The Internet is in no short supply of pregnancy advice, most of it the same tips and tricks rehashed across various mommy blogs: eat crackers and drink lemony drinks for morning sickness, realize you’re going to pack on some weight, take your prenatal vitamins, and don’t eat for two.
While most of that can be quite helpful, I have some insight I didn’t, or couldn’t, glean from the mommy blogs or the more experienced mothers in my life. While the giant belly is a source of physical discomfort, I can now speak pretty comfortably about being pregnant, thanks in large part to the lessons I’ve learned as my little baby has grown. While I still have the occasional bad day, I feel as relaxed in my own skin now as I ever did—stretch marks and all.
Whether you’re already pregnant or planning to be, I’m hoping some of this advice helps get you to that place, too.
1. Don’t Try To ‘Tough It Out’ With Morning Sickness
I expected the food aversion and the vomit. What I didn’t expect was that instead of throwing up my meals, I’d be eating all the time to keep myself from throwing up.
Seriously. All the time. All day, and multiple times during the night. I started a regimen of B6 and Unisom, a common remedy that can take the edge off so you can at least function somewhat normally instead of being laid up in bed.
That helped significantly, but I still had to eat constantly. Watery foods like fruit upset my stomach, and I soon developed an aversion to crackers (as often happens when you eat a lot of the same thing all the time). Appointment after appointment, I rejected the offer for a prescription to treat the morning sickness. Nah, I don’t need extra help. I thought: just get through this week, and you’ll be over the worst of it. No, this week. Any day now, it’ll subside.
I didn’t get over the worst of it until about halfway through my pregnancy, and I really wish I had tried more to combat the nausea. I might’ve been more effective at work, slept better, and had more control over my diet. Because I was eating all the time, I gained about a pound a week starting around week five. Really, don’t try to tough it out.
2. Get Creative With Snacking
By the time the morning sickness had subsided, I was a snack addict. Even though I could “run on empty” for a while, the urge to snack persisted. Instead of getting smart about lower-calorie options, I just grazed on anything nearby, taking in a lot more calories than I needed to grow my baby.
It wasn’t until the third trimester that I wised up. Forget crackers, of which I got sick quickly: go with popcorn. Smartfood Delight comes in a few flavors at only 35 calories a cup. My go-to is White Cheddar, which is basically a less heavily powdered, but still satisfyingly crunchy, version of the normal Smartfood White Cheddar popcorn.
Other solutions for the sweet tooth, which really kicked in during my second trimester, include all-fruit popsicles and diet soda. Outshine makes delicious 25-calorie fruit bars, and I’m partial to Dr. Pepper 10 and Fresca for a sweet, fizzy fix. But sometimes you just really want ice cream, so I avoid calorie-dense Dairy Queen treats and get mine from the grocery store aisle, where you can easily keep it under 150 calories per half cup.
Don’t confuse these choices with dieting. You’ll easily get all the calories you need outside those extra snack times.
3. Don’t Freak Out Over Your Body Image
My first stretch marks appeared on my hips, late in my second trimester. I was puzzled, because I had expected them on my abdomen, not on my hips. Oh well, I thought. Not a bad place for stretch marks.
Then I found them on my thighs. WHAT THE—? I freaked out. My baby isn’t growing on my legs. The only thing growing there are fat deposits. I must be gaining too much fat, too quickly. Right?
Not really. My midwife told me it’s extremely common, and that’s because maternal fat stores are generally located around the hips and thighs. All this fat, supposedly 7 to 10 pounds, is stored up in just a handful of months, and the skin just can’t grow fast enough without tearing.
Also, don’t freak out, like I did at first, if you happen to go up a band size or two on top. Not only are you getting a just little thicker all over, but your ribcage is expanding to accommodate the migration of your organs to make room for baby.
4. Take Naps
You’ve probably heard the advice to “listen to your body.” Well, do that, especially when it says it wants to sleep. I often have slept more soundly, and awoken more refreshed, after a 90-minute to three-hour afternoon nap than I do all night. I was a little concerned at first that my naps were so long, but sometime in the late second to early third trimester I started waking up sooner, after about one sleep cycle.
But seriously. Naps are the best, if you can get them.
5. Buy Maternity Clothing Often and Don’t Sweat the Sizes
If you’re trying to find out what size you wear in maternity clothes, give up now. It doesn’t matter. Just find whatever fits. I happen to be a 4 in Old Navy maternity jeans and a 2 in Old Navy denim shorts. I haven’t been a 2 in any legwear since freshman year of high school.
For tops, you might be a small in one style, a medium in another style or brand, and a large in another one. The sizing is practically meaningless, so don’t read too much into it. It’s all guesswork until you get in the dressing room.
Another note about dressing your rapidly morphing body: if you buy clothes on the cheaper side, realize they will sprout “pills” and become threadbare, holey, and unraveled at the hems very quickly due to frequent wear. Cotton clothing, while comfortable, has the least endurance. So if you live relatively close to a shop that sells maternity clothes, buy at least one for every day of the week, and then replace them as they wear out. Some clothes won’t fit you through the whole pregnancy anyway.
Oh, and don’t feel restricted to the maternity section, especially for pants. I had a regular pair of fabric drawstring shorts (a size up from my pre-pregnancy size) that lasted me the whole summer. I hated the idea of a full over-the-tummy band for pants, so in addition to a pair of low-panel jeans, I sprung for regular leggings and yoga pants with waistbands wide enough not to pinch, but small enough to fit under the belly while still staying on. The added upside is they’ll still fit me well after I give birth.
6. Don’t Be a Pregnancy Nazi
Some women prefer not to think too hard on the choices they make during pregnancy, which can lead to its own set of problems, and some women treat the whole thing rather like a homework assignment. They count all calories and steps. They avoid all deli meat like the plague. They overcook their steaks and use a thermometer on their vegetables. They judge the other pregnant lady (me) who may steal a sip of her husband’s beer. They weigh themselves daily and worry, worry, worry about how fast they’re gaining weight.
While I wasn’t a Nazi about all the rules and guidelines, I was a worrier for much of my pregnancy. Can I have a club sandwich? Is a little pink in my steak okay? Am I eating too much sugar? I worried especially about my weight, but really, it’s going to be fine. I’ll probably hit about 40 pounds, give or take, by my due date. And it’s not the end of the world.
If you take the job of growing a human too seriously, you’ll burn yourself out before the baby comes out and the really hard part begins: parenthood. I cherish the assurance my midwife gave me after I fell off the wagon with my first earnest craving (which I’m sure accounts for at least a couple of these extra pounds): a few donut binges are okay. Just don’t make it a habit.
7. Lean On Others
Honestly, a few months of pregnancy were hellish for me. I didn’t know how I was going to get through this, and when my sister-in-law (bless her heart) dropped by to give me a basket full of hand-selected pregnancy survival supplies, I was so grateful I cried after she left.
You may be the one growing the baby, but let friends and family help. My husband made the special donut runs when I couldn’t put that craving to rest, and I don’t think he ever complained about the cereal crumbs all over the sheets from my midnight snacking.
My friend bought me tummy butter after my initial dismay over my stretch marks, and another got my first baby onesie (It reads “Fresh from the oven and ready for lovin’”) that made my day when I felt so sick. My sister sent me at least a dozen things for the baby, including a hand-knit blanket. My employers adjusted my work schedule when the morning sickness got in the way. And my mother and aunt drove four hours to my home and back in a day just to throw me a baby shower.
Draw strength from your family and friends, and those moments of joy will shine through even the toughest times during pregnancy.
8. Laugh at Yourself
Find amusement in the little things, like the clichés you might be living (snacking on pickles — yeah, I’ve done that). Chuckle at how you can balance your coffee cup on your belly, or how lopsided it looks when your baby changes positions.
I’ve run into countless doorframes as I’ve expanded. It hurts, but it’s kind of funny. I groan loudly as I get up from kneeling. My joints hurt and I have to sit down frequently like an elderly person. When the medical assistant says it’s time to step on the scale, I say it’s my favorite part, and when I saw how plump my face and shoulders had gotten in the photos from the Fourth of July, I chalked it up to a “rounding error.”
Your life is changing drastically, but don’t be too serious. Parenthood requires a sense of humor anyway.