth in the early stages of pregnancy, but I actually started to get pretty scared and nervous towards the end. Fortunately, everything turned out great (you can read my birth story here), and I wanted to share some resources with you that helped guide me through pregnancy and prepare for birth.
The Flo App
I didn't do a whole lot in the first trimester. I was really nervous about having a miscarriage, and didn't want to allow myself to get too excited. I had been using the Flo app to track my period however, and switched it over to pregnancy mode once I got the positive test results. The app would share little tidbits every few days like "the baby is the size of blueberry today" or tips on how to deal with morning sickness. That was all the information I needed in the beginning.
Yoga and Fitness
It's important to stay active as much as possible during pregnancy. Regular walking, stretching, and exercise can help your body prepare to give birth and encourage the baby to get into the optimal position for labor and delivery.
By the time I reached the second trimester, I started to get really excited about the pregnancy. I went to my first prenatal yoga class with high expectations that I was going to make a bunch of new mommy friends who would become my besties. It didn't really work out that way. I was by far the least pregnant person in the class, and the other women seemed exhausted, grumpy, and not in the mood to socialize. Besides that, the class was a little too gentle for my tastes. I ended up going back to my regular yoga studio (Pura Vida Yoga in Downtown San Diego) and taking standard yoga classes. With a few modifications (no twists or inversions), I found these classes to be just fine throughout my pregnancy. I also took more restorative and yin yoga classes when I was feeling tired.
After COVID-19 quarantine went into effect, I took YouTube classes from home. Here are a few of my favorite YouTube fitness channels for pregnancy and postpartum fitness:
- Pregnancy and Postpartum TV - Instructor Jessica Pumple offers a variety of gentle prenatal and postpartum yoga workouts.
- Keaira LaShae - Great for fun and energetic fat-burning cardio dance workouts for pregnant woman and to get back in shape postpartum.
- Yoga with Adriene - A good variety of yoga classes with a relaxed, friendly vibe.
Consider Hiring a Doula
If you don't know what a doula is (I didn't until I got pregnant!), it's basically like a personal coach to help guide you through labor and delivery. At the hospital, the midwives, doctors, and nurses are focused on your medical care and change shifts every 12 hours. A doula on the other hand, will be there for your entire delivery and is dedicated to serving your emotional needs. If you are in pain or freaking out, they are there to hold your hand, rub your back, and keep you calm. They can also support your partner, and guide them in how best to serve you during labor. If you are interested in hiring a doula, the second trimester is a good time to start looking and doing interviews. You might have to meet a few doulas before you find one who feels like a good fit.
We hired a doula (Doula Rosie), and had a couple meetings with her before going into labor. Unfortunately due to COVID-19 restrictions, she wasn't able to come to the hospital with us. Still, I'm glad we decided to work with her. She offered a lot of great resources prior to giving birth, and coached Adam over the phone to help get me through early labor at home.
Books Worth Reading
1. Happiest Baby on the Block - Our doula recommended this book, and I loved it. It was a quick, easy read, but super helpful. It offers practical tips on how to care for a newborn and avoid stressful crying fits. I think it's definitely worth reading the book, but here's a quick summary just in case:
In short, the book describes the first three months after birth as the fourth trimester. The main reason human babies are born after only nine months is because if they stayed any longer their heads would be too big to fit through the birth canal. But in many ways, they would be happier in the womb for awhile longer. In order to simulate the soothing conditions the womb, the author recommends the five S's:
1. Swaddle the baby tightly.
2. Turn them Sideways to keep them feeling safe.
3. Shush them with white noise.
4. Swing them gently to recreate the feeling of floating in the womb.
5. Offer them a pacifier to Suck on and calm them down.
Of course, before resorting to the 5 S's, you should make sure their basic needs are met. Make sure they are not hungry, and don't need a diaper change or burping.
2. The 4th Trimester
After giving birth, it's important to take good care of yourself and not just the baby. Pregnancy and labor cause dramatic physical and hormonal changes in your body, and it takes time to heal and recover after the process. I definitely recommend taking some time to plan how you will prioritize your own health, and make sure that you are cared for and supported during this vulnerable time. This book offers great tips on how to heal your body, balance your emotions, and restore your vitality after childbirth.
3. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
Ina May Gaskin is a well-known midwife who worked for many years delivering babies on a hippie commune in Tennessee called The Farm. She advocates that childbirth is natural and beautiful, and can be done safely at home without medical intervention. The book features lots of stories from women who gave birth at The Farm, and shares a positive message about labor and delivery. Regardless of how you decide to have your child, it's an interesting read and I learned a lot.
Books I Would Skip
1. Ancient Map for Modern Birth
This book was another recommendation from our doula, and to be honest, I was not a fan. It talks about birth through the lens of mythology and metaphor. While some people may really relate to this book, it was not my cup of tea. With talk of becoming a Birth Warrior and planning your Birth Tiger Safari, I just didn't have the patience to read it all. There was also a chapter suggesting a link between ultrasounds and autism that I found very disturbing. It's not the kind of thing you want to read when you're nearly 40 weeks pregnant and have already had 5 ultrasounds. A quick search on PubMed also found some studies which conclude there is no link between autism and ultrasounds. In any case, I didn't want to go any deeper down that rabbit hole because at this point what's done is done. The book also had chapters on epidurals and induction that I found interesting and helpful, but you can probably find that information elsewhere if you like.
2. The Hypnobirthing Book
I've heard a lot of good things about hynobirthing as a tool to help you through a natural, drug-free labor and delivery. Adam and I tried listening to the book on Audible, but I found it a little slow and boring. Maybe it would be better to read the book, but we only listened to half of it. There were a lot of guided meditations and visualizations that I thought would be helpful during labor, but when I was in the thick of it and dealing with the pain of contractions (or the discomfort of "surges", as the book would say), I didn't find them all that useful. But that's just me, so give it a shot if you are still intrigued.
Originally, I wasn't planning on taking a breastfeeding class. I honestly just thought, "How hard can it be? You just put the baby on your breast and they start sucking, right?". Well, it's a little more complicated than that and it can be challenging. That's why I'm glad my doula suggested we take a class at the San Diego Breastfeeding Center. It was supposed to be an in-person class, but we ended up taking it online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Our instructor, Robin Kaplan, was super nice and knowledgable, and covered all the info we needed to get a good start on breastfeeding. We talked about optimal positioning, tips to help the baby latch comfortably, how often and how much to breastfeed, and more. I'm glad we took the class because I felt better prepared for breastfeeding, and I think it went more smoothly because I knew what to expect.
Hand Expression of Breastmilk Video - My OBGYN recommended this video which basically shows you how to pre-squeeze milk out of your breasts before you give birth. You can start around 37 or 38 weeks to get your milk flowing once the baby arrives. I didn't do this everyday, but a little bit helped, and I felt like my milk supply was good once the baby was born.
Perineal Massage - This is also something my OBGYN recommended to help prepare your perineum (the tissue between your vagina and anus) for giving birth. Basically you want it to be a little softened and stretched out so it doesn't tear too bad during labor. She recommended every day during the last few weeks of pregnancy, but even if you can only do it a few times it will help prevent tearing during childbirth.
Kegel Exercises - Keeping your pelvic floor strong is important before and after giving birth. Beforehand, it will help you get comfortable exercising these muscles so you know what to do when it's time to push the baby out. Afterwards, you'll want to strengthen your pelvic floor to prevent incontinence and prolapse. Basically, kegels are like squeezing the muscles that hold in your pee, but you can read more in the link if you're not sure how to do them.
Ok so those are the main resources I turned to during my pregnancy. I also took a lot of naps and did guided meditations to relieve my anxiety and stay calm. Let me know if you found this list helpful, and please share in the comments any resources that you would recommend.