Pregnancy Depression, Anxiety and Stress
Why have I been so moody lately?
It’s common to have mood swings during pregnancy because of stress, fatigue, and hormonal changes that affect your levels of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain). And, of course, there’s also the broad range of feelings you may have about becoming a parent.
Everyone responds to these changes differently. Some moms-to-be experience heightened emotions, both positive and negative. Others feel more depressed or anxious. Many pregnant women find that moodiness flares up around 6 to 10 weeks, eases in the second trimester, and then reappears as their due date approaches.
Pregnancy can be a stressful and overwhelming time. One day you may be overjoyed at the thought of having a baby, and then just as quickly wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. You may be worried about whether you’ll be a good mom, whether the baby will be healthy, and how the cost of adding a child to your household will affect your family’s finances. And you may worry about how having a baby will impact your relationship with your partner and your other children – like if you’ll still be able to give them the attention they need.
Even if your pregnancy was planned, at times you may have mixed feelings about what’s ahead. That’s not surprising, considering the high expectations placed on parents. And the pressure starts even before the baby is born. You may be constantly wondering: Am I reading the right books? Am I buying the right products? Will I know how to stimulate my child’s development properly and build his self-esteem?
In the meantime, you may be feeling unattractive as your body changes, and you may be concerned about putting on too much weight or looking “fat,” especially if you aren’t able to exercise as much as you’d like.
The physical symptoms of pregnancy, such as heartburn, fatigue, and frequent urination, can also be a burden. It’s not uncommon to feel like you’ve lost control over your body and your life during this time. All these concerns may take your emotions on a roller coaster ride.
How can I manage my mood swings?
Try to remind yourself that emotional upheaval is normal right now. That said, making a conscious effort to nurture yourself can help you stay on an even keel during turbulent times.
- Take it easy. Resist the urge to tackle as many chores as you can before the baby comes. You may think you need to stencil bunnies on the nursery walls, reorganize all the closets, or put in serious overtime before going on maternity leave, but you don’t. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list instead. After all, pampering yourself is an essential part of taking care of your baby.
- Bond with your partner. Expressing how you’re feeling while reassuring your partner of your love will go a long way toward nurturing your relationship. Make sure you’re spending plenty of time together, and even go on a vacation if you can. Strengthen your connection now, so you can really be there for one another after the baby comes.
If you’re single, do something to nurture your relationship with your friends and family, or look for a support group for single moms-to-be. This will provide vital support for you now as well as after your baby is born.
- Do something that makes you feel good. This might mean carving out some special time for you and your partner. Or it might mean taking time alone to do something just for you: Take a nap, go for a walk, get a prenatal massage, or see a movie with a friend.
- Talk it out. Air your worries about the future with understanding friends. Just putting your concerns into words often helps you get a handle on them or gives you insight into solutions. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your partner, and make it a two-way street: In addition to pouring out your feelings, listen to your partner, too.
- Manage your stress. Rather than let the frustration in your life build up, find ways to decompress. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise, and have some fun. Identify sources of stress in your life and change what you can, such as trimming your to-do list. If you still find that anxiety is creeping in, try taking a pregnancy yoga class, practicing meditation or other relaxation techniques, or consulting a professional counselor.
What if I can’t shake my moodiness?
If your mood swings are becoming more frequent or more intense, or if they last longer than two weeks, talk to your practitioner and ask for a referral to a counselor. You may be among the 14 to 23 percent of women who battle mild to moderate depression during pregnancy.
If you notice that your anxiety is interfering with your ability to function in your daily life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. And if your mood swings become more frequent and intense, you may have bipolar disorder, a condition in which you alternate between periods of depression and mania.
If you suspect that you have any of these conditions, it’s crucial to get professional help and treatment while you’re pregnant. Research has shown that untreated emotional health problems can affect your baby’s physical well-being and increase your risk of preterm labor and postpartum depression. Both psychotherapy and medication can be very effective for treating these conditions so that you and your baby can be well during pregnancy and afterward.
During pregnancy, it’s easy to panic about every tiny twinge and food choice, but it’s worth remembering that the vast, vast majority of babies turn out just fine. Hear from some been-there-done-that BabyCenter moms about what to cross off your worry list.
“Remember, every problem has a solution, and confiding in someone who’s close to you or who you think can offer help or support is a step forward. Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner, OB, or midwife.”
“Don’t stress about how you look. You’re performing a miracle – growing a person inside of you – and that’s a fantastic accomplishment.”
“If you trust your OB, let her do her job and follow her recommendations; if you don’t, find a new doctor or midwife who you do trust. You should never be afraid to call your provider with big and small problems.”
“Don’t stress about tough times with your partner. A baby tests any couple’s relationship.”
“Don’t stress about things like food or weight. Just be sensible. There’s no need to give yourself an anxiety attack over the pint of ice cream you just finished. Take it as your special reward for everything you’ve accomplished so far in your pregnancy, and move on.”
“If you’re doing everything in your power to make healthy choices, don’t worry so much. Women have been having babies since well before we knew what to do and what not to do.”
“Mothers-in-law don’t know everything!”
“Don’t stress too much about things in the environment you think might harm your baby, like standing too close to the microwave or pumping gas. Remember, the vast majority of babies are born healthy.”
“Don’t worry about labor. It is what it is. Just educate yourself on your options, and be ready to make informed decisions. Beyond that, just take a deep breath and go for it. It’s not as bad as you think it’ll be.”
“Don’t stress about how the baby is fending in the womb. It’s a roll cage, but your baby is probably comfortable in there.”
“Every little twinge doesn’t mean something is wrong.”
“No matter what decisions you make, someone will always disagree. Try not to let the negative comments upset you, and if you’re really worried about something, talk with your health care provider or a nonjudgmental friend.”
“There’s no such thing as a stupid question, especially for first-time mothers. Being pregnant and birthing a child are unique experiences, and a woman will never know what it’s all about until she’s actually done it herself.”
“It’s okay if you don’t have everything ready for your baby. Newborns don’t need a whole lot in the beginning.”
“When I accepted heartburn, back pain, lack of sleep, and moodiness as a normal part of pregnancy, they didn’t seem to bother me as much anymore.”
“If you’re worried about being a good mom, you probably have nothing to worry about. My husband keeps telling me that bad mothers don’t worry about whether or not they’ll be good moms.”
“I had never really been around children, and I made mistakes, but as long as you love your baby and are careful with the important stuff, you can’t harm him or her with small mistakes. You’ll soon get comfortable with the routine.”
“Don’t stress too much over all the ‘rules’ pregnant women now have. A bath warmer than lukewarm won’t lead to disaster. If you accidentally eat a soft cheese you’re not sure is safe, there’s no use worrying after the fact. Our mothers had fewer restrictions than we do, and we turned out fine.”
“It’s okay to tell co-workers that you’re not interested in their advice. Every pregnancy is different.”
“Don’t stress if you can’t get everything done that you had planned each day. The baby won’t know if the housework isn’t done!”
Is it common to be anxious a lot during pregnancy?
Pregnancy brings out the worrywart in all of us. And for good reason: You’re growing a life inside of you.
It’s natural to fret about what you eat, drink, think, feel, and do. It’s also perfectly normal to worry about whether your baby is healthy, how this new person will change your life and relationships, and whether you’re truly up to the task of parenthood. But if your anxiety is becoming all-consuming and regularly interferes with your day-to-day functioning, it’s time to find a better way to deal with it.
To start, gently share your fears with your partner — even if they’re about him. Chances are he’s harboring concerns of his own.
Communicating openly about your anxiety can help you both feel better. Turn to friends or family members for support, too. Other moms-to-be are another source of support, as they’re probably experiencing the same worries you are.
If you’re extremely anxious or have a specific reason to be concerned about your baby’s health, share your concerns with your caregiver. If anxiety still plagues you after you’ve aired your worries and checked in on your baby’s well-being, professional counseling can help you get to the bottom of your troubles.
I have a lot of stress in my life right now. Will it affect my baby?
While everyday pressure is a part of modern life, a high level of chronic stress can boost your odds of preterm labor or of delivering a low-birthweight baby. If you’re used to caring for others or giving 110 percent at work, making yourself a priority may seem unnatural or even selfish.
But taking care of yourself is an essential part of taking care of your baby. Cutting down on stress — or learning how to manage it — makes for a healthier pregnancy.
How can I calm down?
Here are a few ways to manage your stress and reduce anxiety at work and at home:
- Practice saying “no.” Now’s as good a time as any to get rid of the notion that you can do it all. You can’t, so learn to let your superwoman ideals go. Make slowing down a priority, and get used to the idea of asking your friends and loved ones for help.
- Cut back on chores — and use that time to put your feet up, nap, or read a book.
- Take advantage of sick days or vacation whenever possible. Spending a day — or even an afternoon — resting at home will help you get through a tough week.
- Try deep-breathing exercises, yoga, or stretching.
- Get regular exercise such as swimming or walking.
- Do your best to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet so you have the physical and emotional energy you need.
- Go to bed early. Your body is working overtime to nourish your growing baby and needs all the sleep it can get.
- Limit “information overload.” Reading about pregnancy and listening to your friends’ pregnancy stories are fine — but don’t delve into all the scary things that might (but probably won’t) happen during your pregnancy. Focus instead on how you’re feeling and what’s happening to you now.
- Join (or create!) a support group. If you’re coping with a difficult situation, spending time with others in the same boat can ease your burden. Many women create support networks using social media or by joining groups online. Visit the BabyCenter Community to connect with other moms-to-be grappling with similar issues.
- If you’re under unusual stress or feel like you’re at your breaking point, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a therapist, who can better assess how strong your anxiety has become and what you may need to do to feel better. Listen openly to what she has to say. Getting help during pregnancy will protect you and your baby from unnecessary risks and reduce your chances of postpartum anxiety and depression.
I’m sick of being pregnant! Is something wrong with me?
Nope, it’s perfectly normal to feel that way. Many women get tired of being pregnant during the third trimester (and some even earlier). What’s exciting and new during the first few weeks and months of pregnancy can become pretty tedious by the sixth or seventh month.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing particularly thrilling about having to roll out of bed sideways, groan every time you stand up, and pee umpteen times a day. Sure, you may get offered a seat on the train, but you also face little delights like stretch marks and heartburn. It’s enough to wipe the rosy glow from even the most excited mom-to-be.
However, if your pregnancy blahs start to feel more like persistent blues or anxiety that’s affecting your ability to function, talk to your healthcare provider. Although mood swings are common in pregnancy (especially among women who suffer from PMS), feeling chronically bored and listless could be a symptom of depression.
Postpartum depression gets more media attention, but at least 10 percent of women have bouts of depression during pregnancy. Untreated depression isn’t good for you, so it’s important to get treatment. Fortunately, most cases of pregnancy-related depression can be treated by a supportive therapist and with antidepressant medication if necessary.
Dealing with others
On top of your physical discomfort, you may find yourself enduring endless questions and comments from others about your pregnancy. “Once I started showing, no one at work ever talked to me about anything but being pregnant,” recalls Susan Greer, an accountant and mother of one from New Hampshire. “By the sixth month, I wanted that baby out and my body and identity back.”
And then there are the unsolicited comments on your physique. “I’m always getting ‘Wow, you are so big!’ comments, advice I didn’t ask for, and people touching my stomach,” a mom-to-be writes in the BabyCenter Community. “As if I’m not already annoyed because of how uncomfortable I am!”
Many women get tired of conversation that focuses on their growing body. Try steering conversation back to non-pregnancy topics – even if it’s just the weather or the latest reality TV show. Feel free to tell your family and close friends that you feel like talking about things that have nothing to do with food cravings and not being able to see your feet.
Also, give yourself permission to vent when you feel the need. When family and friends (or even life partners) need a break from pregnancy talk, you can count on finding a sympathetic ear in other moms-to-be. Commiserate and trade advice with other women due the same month as you in the BabyCenter Community.
Savoring your time
Despite all the annoyances you’re weathering, now’s the time to enjoy your last weeks or months of pre-baby freedom. During the months – and years! – after your baby is born, time to yourself will be a precious commodity.
Some women use the days to plan for their newborn’s arrival, setting up the nursery and shopping for supplies or mapping out the details of maternity leave and daycare. You might try putting together scrapbooks of your pregnancy and baby shower, taking a parenting class at your local health center, or learning lullabies.
Sometimes, though, you need a break from all things baby-related. Go ahead and plan activities, take on tasks, and dabble in hobbies that a new mom couldn’t possibly squeeze into her busy schedule. Some ideas:
- Make lunch or phone dates with friends. “I figure I won’t have a good in-depth conversation with most of my friends for at least six months after my twins are born,” one woman writes in the BabyCenter Community.
- Learn something new. Take a chance on books at the library that you normally wouldn’t pick up. “I started reading an astronomy book so I can learn some constellations. Who knows, maybe I’ll talk to my baby about the stars during our midnight feedings,” mom-to-be Barbara muses in the BabyCenter Community.
- Streamline your space. Clean out your files, sift through the junk in the kitchen drawer, or put those boxed-up prints in the closet into photo albums. There’s plenty of organizing you can do around the house that won’t strain you physically, and once you’re in mom-mode you’ll be thankful for the reduced clutter.
- Treat yourself to a massage. “I feel tons better after the prenatal massage I just got. If you feel miserable, go get one! It’s well worth the money,” Ceri writes in a BabyCenter Community post. For a less expensive treat, spring for a hair blowout or soothing pedicure instead.
- Set up shortcuts to save time – and your sanity. Collect takeout menus from restaurants around town, prepare freezer meals, and start your babysitter search so that help is readily available during the hectic first months.
- Try a new exercise routine. Physical activity is a sure way to boost your mood and energy. Recruit a friend to go for a walk, take a swim, check out a prenatal yoga class, or try another way to get your body moving. (Check in with your healthcare provider first, in case there’s a medical reason for avoiding exercise.)
- Pick up gardening. “Starting a garden really helped me get over my third-trimester boredom,” says New Hampshire mom Susan Greer. “I planted some seeds, but mostly transplanted young plants and trees – the idea of waiting for something else to grow over time was too much for me to take!”
- Connect with your partner. Enjoy some peaceful, romantic dinners together – whether you venture out to a restaurant or cozy up at home with comfort food – and focus on each other while you can.
- Escape to another world. Start a novel or watch TV shows and movies that transport you into another place or time.
Excitement, joy, anticipation — all of these emotions go into high gear once you confirm you’re pregnant. But pregnancy brings out the worrywart in us, too. And for good reason: You’re growing a new life inside of you. It’s natural to fret about what you eat, drink, think, feel, and do because you don’t want anything to hurt your baby. You may also worry about how this new person will change your life and personal relationships. Here’s a rundown of the most common pregnancy fears and concerns:
I cannot even list all the fears I have with this pregnancy — my first. I will spend an entire day worrying that every strange cramp, every fleeting backache is leading me straight to miscarriage.
Will it hurt the baby?
What an overwhelming feeling it can be to know that you and you alone are solely responsible for the life and well-being of this unborn miracle! I worried, particularly in the first and second trimester, about every “bad” thing I had ever done to my body over the last 28 years!
I worry that I may neglect my 4-year-old daughter. She has been my whole world and now we are adding another factor into the picture, a newborn.
Cross your fingers
I have had four healthy babies after four non-eventful pregnancies, labors, and deliveries. I feel as though with this child, I am “pushing my luck.”
Fear of labor
I worry about labor, although I’ve already had one baby. I feel as if I’m starting all over again — I don’t know what to expect. I had an easy delivery with my son; I think that maybe this baby will be different.
Can we afford this baby?
Like many parents, I am fearful of the money situation. Both my husband and I work; however, I make more money and have better insurance. I used to be an educator and have a firm belief that children do better with a parent at home.
Will I be a good parent?
I’ve been given the precious task of cultivating this incredible new life within me. And like so many parents before me, I am definitely challenged to offer my child the best of this world. I yearn for him to be always bright and happy, and I find myself wondering just where to begin. I fret over articles written for and in his best interest, and worry over the reported statistics of this and that. What is best? In this world where children bore easily, have too much too soon, and even resort to violence when they realize that life is unfair and difficult, I seek answers and guidance for “doing it right.”
Surround yourself with positive friends and relations
How do you know if your friends are good for you? “Pay attention to how you feel about yourself when you’re around them,” says Adrianne Ahern, a psychologist in San Diego, California, and author of Snap Out of It Now! Four Steps to Inner Joy. If you feel good about yourself when you’re around someone, that person is bringing joy to your life.
Unfortunately, most of us have some negative people in our lives. If a friend or relative makes you feel bad, try to avoid that person during your pregnancy. “It’s not about blaming the person – it’s about taking care of yourself,” says Ahern. Later you can decide if it’s worth continuing the friendship or confronting the person about your feelings.
Shoring up your support system now will yield benefits later too: You’ll appreciate their encouragement and help when you make the transition to life with a newborn.
Take time out
When you feel yourself getting upset, take a short break. A few minutes of meditating, reading a magazine, talking with a friend, or going for a walk may be just what you need. Indulge in a prenatal massage to soothe your sore spots and help you relax.
Prepare for unwanted attention
Does it drive you crazy when people touch your belly or comment on your size? Rather than getting upset when someone makes an insensitive comment, check out our ideas for clever comebacks, and keep a few in mind for when you need them.
Blow off steam
Any type of physically demanding activity alleviates tension and releases feel-good endorphins. Exercise helps you have a healthy pregnancy and can improve your emotional well-being. Try walking, swimming, or prenatal yoga – anything that gets you moving.
If your healthcare provider has advised you not to exercise, try putting on music and belting out some of your favorite songs. Or write in a journal, where you’re free to express all your feelings.
Take a deep breath
If you feel yourself tensing up, you’re probably holding your breath. Most people breathe shallowly, from the chest only, when they’re in pain or in stress. A rapid heart rate, stomach knots, and muscle tension are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.
Deep breathing can help, so try this instead: As you inhale, expand your belly. On the exhale, let your belly relax and release all your tension. “Focusing on your breath can help you take charge of your thoughts and emotions,” says Ahern. “Then you’ll be better equipped to handle irritating situations more creatively and effectively.”
If you’re interested in a structured approach, check out classes, books, articles, or videos on mindfulness, which is the practice of learning to focus your attention on the present moment with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a method of stress reduction that has become increasingly popular in many different settings. Though it’s rooted in Buddhist spiritual practices, MBSR is a secular practice, with clinically proven, standardized techniques. Your healthcare provider or local hospital may offer an MBSR program.
Are people getting more obnoxious, or does it just seem that way when you’re pregnant? It may be both, says Diane Sanford, a psychologist, an expert in pregnancy and postpartum emotional health, and a blogger at Living Self-Care.
Pregnant women deserve compliments like, “You look beautiful” or “You’re glowing.” Instead, many moms-to-be report getting random put-downs and very personal questions from total strangers.
Read on to see what kinds of comments you may need to brace yourself for, and get tips for how to respond.
I can’t believe they said that!
The following are real-life rude comments reported by BabyCenter moms:
“Boy, do I feel skinny standing next to her.”
— overheard at work
“You just seem so big. Are you sure that you don’t have a cyst in there, too?”
— asked by a stranger
— greeting at a local hardware store
No matter what, these comments are unacceptable, says psychologist Sanford. Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean people should suddenly feel free to remark on your size or looks.
If you’re caught off-guard by a stranger’s words, ask yourself: Would it be okay to say this to a person who wasn’t pregnant? If the answer is no, you’ll know why you feel offended.
Why it’s worth responding to rude comments
One BabyCenter mom tells us she was accosted at the grocery store with, “You’re huge!” She didn’t say anything to the offender, but she cried all the way home.
Suffering in silence won’t do, says Sanford. Because pregnancy is an emotionally sensitive time, it’s actually more important than ever to take care of yourself. And your heightened emotional state lasts for a total of 18 to 24 months, she says, so ignoring things that upset you and trying to “let things go” for up to two years just won’t work.
Second, letting a hurtful remark go unchallenged can send the message that the bad behavior is okay. That’s no help to you – or any other pregnant woman.
Finally, retreating from an offense can start to interfere with your everyday life. Should you not go back to the hardware store for the entire length of your pregnancy in order to avoid one rude cashier?
Responding to the rudeness is the better long-term solution, says Sanford. Exactly how you respond depends on your personal style for coping with conflict.
If you’re a direct person, you may want to address the offense in the moment. If humor is your style, you can toss out a witty (or even edgy or sarcastic) comeback. If you prefer to avoid conflict, there are subtle, nonverbal ways to stick up for yourself.
You can also process your emotions after the incident in different ways. You can journal about it and write down what you’d like to have said to the offender. You can vent to a friend, partner, or fellow mom-to-be. (A great place to both write and vent is in your BabyCenter Birth Club.)
If you’re angry, you might even want to let it out by picturing the offender’s face and imagining various retorts, banging a pillow, or stomping your feet.
If you want to take a positive, healing approach, you might choose to pray about the incident or focus on feeling compassion for the commenter, who may be clueless about the impact of his or her words.
Rude comments and great comebacks
Here are some zingers and possible ways to respond, depending on your style.
Rude comment: “You’re enormous!”
“I’m sensitive about my weight, so I’d appreciate it if you kept the jokes and comments to a minimum.”
— A BabyCenter member
“My plan is to stay healthy and deliver this baby, then focus on losing weight.”
— A BabyCenter member
“I hope you meant that my baby is getting so big. Otherwise I’d be offended.”
Humorous or sarcastic response:
“Yes, I am getting larger. Maybe you can loan me some of your clothes for the next few months.”
— A BabyCenter member
“My excuse is that I am pregnant. What’s yours?”
— A BabyCenter member
“Put your hands on your belly and say, ‘She didn’t mean that’ to the baby in a half-joking tone. This really shuts people up.”
— Proud Mom
“Shake your head disapprovingly.”
— Psychologist Diane Sanford
“Ignore the comment and stay silent, showing that you’re not dignifying it with a response.”
“I just smile and nod. I think people usually have good intentions and aren’t thinking about how their comment could be hurtful.”
Rude behavior: A stranger reaches out and touches your belly.
“Physically move the stranger’s hand away and ask her to please respect your personal space.”
Humorous or sarcastic response:
“Back away and say, ‘I’m teaching my baby to stay away from strangers.'”
— A BabyCenter member
Step backward out of reach, and give the person a look.
Rude comment: “Are you sure it’s not twins?”
“Yes, the doctor was quite clear.”
“Look the person squarely in the eye and sternly say, ‘I’m certain it’s not twins.'”
Humorous or sarcastic response:
“Not twins, just one big baby.”
“If it is, we’ll all be pretty surprised.”
“Do you really think I look fat?”
“I hope not. We only have one of everything!”
“Simply nod your head and look away, ending further interaction.”
“Say, ‘Why do you ask?’ in a very polite tone of voice. It allows you to keep the moral high ground, but hints at how rude the other person is being.”
Rude comment: “There’s no way you’re 8 months along; you’re barely showing.”
“My doctor says my baby and I are fine, thank you.”
“I have enough other things to worry about during pregnancy. Please don’t add one more.”
— A BabyCenter member
Humorous or sarcastic response:
“Did I ask for your comment?”
“Are you an authority on pregnant women and size?”
Walk away – and quickly.
Rude comment: “You must be having a girl because you have so much acne.”
“That’s rude, and it hurts my feelings. I’d rather you just sit there in silence than slam my self-esteem.”
“I don’t like having acne, and I don’t like listening to strangers comment on it either.”
— A BabyCenter member
Humorous or sarcastic response:
“Yeah, and I’m about to have a cow because you have so much insensitivity.”
— A BabyCenter member
“Well, obviously you haven’t been around many pregnant women or you’d know much more about pregnancy etiquette.”
— A BabyCenter member
“Roll your eyes, shake your head to indicate exasperation, and walk away.”
“I find it best to give a blank stare for about 10 seconds. Really let the awkwardness sink in.”
Rude comment: “Did you use fertility treatments?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“I don’t want to discuss that. It’s private.”
— A BabyCenter member
Humorous or sarcastic response:
“Wow, a pretty personal question to start with, don’t you think?”
“If I didn’t, are you going to ask what position I used?”
— ABabyCenter member
“Just give the person a weird look and turn your head away. She’ll get the point.
Finally, one BabyCenter member says, “My favorite comeback for any of these comments is to calmly smile and say, “Hmm, they told me that people would make stupid comments to me during pregnancy, but I didn’t really believe it until now.”
These 17 tips from BabyCenter moms and moms-to-be can make your life easier during pregnancy by reducing stress, saving you time and money, and helping you stay in touch with the joy of being pregnant.
Save a little time
“Taking showers in the evening and sleeping an extra 45 minutes in the morning has helped a lot. You wouldn’t think this would make much of a difference, but I really feel like I get enough sleep this way.”
“I work full time and do a lot of errands at lunch before I get too tired. When I get home, I have less to do and can relax or spend time with my toddler.”
“At the beginning of my third trimester, I started stocking up on paper plates, cups, and disposable cutlery. On days when I’m wiped out, we have ‘picnics’ at the dining room table. This saves time and energy that would normally be spent at the sink or emptying the dishwasher. This will be useful when the baby comes too.”
Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster
“Don’t be afraid to show the wacky side of pregnancy emotions. A good cry or belly laugh does the soul good.”
“During my first pregnancy, I felt like the biggest idiot on earth because of what I called ‘pregnancy dementia.’ I learned to carry a note pad with me at all times to write down even the smallest things. It really did help.”
“I [tend to] just lash out at people with whatever is on my mind before it has a chance to go through my ‘manners’ filter. So now, I bite my tongue and remind myself, ‘If I don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ I explained my tactic to my dear husband, and he thinks it’s funny when I get quiet now. Sometimes that breaks the tension and makes me laugh.”
— Pioneer’s momma
Treat yourself well
“A little bit of exercise increases my energy more than any nap I’ve ever taken.”
“Pamper yourself with fresh nail polish, lovely bath oils, or even a professional facial. These can go a long way in nurturing your spirit.”
“Rub natural massage oil on your tummy every day after your shower. It might be an old wives’ tale that this prevents stretch marks, but it sure feels nice and luxurious.”
“I slept much better in the last trimester after I bought a body pillow. I could curl up on my side, letting the pillow support my back. It also helped to have a stack of pillows for propping myself up when I got night heartburn.”
Get by with a little help from your friends
“We invited friends over to help us set up the nursery. We got pizza and beer (soda for me) and made a party out of it. They helped paint and assemble furniture – and even had a good time doing it!”
“Take all the used pregnancy clothes friends offer. It’s silly to spend a ton of money on clothes you won’t wear for long. Sharing clothes is a nice introduction to the camaraderie of motherhood.”
“Get together with other expectant moms or people with young kids – it’s incredible how sharing the ups and downs of pregnancy and new parenthood can keep your sanity intact.”
“A big one for me has been to not be afraid to ask for help. People often like being helpful, but don’t know what they can do. Asking for a favor directly is the way to go.”
Stay sane on the job
“I check in often with my manager. I work on my feet, and as the months pass, I’ve slowed down a lot. Taking small breaks helps a lot. She understands this and doesn’t seem to mind.”
“I used lunch breaks at work to catnap. Fortunately my office had a quiet lounge with a couch where I would curl up and snooze – even 20 minutes worked wonders. Co-workers didn’t mind leaving me alone. In fact, it became the pregnancy couch for a string of pregnant women.”
“It helps to know your rights. I had horrible, debilitating morning sickness with both my pregnancies and was so relieved to learn I could take disability leave for the worst stretches and return to work for the last trimester.”
Pregnancy has some major pros, such as the attention, the anticipation, and the joy of feeling the baby move. But there are some woes, too. For nine months, you may be deprived of daily pleasures that you never fully appreciated…until they were gone.
Expecting moms weigh in here and on the BabyCenter Communitypages about the pre-pregnancy perks they plan to enjoy again once their baby’s born. Here’s a selection of their comments.
“I miss wine. After a long stressful day or with a really good meal, there’s nothing like a nice glass of wine.”
“I miss blueberry beer! When it’s hot and humid out, all I want is an ice-cold beer.”
“Yes, a drink. Not just any drink, but a glass of Zinfandel or a cosmo.”
“I miss hanging out with the girls, drinking margaritas.”
“I miss home brewing. Technically I can still do that, but what’s the point of making beer if I can’t drink it?”
— A BabyCenter member
Learn what experts have to say about having a drink or two during pregnancy.
“Snowboarding next month and our annual 11-mile hike to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon.”
“Saunas and wood-fired hot tubs. So sad I can’t do it all summer.”
“I had many plans while husband was deployed that I have to put on hold now that I’m pregnant. Wine tasting tours, new tattoo, mud run, and skydiving.”
— A BabyCenter member
“I miss being able to play on the floor with my 2-year-old. When I do get down on the floor and play, I definitely miss being able to pop right back up.”
“Exercising with full intensity. Working out while pregnant is a tough balance between not overdoing it and feeling like your body is moving.”
“I’m gonna miss lifting weights with my husband. I know I can still lift lightly, but my husband has a fit if I lift anything at all.”
“Hard workouts! I’ve been too sick to do anything more intense than walking. I would love to get all sweaty and worn out from more than just unloading the dryer.”
“Drinking beer and playing roller derby (not at the same time).”
Find out if it’s safe to get a tattoo while you’re pregnant, and learn about the best kinds of exercise during pregnancy.
“I’ve craved sushi so badly since becoming pregnant, I almost don’t want to eat. California rolls made with imitation crab meat have had to suffice.”
“Deli meat. I was a sandwich-a-day girl, and lunch hasn’t been the same since I got pregnant.”
“I miss unpasteurized cheeses.”
“Runny eggs and cookie dough.”
“I miss the sheer joy of eating. For my entire pregnancy, eating has been tainted by morning sickness, followed by heartburn and indigestion. The biggest thing I look forward to after giving birth is eating three pieces of pizza without worrying about regretting it later!”
Get the lowdown on what’s safe to eat during pregnancy, including guidelines for eating sushi, soft cheeses, and deli meats.
Caffeinating at will
“Coffee … sweet Lord, I miss coffee.”
“I miss having caffeinated soda multiple times each day.”
“I miss not having to watch my caffeine intake. I occasionally drink a regular soda, but I’d like to drink more of them.”
“Diet Coke and unlimited raspberry java chip Frappuccinos.”
“French vanilla cappuccinos.”
“I have cheated with the occasional white chocolate mocha with whipped cream. Mmmmmmm!”
“Energy drinks: Oh, I used to live off of these. I know they’re bad, but I really miss them.”
“I should be missing chocolate because of the caffeine, but I couldn’t give it up.”
Find out about eating chocolate and having caffeine during pregnancy.
A normal sense of smell
“I miss the ignorant bliss of not being able to smell everything in the room.”
“Before, I think I had an average sense of smell, but now it’s sharp. Like a diva, I’ve abruptly left restaurants because of a disturbing smell. One example is washcloth odor, which repulses me beyond words. I’ve definitely embarrassed my husband.”
“I totally miss having my ordinary sense of smell instead of the sensitive ‘dog nose’ I have now. I don’t want to smell what my co-worker is eating 200 feet away.”
“It seems all of my close friends and family members have distinctive smells (body odor, perfumes and colognes, or something they always eat). I actually have to avoid one friend who practically bathes in cologne. I have a hard time explaining it to him.”
Get tips for dealing with smells that make you gag.
“I miss sleeping on my back and stomach, not using the bathroom every hour or so, and not having back pain!”
“I miss sleeping a full night. At 5 1/2 months along, it’s sore feet, three trips to the bathroom, and nightmares each night.”
“Getting out of bed without having to roll off.”
“I sleep eight to 10 hours and still need a couple of power naps each day.”
“I used to put my head on the pillow and fall asleep. Nowadays it takes at least an hour to find a comfortable position, and then I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Sleeping on my back, and sleeping without waking up to achy legs every 30 minutes.”
“I miss sleeping, especially on my stomach. I’m 34 weeks pregnant with twins, so even sleeping on my side is impossible. I have to sleep sitting up, which makes dreams weirder, and headaches are almost a given.”
“I miss being able to cuddle with my husband. Right now (4 weeks to go), I need to be surrounded by pillows to be comfortable for the few hours of sleep that I get.”
“I can’t seem to keep my eyes open past 9 o’clock at night. Of course, once I fall asleep, it doesn’t last long because I get these vicious kicks to the bladder from my diva in training.”
Find out more about handling pregnancy sleep problems and whether it’s safe to sleep on your back or on your stomach.
“I really, really, really miss my collection of heels, fancy shoes, dress shoes, stiletto sandals, and all the pretty shoes my usually tiny feet can fit into. I’m so sick of practical (that is, ugly) tennis shoes, and although I love my slip-on shoes, I’m sick of having to wear those as well.”
“My feet aren’t swollen so much as puffy, so my feet don’t look good in cute shoes. I live vicariously through all the sexy-footed people I see each day.”
“I’m sure my shoes and cute sandals all miss me, too. I had to stow away a huge percentage of my wardrobe just so I won’t feel bad about not being able to fit into my thin clothes anymore. I can’t wait until I can wear those again.”
“I’m so sick of ‘sensible’ shoes.”
“I had to wear flip-flops to a friend’s wedding.”
Find out why your feet may grow during pregnancy, and check out these fashion essentials for hip mamas.
“The sexy blonde doesn’t look so sexy with her roots showing! I miss getting my hair done!”
“I miss being sexy because I don’t feel that way very much.”
“I can’t wait to walk into a room and have all eyes on me again.”
“I’m huge and uncomfortable, and I miss my cute outfits.”
“I miss my cute little pencil skirts. Now that my legs are lovely with dimples (and a bit more enlarged), I don’t show them off. No, thanks.”
“I miss my thong panties. I hate granny panties. And I never want to wear another maxi pad in my life.”
Learn the secrets to maternity dressing and get tips on looking and feeling your best during pregnancy.
A rocking sex life
“I really miss sex with my husband. My sex drive is fine, but he’s convinced that it would hurt the baby.”
“I miss being able to change it up a little. Being confined to the one position that works now is no fun at all.”
“I miss my husband … sex with him, that is. There’s something to be said about that kind of connection. I’m afraid of early labor because I’ve been getting contractions for the past month.”
“I miss being close to my husband. We snuggle on the couch and talk, and I feel emotionally closer to him than I ever have. But I miss having him lay down on top of me for a few moments after sex while we both bask in the afterglow.”
“I miss sex. We still do it, but it’s just not the same. It doesn’t feel the same: It’s awkward, hardly spontaneous, and just not sexy.”
Find out all about sex during pregnancy, including what’s safe and what’s not.
Feeling capable and independent
“I miss being viewed as a powerful and independent woman. People won’t let me do anything for myself. I can still do a lot of stuff – slowly, mind you, but I can still do it.”
“I miss feeling like I can remember things and being detail-oriented. I forget everything and make really dumb errors now.”
“I miss being able to clean my house and keep it clean. I just don’t have the ability or the energy to scrub it anymore, and my husband doesn’t have the time. The mess just builds up and drives me crazy.”
“I miss my mind. I don’t feel as sharp or on the ball. And I forget a lot. The more ‘ditzy’ I feel, the more I feel like I’m less of a strong, smart, independent woman.”
“What’s driving me nuts is not being able to pick up things off the floor!”
“I miss not being treated like an invalid by friends and family members. They want to help with everything when they come over: They make me sit down while they cook and clean. I hate doing chores, but I still feel stupid sitting there twiddling my thumbs.”
“I miss being in charge of what I do and don’t do with my own body. I’m so sick of saying, ‘I don’t think I can do that,’ and ‘I can’t.’ I can’t wait to say, ‘Yes, I’d love to!'”
“I miss putting on underwear without face planting.”
“I’m also missing my independence. I need help moving large objects. I’m too worried about falling to climb on a chair. (I’m short, so this is a big thing for me.) I often need to ask for help doing things that used to be easy.”
“I’m forgetful, accidentally driving past places where I’m supposed to go.”
Find out about forgetfulness during pregnancy.
Being visible and included
“I miss being my own person, not simply a vessel. I get random calls from friends who just want to know how ‘we’ are doing today.”
“I miss being included in things. Everyone assumes that I won’t want to go because I’m pregnant. I miss my mom calling to see how I am doing. Now it’s, ‘How’s my baby?’ (First grandchild – she’s more excited than I am!)”
“I miss walking into a room and having people look at my face first. Now it’s belly, then face!
— A BabyCenter member
“We went to a theme park. I thought surely there’ll be a ride I can go on. There wasn’t. Being left out of fun stuff and not having enough energy to participate in things is awful.”
“I miss having a conversation without people asking me about the baby every time. I feel like people don’t care about me anymore – just the baby!”
“I constantly feel left out by everyone. I miss feeling like part of the group. Now I just feel like an outsider looking in.”
“I miss going to parties on the weekends and hanging out with my friends, who seem to think pregnant people can’t leave their houses.”
Read about the pregnancy blahs and get tips on how to beat them.
“I missed my feet. They disappeared somewhere around month five.”
“I miss hugging like a normal person. Now I have to shift the belly to the side when I’m going in for a hug. My 7-year-old says she misses it too.”
— A BabyCenter member
“I missed, and still miss, the cute little belly button I once had.”
“I miss laughing out loud like crazy or simply sneezing without a little pee leaking out. I tell my 3-year-old daughter when it happens, so she doesn’t feel bad when she can’t get to the potty fast enough and does the same thing herself. She cracks up, which in turn makes me laugh even more, and the cycle continues!”
“I miss my abs! I finally get boobs (from an A to a C), and now my midsection looks like I’m smuggling a melon.”
“Since getting pregnant, my butt has gotten freakishly smaller, and now it’s all flabby.”
“What happened to my boobs? Goodness! My nipples don’t match – they’re dark brown and huge!”
“I miss holding my 3-year-old on my slowly disappearing lap.”
“My chin – I now have two chins lumped together.”
“Adorably pedicured, normal-size feet.”
Get tips for feeling good about your pregnant body.
“I miss my old attitude (because apparently this one is b*tchy).”
“Everything makes me cry – either happy tears or sad tears.”
“Oh, I miss having control of my emotions. I’m so tired of breaking down over stuff.”
“I miss being laid back and not so sensitive. I cry all the time, and the smallest thing turns me into a witch.”
Collecting your thoughts and putting pen to paper is especially rewarding during pregnancy. Not only will you have a personal record of your life during this time, you’ll create a special gift for your child years later. Leslie Kirk Campbell, who offers writing classes for pregnant women and is the author of Journey Into Motherhood: Writing Your Way to Self-Discovery,offers the following tips for writing your own pregnancy diary.
Why is keeping a diary during pregnancy important?
Few experiences are more magical than creating new life in your own body and then watching it grow. Pregnancy is also a time of transformation and deep questioning for you. A pregnant woman’s inner life is powerful, private, and often disturbing. After pregnancy, nothing is ever the same.
By keeping a diary or journal, a woman chooses to confront rather than ignore the issues that come up for her during pregnancy. Her quiet time of introspection and writing will be among the most important moments she spends on her journey into motherhood.
How do I get started?
Set aside a specific time each day to write. Make it sacred. Unplug the phone, sit on the porch under the stars, or revel in the peacefulness of predawn. On those days when your life feels crazy, just grab the time when you can. Try to write for at least half an hour, but even 10 minutes produces powerful results.
Let go of judgment. Don’t plan what you’ll write. Instead, allow yourself not to know so you can discover something. Trust first thoughts and hold nothing back. Writing is always truest when it comes from the beginner’s mind: fresh, surprising, engaged, and unselfconscious. Cross-outs, tears, and tea stains are all welcome.
Try writing for 15 or 20 minutes without stopping. Don’t think. If you feel like stopping, write about why you want to stop. If you have trouble getting started, write about your fears, your questions, any doubts you may have about writing in the first place. Once your first words are on the page, you’re 90 percent there.
There is no right or wrong way to write. Your journal is your private place, where you can put down anything and everything. Always trust that what you write is what you need to write.
What should I write about?
Women’s experiences of their childbearing year vary widely but key issues are often the same. Women write about their bodies, their fears of labor, childbirth, and parenting, and how to integrate motherhood with a career. Women write about any concerns they have of repeating their parents’ mistakes. Some write about the disquieting experience of feeling out of control of their body and their future, about their changing identity, and about the dreams they have for their baby. Many also write about their excitement and a well of happiness that knows no bounds. Some recent examples:
“I am a mother, and a mother-to-be, and a wife, and most important but often ignored, I am me. A unique, thoughtful, creative individual, and I don’t want to be overwhelmed by my roles to the point of losing myself.” — Ann
“I gag when I open the refrigerator, and have to turn away from my husband in bed. Nothing in the world smells wholesome, smells right. Going to the grocery store is an act of courage. I sleep for hours, wake to retch on a piece of toast, and then stumble back to bed, blank and heavy and miserable.” — Jean
“Darling one. You are here. You have come to meet me eye to eye. I can feel the weight of you on my body. I lie back against my pillow, naked under your tiny nakedness, enraptured by your astounding presence. I am amazed how clear you are, a rain-washed sky.” — Lee
Before you begin your diary (or as part of it), try these writing exercises to inspire and focus you.
- A warm-up. The way we locate ourselves in the world is with our senses. So imagine what your spirit would sound like if someone could hear it. It might, for example, be the roaring of salmon swimming upstream, a ping-pong ball on its last bounce, the center of a star. Imagine if someone could taste your soul with their tongue. What would it taste like? What smell would it have? What nuances of color if you could hold it up to the light? Start your writing with “I am the sound of …” and work your way through all five senses.
- Describe the landmarks of your life. Close your eyes. Look at your whole life as if from an airplane. Look at the roads: where they are smooth, where they are smoking with tar, where they diverge, where they intersect, and where you turned. Recall the major landmarks sitting on the map of your life. They may have been victories or defeats: the birth of your little sister, the early death of your mother, your decision to be an artist at all costs, a spiritual revelation, a major car accident, a heartbreak. Write about five to 10 specific landmarks and their aftermath — what happened and how did you change? The moment you found out you were pregnant is a new landmark.
- Write a letter to your child. Close your eyes and imagine the baby inside you. Now write a first letter to the human being growing there. Continue to write to him or her every month, or more often if you like. Be honest with your child from the beginning. Whether you are expressing anger, eagerness, or ambivalence, honor the bonding that has already begun. An example:
“I cannot feel you. I keep feeling for you with my hands. Sometimes I feel a pressure or I imagine I do. Like the heather in Scotland — that incredible energy exuding from miles of rolling hillocks just days before they explode with purple heather in every direction.” — Carol
- Record your dreams. Let your dreams help locate you on your inner journey into motherhood. Pay attention to them, write them down, and allow them to inform you along the way. Dreams, like children, get excited when you pay attention to them. They come out from behind their couches. To get started, write down any dreams you remember since your motherhood journey began.
- Write about your body. Annie Dillard once wrote, “A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what she loves most, but what she loves at all.” What do you love about your body right now? Write down your body parts and what it is about each part that you love. Be specific — describe colors, shapes, textures. Maybe there’s a particular profile, the smell of your neck, the elastic surge of your belly, that you like.
- Face your fears. Many women fear childbirth and motherhood. They wonder, How much pain will there be? Will my baby have all her toes? What will my life be like once I am a mother? Write down all your fears about labor and delivery, and about parenting. Don’t worry: Writing them down doesn’t make them happen. But it will give you a way to control your very normal concerns. One woman wondered:
“How can I dilate so much your head will come through without exposing both of us to memories of sadness or shame? How can I open myself like a mythical cave door sliding open at the sound of someone’s magical words?” — Tasha
- Envision the future. Visualize yourself with your child when she or he is age 1. Notice your surroundings, the colors and texture of what is around you. What are both of you wearing? What noises is your child making? What are you both doing? Then imagine your child at 6 years old, perhaps the first day of school or tucking her into bed. What does her face look like? What is she saying? Notice the smells, the sounds, the colors, the light, all the details of the moment. What are you both doing? How do you feel? Keep going. See yourself with your child at 10, at 20, at 30. Let the images come up for you along with the feelings. Write all these down.
“Today I have in mind — you the man. I imagine you with your thick dark hair sitting on a brick wall, your long legs dangling, reading my journal, written when you were still inside me. And I am there, too, on that brilliantly colored autumn day, older and wiser, standing beside you.” — Beth
Women who keep diaries or journals during their pregnancy say they have watched themselves grow up as they grew closer to giving birth. Reading what they have written, they often discover perspectives they didn’t know they had. They find humor in difficult situations, they work through and clarify confusing feelings, and create a treasure chest of memories for their children.
“The words I wrote to my son after he was born expressed how I felt to be a mother at that exact moment, looking into his eyes. It’s something I want him to know. I want him to be able to read this journal someday and really know who I am.” — Jamie
“I have left a legacy for my child that I only wish my own mother and grandmothers had left for me.” — Lisa
It’s not unusual to feel depressed during pregnancy or after you’ve had a baby. If you’re thinking about harming yourself or your child, here’s how to get help immediately:
- Call the 24-hour, toll-free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifelinehotline at (800) 273-TALK (273-8255). A case manager will ask you questions about your situation and help you make a plan to keep yourself safe. They’ll help you decide whether to call 911 for emergency help. Or they can put you in touch with a therapist or mental health center that you can go to immediately for assistance.
- Visit IMAlive to chat (instant message) with a volunteer trained in crisis intervention. They can help you figure out what to do next and refer you to therapists, support groups, and mental health clinics in your area.
- Call Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 and they will call you back. They specialize in helping women suffering from depression during pregnancy and after having a baby. They can help you find a therapist or support group in your area. They also offer online support groups.
- Contact a trusted friend or family member. Reach out to someone who’s supportive – someone you can talk to about what you’re feeling right now.
- Promise not to do anything to harm yourself right now. Give yourself permission not to act immediately. You could say, “I won’t do anything for 24 hours.” Feelings are always changing. Your feelings may be very different tomorrow.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. They can make your feelings of hopelessness even stronger.
“I felt like I was losing my identity, losing my old life – like I was dying.”
Nothing described the mourning I felt
Ten weeks into my pregnancy, I had an ultrasound. It was exciting to see our baby, but later that same day I got a phone call: The doctor had noticed a thickened nuchal fold, which can be an indicator of high risk for a trisomy [such as Down syndrome] or severe heart defect.
The next six weeks were a blur of research, visits to online forums, and more testing. In the end, nothing was wrong. My baby, they told us, was a healthy girl. Finally, I was free to enjoy my pregnancy and attach to my growing baby girl. But I didn’t. Instead, I fell into a deep depression.
I suffered from depression as a teenager, so I recognized it immediately: feeling hopeless and alone. But what made my depression while pregnantdifferent was that I felt like I was losing my identity, losing my old life – like I was dying. I would just sit around the house and cry, unable to do anything.
I spent a lot of time online looking for a name for what I was feeling. I found lots of information about postpartum depression, but nothing I read described the deep sense of mourning I was experiencing during pregnancy.
The constant stream of attention the bump and growing baby received only reminded me of the great disconnect between how I was feeling and how everyone else seemed to feel about my pregnancy.
My husband tried his best to be supportive – but I could tell I was hurting his feelings by being so down about this new chapter of our lives.
I didn’t tell my doctor about the depression. It’s ironic, because I’m a medical student, so you’d think I would know better. But I didn’t want to take any medication, for fear it might harm the baby. I was afraid my doctor would just label me “high risk” and insist that I take an antidepressant, and then pester me with questions about whether I had feelings about harming my baby.
The only other treatment for depression available was therapy, which I attempted. But I didn’t like my therapist. She didn’t seem to grasp how I felt, and I didn’t have the time or money to keep cycling through therapists until I felt a connection.
I felt guilty – because even at my saddest, I understood that my baby had done nothing to deserve this. I owed it to her to be a good mom, and I didn’t feel like a very good mom while doing all this moping and crying.
What helped me when I was depressed
When my water finally broke, I was shocked but also incredibly excited. In the hospital, though, I couldn’t get over how awful and uncomfortable everything was until I had an epidural and finally fell asleep.
The next morning – 18 hours after my water broke – I pushed twice and there she was. It happened so fast after waking up that it took me a little while to process that it was over and my daughter was here.
Suddenly, I didn’t care about anything else. I just stared at the beautiful little thing and already felt my depression starting to lift.
Sure, I was overwhelmed and scared in the beginning – sometimes being a mom seemed daunting. But the dread, moping, and sadness that dominated my pregnancy went away as I bonded with my baby.
What I wish other moms knew
It’s okay to be happy about having a baby and still mourn your life before children. I regret that I couldn’t enjoy my pregnancy more. In some ways, I feel like my pregnancy was stolen from me, by both that nuchal translucency screening and then the very isolating depression.
We’re biologically programmed to protect babies, so it’s natural for any pregnancy to become all about the baby. But we need to recognize the sacrifices women make by having children.
Part of the journey can feel like a grieving process and when a pregnant woman experiences that, we need to be there for her. If you’re in a similar situation, talk about it, write your feelings down, and seek out the support you need.
Read more moms’ stories about depression during pregnancy.
As many as 1 in 10 pregnant women suffers from depression. Many women don’t get help because they dismiss their feelings as normal pregnancy moodiness.
If you experience symptoms of depression, tell your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.
In this collection of deeply personal stories, moms share their experiences with depression during pregnancy – what happened, what helped, and what they wish they had known. (We hear a lot about postpartum depression, but depression also affects at least 1 in 10 pregnant women.)
Read the stories:
Medication after pregnancy loss
During pregnancy I mourned my old life
Pressured to go off meds while pregnant
Choosing to stay on antidepressants while pregnant
Bedrest during pregnancy triggered it
Many of our storytellers were ashamed they didn’t feel happier – after all, pregnancy is supposed to be a joyous time. Others struggled with whether to take antidepressants. Some didn’t realize, at first, that what they were feeling was depression, and blamed normal pregnancy mood swings for their symptoms.
Their most common piece of advice? If you’re pregnant and feeling depressed, ask for help. You’re not alone, being depressed is not your fault, and depression is not something you can control. It’s also better for your babyif you get treatment.
If you have symptoms of depression, tell your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.
If you’re thinking about harming yourself and you need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support.
“I was aware of the possibility of postpartum depression, but I never thought about being depressed during my pregnancy.”
My pregnancy was miserable from the start
I was violently ill and nauseous from the moment a home kit showed that I was pregnant. I booked an appointment with my doctors, but it was weeks before they could see me. In the meanwhile, I just got sicker and sicker.
At that first appointment, they were alarmed at how much weight I had lost – about 20 pounds in a month. Immediately, they gave me IV fluids and anti-nausea medication, and put me on bedrest.
This all happened so quickly, I didn’t have any time to plan. One day I was working and going to school, the next I was in bed.
During my first month on bedrest, I was miserable. The medication helped my nausea, but otherwise, I slept a lot to pass the time. I had no friends or family nearby, and my boyfriend worked all day. I felt horrible, and I would basically try to sleep until he got home.
If I was awake, I was usually on my phone, looking at social media – lots of times at people who were pregnant and actually enjoying their pregnancies! It was like self-sabotage. I knew it was making me feel worse, but I couldn’t stop.
I have suffered from depression on and off my whole life. And so I was keenly aware of the possibility of postpartum depression (PPD). But I never thought about being depressed during my pregnancy. Even though I was basically doing what a depressed person does – lying around, feeling miserable, sleeping a lot – I didn’t connect those behaviors with depression, because I thought it was a result of the nausea and bedrest.
No one on my healthcare team ever screened me for symptoms of depression, and I didn’t know that pregnancy complications increase a woman’s risk of depression both during and after pregnancy.
Once the nausea was under control and I had gained weight, I figured I could get off bedrest. But at 20 weeks, another ultrasound revealed a short cervix. Worried I might go into premature labor, my doctor recommended I remain on bedrest.
My family was afraid to leave me alone with the baby
I went into labor at 39 weeks. My baby was fine, but I suffered a slipped disc, likely because I was so weak from the bedrest. I had to be transferred to a different hospital for an MRI and was separated from my baby for a whole day.
I felt totally disconnected from my daughter. I hadn’t gotten to experience any of the fun stuff of preparing for having a baby, like a being given a shower or shopping for baby things. When she finally came, I felt embarrassed that I had no idea how to change her diaper, so I just didn’t do it. I had no interest in caring for her. I felt no joy.
After a week, we went home. My mother had moved in to help, because it had become clear I couldn’t do anything. She realized how bad off I was and tried to get me into new-mom support groups, but she quickly realized that wasn’t enough.
When my daughter was only a few weeks old, I went to see my OB. I just walked in, without an appointment, and said, “I need help.” He was fantastic. He said I needed to see a therapist and that he would check in with me every day or two until I could find someone.
I met with a therapist a few times, but she said that a couple of hours a week with her weren’t enough – she thought I needed more consistent support, and she was worried that I could be a danger to myself or my baby. My family agreed. As incredibly painful as it was for me to hear and accept, none of them wanted to leave me alone with my own daughter.
What helped me when I was depressed
That therapist referred me to a “partial hospitalization” program, where I could undergo therapy in a supportive environment during the day and go home at night to my boyfriend, mom, and daughter. Faced with this sympathetic and supportive scenario, I was finally able to admit that I was deeply depressed and desperately needed help.
In that program, I received intensive therapy and was put on an antidepressant that’s safe for breastfeeding. (I pumped at the hospital and nursed at home.) For a long time, I didn’t think it was working. And I felt lonely when the others in the program didn’t seem to be in crisis mode anymore.
But I stayed. I talked to the doctors, and they adjusted my program to meet my concerns. The typical length of the program was six weeks. I stayed for five months, because the caring resident experts felt the severity of my PPD continued to make me a high risk. It was only around month four that I slowly started to turn a corner. After I went home, I continued to take meds.
I still have therapy twice a week. But even though it’s been a long road, now I can finally say that I have fallen in love with my daughter.
What I wish other moms knew
Women should be screened for depression during pregnancy. But it doesn’t happen enough. So you have to look for symptoms while you’re pregnant.
We understand a lot about PPD, but it’s important to consider the possibility that many women, like me, develop depression before they have the baby. Being treated earlier, while you’re pregnant, would help.
Read more moms’ stories about depression during pregnancy and moms’ stories about PPD.
As many as 1 in 10 pregnant women suffers from depression – and at least 1 in 10 new moms suffers from PPD. But many women don’t get help because they’re ashamed of how they feel or brush off signs such as fatigue or moodiness as normal.
“It took me getting completely hysterical at my doctor’s office for my feelings to be recognized and taken seriously.”
I was an emotional and physical wreck while pregnant
I was very excited about becoming a mom and had no problems getting pregnant. But pretty early on, I started feeling uncomfortable. I developed a corpus luteum cyst on my ovary, which is harmless and usually disappears on its own. But mine grew to softball size, and as the baby grew it caused more pain.
I’m tiny – 5 feet tall – and I gained about 50 pounds. I also had really bad sciatica – at one point, I lost all feeling in my left thigh. I couldn’t do normal things: walk up the stairs, tie my shoes, roll over in bed at night.
On top of all that, I started feeling mentally impaired. It was like I had no backup mental reserves to compensate for my physical limitations. I had no inner voice able to laugh at silly things like not being able to lace my own sneakers or to remind myself that this was all temporary. My brain processed every one of my physical deficiencies as dire. I remember thinking, “I’m trapped in my body and I’m losing my mind!”
By 5 months, I started to feel enormous depression in addition to the physical pain. I’ve experienced depression on and off in my life so I know a good deal about it, but this was different. I felt like I had no power to make myself feel better. It didn’t occur to me to ask my husband for help – my depression was that paralyzing.
I had no gnawing fears or worries about being a good mom. Instead I felt that literally everything was overwhelming. Just getting up and going to work was all I could manage. I cried every single day.
One day in my seventh month, I came home from work and just sank to the floor in the hallway, sobbing. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself in a chair in the living room, staring out the window, and it was three hours later. I had no idea where that time had gone, and that scared me.
What helped me when I was depressed
When I next went to see my gynecologist, I became hysterical. She referred me to a therapist who specializes in pre- and postnatal depression. I was put on a very low dose of an antidepressant, and we decided that I would stop working and stay home. This combination definitely helped alleviate my depression.
I didn’t have to juggle everything, and I didn’t have to hold it together anymore. I slept a lot. Disturbing things like losing chunks of time stopped happening.
The minute my son was born, I felt better. He was two weeks early, just 5 pounds, and had trouble maintaining his blood sugar, so he was in the NICU for a week. Interestingly, that didn’t freak me out. It was like as soon as he was out of my body, I got my head back.
While my husband and I have several reasons for deciding not to have another baby, my fear of going through a pregnancy again is the biggest. Being pregnant was the second-most traumatic experience of my life, after losing my mom as a child, and I don’t want to go back there again.
What I wish other moms knew
When you’re pregnant, you’re warned about all these physical symptoms to watch for. But it’s important to also watch for changes in your normal temperament – any emotions and behaviors that just don’t feel like you. If something doesn’t feel right mentally or emotionally, don’t brush it off. Call your doctor right away.
When I was suffering during pregnancy, I believed that everyone could see – or should have seen – what was wrong with me. Maybe I was holding it together well enough that no one saw the depression? It took me getting completely hysterical at my doctor’s office for my feelings to be recognized and taken seriously.
“If you just look at headlines, medicating while pregnant can seem scary. But it’s not good for your baby if you’re depressed.”
I tried to stop taking my antidepressant
I had been on an antidepressant since my 20s, to combat anxiety and panic disorder. I had never been diagnosed with depression, but when I look back, I wonder if I was struggling with that too.
In my mid-30s, when I wanted to try to get pregnant, I asked some friends what they thought about staying on the medication. A lot of people told me I should stop taking the drug. I did my own Internet research too, and I found studies that linked antidepressants to problems in children later on. I figured, if I could get off it, I would. That felt reasonable to me.
I consulted with a psychiatrist, who said it wasn’t a big deal to stay on my antidepressant, but she also gave me a plan to wean myself off.
Right away, I had weird side effects – twitches and odd feelings like electrical zaps – but my mood stayed pretty okay. A few weeks after I took my final dose, though, I began to feel anxious. Everything and everyone bothered me. I tried yoga, I tried jogging, but I could feel myself getting worse.
Gradually, over the next few months, I became really depressed. That’s when I started to wonder if the drug had simply been masking an underlying depression all those years.
What helped me when I was depressed
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I called my old therapist, who said, “You don’t have to be miserable!” Just hearing that was so helpful.
I found a psychiatrist who specializes in women who are or want to be pregnant. She explained that while some antidepressants can be problematic during pregnancy, the one I was taking was one of the safest options.
I went back on my medication and, after a while, I got pregnant.
When my daughter was born, there were zero problems. They monitored her closely, and she had a perfect Apgar score. Now she’s 3 and is still perfectly healthy.
What I wish other moms knew
If you just look at headlines, taking medication while pregnant can seem scary – but it’s not good for your baby if you’re depressed during pregnancy.
Weigh the risks and benefits of taking an antidepressant while pregnant for yourself. It’s totally an individual decision, and there’s no one right answer. Talk to your doctor, and get a second opinion if you aren’t sure. Trust your own doctor over online forums and Google.
Other moms will be a huge source of support and information in the coming years, and now is a great time to start reaching out to them. Here’s how:
Take a class. Try any class that draws in moms: prenatal exercise, childbirth prep, infant care, and so forth. If you don’t click with anyone, try a different class or switch to a different time.
Find a new-mom group. Get referrals from your doctor or midwife, hospital, community center, or place of worship. Ask other moms if they can recommend one.
Start your own. If you crave a particular kind of kinship—maybe with older or single moms, or women who share your passion for scrapbooking or politics—put an ad in the paper or pin up a flier at a family-friendly spot.
Check out a La Leche League meeting. You’ll meet moms and learn about breastfeeding at the same time. (For a group near you, see www.lalecheleague.org.)
Visit places where parents and kids go. Fertile ground: parks, pools, the zoo, story time at the library.
Look into playgroups. They’re a great way to socialize while sharing childcare.
Go online. BabyCenter.com’s Community hosts hundreds of groups for all kinds of parents. You can check regional forums for moms in your area or join a birth club for moms who share your due date.
Help out other new moms. Volunteer to babysit or drop off a meal—you’ll get a taste of what’s to come, and they may return the favor when you need it most.
Don’t forget your childless friends. They may have kids eventually, but even if they don’t, a time will come when you’ll be grateful to hang out with people who talk about something besides poop. If they’re willing, bring them into the family fold as honorary aunts and uncles.
“I regret putting so much pressure on myself to wean off my medication prior to becoming pregnant – when it wasn’t necessary.”
Antidepressants aren’t “happy pills”
I’ve been on antidepressants since I was 23 years old. Before that, I was stressed, moody, snappy, and just overall depressed. I either cried about everything or I felt nothing. I had zero sex drive. After ruling out other causes, like abnormal thyroid levels, my doctor put me on an antidepressant.
I had conflicting feelings about taking the medication, and I confided my thoughts to a friend who is a psych nurse. She told me something that reinforced the fact that it was a good idea: She said, “Once you’re at a good therapeutic level, you’ll just feel … normal.” She was careful to say that antidepressants aren’t “happy pills” – they’re normal pills. The pills were what I needed to feel normal.
And that’s how I felt for four years – until my husband and I decided to try for a baby. My gut instinct was that less drugs had to be better for the fetus, so with the help of my family doctor, I tried to wean off my antidepressant in increments.
But I began to feel crappy again, so I couldn’t completely stop. I ended up at a dosage that was below where I started – a partial victory.
At 28, I was still taking the antidepressant when I got pregnant. My new ob-gyn put me on a different drug, but I had a horrible reaction. I went back to my previous medication and tried again to lower my dose – and was actually able to do it this time and stay stable.
What helped me when I was depressed
I knew from reading articles about pregnancy and depression that a mother on antidepressants versus an untreated depressed mom means a better outcome for the baby. My OB confirmed this was true, and that made me feel better about my decision to stay on the antidepressant.
As it turns out, I didn’t give my depression a second thought while I was pregnant that first time, because I was so physically sick: I had horrible hyperemesis gravidarum [severe nausea and vomiting] for 21 weeks. I had some bleeding at 11 to 14 weeks and a lot of anxiety around that. But I felt that it was normal anxiety about normal pregnancy complications, not my-brain-running-away-with-me anxiety.
I felt miserable physically, but mentally I was feeling fine.
After my baby was born, I had some bouts of anxiety and a few crying episodes while trying to figure out breastfeeding in the first few weeks – the result of an undiagnosed tongue-tie – but I had a lot of support from family and friends.
We left my antidepressant dosage the same for the first six months postpartum. But then I started thinking about trying to get pregnant a second time. Again I had the strong desire to attempt a medication-free pregnancy. So I started to lower my dose.
Now, nine months after having my baby, I’ve been able to fully wean from the antidepressants completely – something I wasn’t able to do before. I can’t say exactly why I’m okay now without the drugs. I think a lot of it has to do with maturing.
I can read my body way better now – I’m more in tune with what’s really going on when I’m feeling stressed out or distancing myself from other people. I’m pretty quick to notice that and share how I’m feeling with my spouse or a close friend. I’ve reached out to the employee assistance program at work, too, for phone counseling.
I’ve also developed much better methods for coping with stress. Carving out a half hour to take a bath and drink a glass of wine goes a long way. I also find going for a walk helps, even if I have to push myself to do it. Just feeling the fresh air and noticing little things around me makes me feel better.
What I wish other moms knew
If you know you want to get pregnant and are on antidepressants, talk to your doctor about the medication type and dosage. Looking back, I regret putting so much pressure on myself to wean off my medication prior to becoming pregnant – when it wasn’t necessary.
“The doctors helped me understand that I could do my baby more harm if I stayed depressed during pregnancy than if I took my medication.”
I didn’t know I had PPD
Looking back, it seems pretty clear I had postpartum depression (PPD) after I had my first child. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and felt very alone and weepy. But I never said anything – how could I, when I wasn’t even able to articulate it myself?
I felt bad that I was so sad – after all, I had this beautiful, healthy daughter. Wasn’t I supposed to enjoy this time? It was a tough period, but I fought through it. When she was 3 months old and I returned to work, I gradually felt better.
Three years later, I had my son – and again I felt terrible. I had all the same feelings as before, but they were heavier somehow, bigger. I felt hopeless. Still, though, I blamed myself. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough as a mother.
What helped me when I was depressed
At my 6-week postpartum checkup, my ob-gyn said, “You are not yourself.”
And she was right – I’m normally a very enthusiastic, positive person. My ob-gyn recognized that I wasn’t just tired or a little blue. She changed my life by saying, “You have PPD. I can give you medication to help.”
She gave me a prescription for an antidepressant, and I started seeing a therapist. The fog lifted. I could get out of bed and do what I had to do: care for my children.
My therapist recommended exercise. I started going for walks with the stroller. I felt peaceful and could explore my feelings without so many distractions around me.
In the long run, I realized that I didn’t have just PPD. I have, and probably have had for a long time, depression and anxiety. I couldn’t see that until I had been on medication, because I didn’t know how to identify what was going on.
Medication after pregnancy loss
I stayed on medication after my son was born. By the time he was 3 and my daughter was 5, my marriage had ended. About a year later, I remarried and found myself pregnant again. But at 16 or 17 weeks, I had to terminate the pregnancy because of serious medical issues. It was the absolute worst thing I have ever been through. It took a lot of therapy, and staying on my medication, to feel better.
Then, at age 43, I became pregnant again – and was terrified. Despite my doctors’ assurances, I felt that taking an antidepressant while pregnant may have played a role, no matter how unlikely or remote, in the medical issues of my previous pregnancy. As scared as I was of being depressed while pregnant, I was more afraid of harming my child with drugs.
I went off my antidepressant, and it was a nightmare. I fell into a deep depression. I made it through one trimester, at which time the doctors convinced me that my baby – another boy – was perfectly healthy. They helped me understand that I could do him more harm if I stayed depressedduring pregnancy than if I took my medication. I went back on a very low dose and stayed on it.
My younger son was born healthy. He’s 16 months now and doing great.
What I wish other moms knew
Any time you are not feeling quite right, not quite like yourself, tell someone. Tell your doctor. Especially if you’re a new mom. Sure, it may well be that you’re only tired or it’s only the blues, but what if it isn’t? Find out. I regret missing out on enjoying the early months with my first babies.
When you’ve struggled with infertility or are trying to carry a high-risk pregnancy to term, nine months can seem like a long, long time. Here’s how BabyCenter moms-to-be managed to relax a bit and enjoy their hard-won or high-risk pregnancy.
“Don’t feel that just because you wanted this pregnancy so badly, you can’t ever complain about the discomforts. It doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate the enormous gift God has given you. Relish the gift, but with your feet up!”
“Know that there are women out there who are going through the exact same thing as you are — talk to them. Other high-risk moms really helped me through my pregnancy, and they can help you, too. Look for support groups or Internet message groups for other women in the same situation.”
“I rented a fetal Doppler. Being able to listen to the baby’s heartbeat at home was very reassuring.”
“Don’t search out every possible thing that could go wrong. (My husband finally banned me from doing Internet research on my condition.)”
“Find a doctor you trust completely, who will take the time to explain and re-explain — and will make sure you’re really okay with everything before she lets you leave the office.”
“My main coping mechanism is to visualize a positive birthing experience and me holding our baby in my arms. I’m feeling more relaxed since I started doing this.”
“It’s so important to be around positive and supportive people. Also, try to make yourself laugh, as it helps relieve stress.”
“When you announce that you’re pregnant, tell everyone up front that you don’t want to hear any horror stories — they only make the anxiety worse.”
“All you can do is follow your doctor’s instructions, take care of yourself, and give the pregnancy the best chance possible. After that, it’s up to nature.”
“Cut back on work if you can, and enjoy watching your body change. Keep your mind and body busy with fun stuff, treat yourself and your partner well, and keep talking about how you feel. When you stop talking, all the worries seem even bigger.”
It might if it goes untreated. If you have depression while you’re pregnant, it’s important that you get the help you need – both for your health and your baby’s health.
Pregnant women who get treatment for depression are less likely to use unhealthy coping behaviors, such as smoking, and more likely to get consistent prenatal care and eat a healthy diet.
On the other hand, pregnant women who don’t get treated for depression show higher levels of the prenatal stress hormone cortisol compared to healthy women. This may be one reason why women who are depressed during pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely and have a baby with a low birth weight.
Newborns of depressed moms also show significantly higher levels of the stress hormones themselves, compared to those born to healthy mothers. This can make these babies more reactive to stress, temperamentally difficult, and especially challenging to care for and soothe.
In the long run, there’s some evidence that children exposed to maternal depression in pregnancy face more social and emotional problems (such as aggression and other behavior problems) as young children. But some researchers suggest this may be the case only if depression continues to go untreated after your child is born.
If you’re suffering from depression during pregnancy, talk with your provider about your treatment options. You may need to weigh the risks and benefits of taking certain medications, considering the stage of your pregnancy, the severity of your depression, and the likelihood of relapse.
You may also want to include nonmedicinal alternatives in your treatment plan. Talk therapy, exercise, prenatal yoga, bright light therapy, and meditation or mindfulness practice are all good options to try.
And even if you haven’t ever been diagnosed with depression but are having symptoms of the condition, you could be developing postpartum depression – many women experience their first symptoms during pregnancy.
The biggest regret I have from my first pregnancy is that I didn’t take enough pictures. Back then, Instagram didn’t exist, selfies were just a twinkle in the internet’s eye, and quite frankly, I didn’t feel like getting in any photographs. I was sick up to weeks before giving birth and never felt like I had that pregnancy glow that folks talk about.
Fortunately for me, I had friends who disagreed. I remember fighting some of my coworkers who insisted I pose for belly shots, and my daughter’s godfather, who who came over with his fancy camera the day before I gave birth and made me have an impromptu photoshoot. I am so grateful for friends who understood the importance of mama being in the picture even when I didn’t.
This pregnancy, I’m getting in as many pictures as I can. It doesn’t matter if my hair is a mess, or I’m not feeling cute at all. Years after my first pregnancy, I realize that the photographs aren’t meant to be a record of how good I look. They are a part of my family legacy. I want to be able to pull the pictures out years from now to show my child and tell them stories of what it was like while I was waiting for them to be born. I want to be able to pull the pictures out and reminisce on that sweet and miraculous period when my baby and I were closer than ever.
In fact, you’ll never guess what I did the other day. I set up my own photoshoot! I dolled myself up a bit first by showering and then treating myself to a nice rub-down with luxurious (but perfect for my sensitive skin) Shea Moisture Baby Healing Lotion. Since my belly was the star of the show, I massaged it a bit with SheaMoisture Mommy Stretch Mark Intensive Repair Oil . I recruited my husband to take pictures, and my daughter to be his assistant. Then I smiled for the camera like a supermodel! It was a really fun way for our family to bond, and I loved the attention!
So, instead of hiding when my husband goes to take a candid picture of me with his cellphone, I smile. It doesn’t matter if I have on pajamas or a ratty old tee-shirt, I’m going to be in the picture. Not only that, but I’m learning to master the art of full-body selfies. I am committed to documenting and celebrating this pregnancy one picture at a time.
How do you feel about taking photos when you’re pregnant?
There is no time in a women’s life when she is in a more delicate state than the nine months of her pregnancy. During this time, the sensitive mother-to-be should get plenty of rest, have fresh and healthy meals prepared for her, and have someone standing by at all times to ensure that she has everything that she needs.
Ha! In our dreams!
The modern mama has too many obligations to take an extended vacation from life just because she’s expecting. Take me, for instance. I’m pregnant with my second child, have a full-time job, a 7-year-old daughter with fifty million extracurricular activities, a husband who needs attention every once in awhile, a home to take care of, meals to cook, friends to check in on, and…well, you get the point.
Despite all that I’ve got going on, I still think it’s important to take a few moments where I can relish my pregnant self and show my body gratitude for doing such amazing and important work. I don’t care how busy I am. Now more than ever, finding the time to pamper myself is a necessity. All I need is 20 minutes or so to give my body a little TLC, and I’m good to go. Yup, 20 minutes or less. That’s all the time it takes to pamper your pregnant body. Don’t believe me? Give my 20-Minute Pregnancy Pampering Plan a try!
Take a nice, warm shower and exfoliate with SheaMoisture Mommy All Over Body Scrub Raw Shea & Cupuaçu. The scrub, with its creamy texture, is perfect for sensitive skin. As you rub it over your body, do some intentional breathing.
I know what you’re thinking. You breathe all of the time, right? Intentional breathing is different. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Pay attention how your shoulders feel less tense the more you breathe out. Take note of the ways your body has changed as you indulge with the SheaMoisture Body Scrub. After you rinse off, give yourself a moment to just let the water run over your body and clear your mind.
Time: 10 minutes
After your shower is over, dry off with a thick, soft towel. While you’re still in the bathroom (hopefully it’s nice and steamy!), use SheaMoisture Mommy Firming Massage Lotion Raw Shea & Cupuaçu to give yourself a mini-massage. Start at your shoulders and rub down until you get to your feet. Spend a little extra time on your stomach since the lotion helps maintain elasticity, and remember to be grateful for any stretch marks you might come across. Your body is doing everything it can to make sure it can accommodate your new little human. Those stretch marks are proof that your body is doing its job!
Time: 5 minutes
After your shower and massage, put on your most comfortable pajamas and some thick socks. Grab a glass of cold water to make sure you’ve rehydrated after your time in the hot, steamy bathroom. Before you end your pamper time and head back to your busy life, inhale and exhale a few more times. Express more gratitude to your body for being so good to you and your baby, and whisper a few sweet words to your little one. Promise yourself that this won’t be the last time you take a few moments to indulge yourself.
Time: 5 minutes
Now, listen, Mamas. I know that we’re all busy. If you have younger children at home, it may not be as easy for you to find a 20-minute chunk of time to luxuriate in the shower. You have to find the time, though. Ask your partner for help. Call in a favor from a friend. Hire a babysitter for an hour or two. If you have older children, let them know that you are off-duty. You may be open for snuggles and hugs, but if anyone wants juice, or needs help with a project, they’re going to have to figure it out for themselves.
Making a baby is nine months of hard work. Surely we can find 20 minutes every week or so to pamper the body that’s making it all possible.
My first pregnancy didn’t start out that great. An unexpected breakup with my partner coupled with extreme morning sickness and other health issues had me feeling tons of stress and anxiety through the entirety of my first trimester. Once it finally clicked in my head that my daughter was on her way in a few months and I had to get it together for her, I pushed through the challenges to make sure that I was good so that she would be good. I was going to be a single mom. I was all she had.
Self-care in pregnancy is so incredibly important.
Expecting mamas do everything we can to ensure the folks around us have what they need during our pregnancy. We make sure we take our prenatal vitamins, and are punctual for our doctor’s appointments. We fill the nursery with everything the baby needs from diapers to wipe warmers, and everything in between. We prepare our replacement at work so that things can run smoothly while we’re on maternity leave. We apologize to our friends for having low energy, or having to miss their event again because we’re always so tired.
When it comes to ourselves, though, the person who should be the most important piece of the equation, our own care and needs come last.
This pregnancy is going to be very different for me.
Not only do I have a very supportive husband and a helpful 7-year-old, but I’ve mastered the art of self-care. During my first pregnancy, I realized how necessary it was for me to do things that made me feel calm, at peace, and joyful. Sometimes it was going to see a movie by myself. Other times it was praying, free writing in my journal, or crying for no reason at all. Often, self-care would involve some sort of pampering: deep-conditioning my hair or giving myself a manicure.
Already in this new pregnancy, I’ve been saying “no” when I felt like activities would be too draining for me, asking for help, and treating my body with love and extra gentleness. SheaMoisture Mommy Stretch Mark Intensive Repair Oil is in my self-care toolbox, and a few minutes of rubbing it onto my belly bump is just what I need to wind down after a day of walking around with a tiny human inside of me.
I know that your loved ones have needs, and if you’re the one who typically fulfills them, it can be challenging to say you need to take time to take care of yourself. Self-care is what makes us better mothers, though. It makes us better wives, better friends, and better women. Take care, mamas. Take good care.
Pregnancy Grief and Loss
Why can’t I be happy now that I’m pregnant again after miscarrying?
Even though you’ve conceived again, it may be a while before you can enjoy this pregnancy. It’s normal for a woman who has had a miscarriage to worry that she might lose this baby, too. That can make it difficult to feel excited about a subsequent pregnancy and trust that it will last.
“A pregnancy after a loss can be the longest nine months of a woman’s life,” says Charlene Nelson, executive director of the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Center in Wayzata, Minnesota. “There are so many things going on emotionally that anxiety is bound to be prevalent throughout the pregnancy.”
Kim Kluger-Bell, a psychotherapist and author of Unspeakable Losses: Understanding the Experience of Pregnancy Loss, Miscarriage, and Abortion, agrees: “It’s going to be stressful – especially up to the time when the pregnancy was lost the last time.”
Both Nelson and Kluger-Bell suggest not glossing over the anniversary of a pregnancy loss but rather recognizing and trying to accept it. You’ll probably feel more sad and anxious as the date approaches, and that’s normal.
Don’t beat yourself up for not feeling happy all the time. Allow yourself to feel your feelings: A good cry now and then relieves a lot of tension. And give yourself permission to share your feelings with trusted friends. Simply talking about fears can often alleviate them.
“Once a woman passes the point of the previous loss, attachment to the pregnancy usually forms, and she starts to feel more positive,” says Kluger-Bell. But don’t assume your anxiety will disappear at that point. You may find that being so aware of the unpredictability of pregnancy means your fear and worry persist through labor and delivery. On the other hand, you may find your anxiety fading as you get closer to labor and meeting your baby.
You may also still be grieving for the baby you lost, and that grief might dominate whatever joy you’re experiencing. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t always make room for feeling happiness and sadness at the same time, so people often feel they have to choose one or the other. But you don’t have to choose – all your feelings are equally valid and real.
How can I cope with my anxiety?
There’s no one answer. Chances are you’ll feel anxious much of the time. But as you reach each milestone, such as hearing the heartbeat or feeling your baby move, you’ll be reassured that things are progressing well. Here are some things you can do to stay positive:
Focus on one day at a time. Easier said than done, but it really works. When you feel yourself worrying about the future, stop yourself and think only about today. “Affirm each day,” suggests Nelson. “Celebrate the completion of each week.”
Notice how this pregnancy is different from the pregnancy you lost, and especially consider how things are going better. Pay attention to what’s going well each day and how you and your baby are staying healthy.
Take good care of yourself. Do what you can to make this pregnancy a healthy one. Pay attention to your health and well-being. Sleep, good nutrition, breaks during the day, and regular physical activity will help you feel physically well and emotionally balanced. If possible, treat yourself to a prenatal massage now and then, and let the massage therapist know you’re dealing with a stressful pregnancy. Prenatal yoga and meditation may also help.
Find reasonable ways to manage stress and anxiety. You have enough to do just coping with the loss you’ve experienced. Don’t overschedule yourself, pile on additional responsibilities at home or work, or overcommit yourself to family and friends. Focus on taking good care of yourself, which is within your control.
Try relaxation exercises. Make up your own mantra, such as, “Be healthy for the baby.” Nelson suggests talking to your baby to enhance the bonding process.
Use relaxation techniques if your worries are keeping you from getting enough sleep at night. Talk to your healthcare provider if your worries keep you up at night for more than a week or two, or happen each night for a week.
Empower yourself with knowledge about your loss. For example, if a past loss was diagnosed as a blighted ovum or cervical insufficiency, you might want to research those conditions. You may feel more in control of your situation if you understand what happened before. (Stop if too much information makes you feel overwhelmed.)
Know you’re not alone. If you don’t know what caused your loss, recognize that many miscarriages and stillbirths don’t have explanations. Remember that having had one miscarriage doesn’t necessarily make you any more likely to have another one. Instead of worrying about something going wrong, try to focus on how well you and the baby are doing now. Chances are good that everything will be fine.
Communicate with your partner. Your partner suffered a loss too, and you may want to turn to each other for comfort. But men and women often deal with loss differently, and although talking about what happened may make youfeel better, it may make your partner feel worse. Respect each other’s ways of coping with the loss, and don’t take it personally if you deal with it differently.
Check in with your doctor or midwife often. Seeing your healthcare provider regularly for prenatal care can reassure you that your baby is doing well. This is especially important if you’re considered high risk. Although being labeled high risk sounds scary, it can actually be beneficial. “You’ll be monitored more closely, which can be a positive thing, especially if you’re nervous,” says Nelson.
Ask to come in between scheduled visits to listen to the heartbeat if it will make you feel better. And if your provider isn’t sensitive to your past loss, it might be time to find someone else.
Find a support group. Kluger-Bell suggests contacting Share, an organization that supports people who’ve experienced pregnancy and infant loss, to help you find a group in your area. Sharing intimate details with strangers might feel uncomfortable at first, but group members often become trusted friends who can truly understand your feelings.
If the particular group you’re attending doesn’t seem right for you, ask your provider for other options. You’ll also find ongoing support in the BabyCenter Community in our Pregnancy After Loss group.
Seek professional help if you need it. If you have symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety, get a referral to a therapist. The less emotional and physical stress to your system, the healthier you will be. And treating these problems during pregnancy will reduce your chances of postpartum depression or anxiety.
A therapist who specializes in perinatal mood disorders will be best equipped to support you during pregnancy and postpartum. Ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation, or search online directories, such as Psychology Today and GoodTherapy. Postpartum Support International can help you find local resources and offers free live phone chats with experts as well as online support groups.
Should we wait to tell friends and family we’re pregnant again?
This is a personal decision, and you should do what feels comfortable. Many people wait until they’ve passed the point of their previous miscarriage to share their news, but others find it helpful to tell family and close friends earlier so that they have a support system in place no matter what happens.
Take some time to think about this, and talk it over with your partner. Make certain you both agree on what to do before you start letting people know.
When sharing your news, keep in mind that your friends and family may expect you to be “okay” now that you’re pregnant again. Do your best to avoid well-meaning people who say things like, “See? The other one wasn’t meant to be,” or “Now you can relax and be happy.” You may need to explain that being pregnant again doesn’t mean you’re done grieving your loss.
No matter what, don’t let others’ expectations invalidate your experience. Remember – there are no “shoulds” when it comes to grieving, and it’s okay to not be okay.
Christine Duenas lost her baby when she was 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant. She went into labor, but then something went terribly wrong. Before her baby could take her first breath, she died. Her daughter, Olive Lucy, whom Christine and her partner call Lucy, was stillborn.
“When the doctor confirmed that her heart had stopped beating, time stopped for a moment. I realized that life would never be the same for our family,” Duenas says.
On Lucy’s first birthday, Duenas took flowers to the cemetery where her daughter is buried. Then she and her partner, Watson Kawecki, went out to dinner with good friends, ate special cupcakes, and lit a candle.
Every year since, Duenas has celebrated Lucy’s birthday this way. It’s a difficult time, but honoring and remembering her daughter makes Duenas feel connected to Lucy and helps her handle the feelings that arise.
“I dread the days leading up to her birthday,” says Duenas. “I stress that the cupcakes I want aren’t going to be available or that I’ll be running late to the cemetery. But it also gives me a new perspective on the year that has passed. I usually spend some part of her birthday reading my thoughts and journal entries from the past year.”
October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day to honor and remember babies who die during pregnancy or as newborns. Participants around the world light a candle at 7 p.m. and keep it burning for at least an hour. Because of different time zones, the result is a wave of light that spans the globe.
The day also calls attention to the needs of grieving parents and creates awareness of pregnancy and infant loss. According to the official site, “Too many families grieve in silence, sometimes never coming to terms with their loss. Our goal is to help others relate to our loss … and to help families live with their loss, not ‘get over’ their loss.”
Why remembering helps
“Finding ways to remember helps people gradually come to terms with the loss of a baby. It helps you remember, but also let go,” says Helge Osterhold, a marriage and family therapist who coordinates bereavement services at the University of California, San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Grieving can be especially difficult for parents who lost their child in pregnancy or at birth, Osterhold says, because they had so little time with the child who passed away.
“You don’t have the memories of experiences together, but rather you have lost the hopes and dreams of what the future was supposed to hold. It’s a rupture in your own life path that was just unfolding.”
There’s often an outpouring of support immediately after the loss of a baby, but with time, it dwindles, says Osterhold. Family and friends seem to go on with their lives and grieving parents often feel pressure from the people around them to move on and let go.
For the grieving parents, however, “moving on” isn’t possible. Their lives have changed forever, touched by a child who lives on in their hearts. There’s a real fear of forgetting or dishonoring that child. To cope with this and keep the child close, Osterhold tells parents to keep talking about their baby and keep their memories alive.
Crystal Theresa Zapanta says her greatest fear was forgetting about her son Calvin, who died when she was 18 weeks pregnant. “My time with him was so short, it could seem trivial and insignificant,” she says.
“A lot of people may think I’m holding on too long,” she says. “But I think it’s important to understand that to women who have lost their baby, this is so much a part of who we are now, how we handle things, and how we see the world. You can’t ignore who we’ve become.”
Ways to honor a baby you lost
Create a blog or website
Besides celebrating Lucy’s birthday, Duenas started a blog to remember her daughter. It includes written entries, photos taken in the hospital, a playlist of songs that remind her of Lucy (including “You Are My Sunshine,” sung by Norman Blake, and “Seasons of Love,” from the musical Rent), and links to advocacy groups that support legislation on stillborn research and parents’ rights.
Zapanta also keeps a blog to honor her son Calvin.
Kara Jarrar lost her son Jordan when she was 22 weeks pregnant. It has been 15 months since Jordan died, and Jarrar says while family and friends around her often expect her to be done grieving, she isn’t. On Jordan’s first birthday she released blue and white balloons. “It made me feel good to celebrate his birthday, even in such a simple way,” she says. “I plan on doing that every year.”
Hold on to physical mementos
Because Jordan’s birth was sudden, Jarrar didn’t have time to prepare. She only has a few photos of her son and treasures the footprints taken at the hospital after she delivered. Not all parents get pictures, footprints, or other remembrances of their baby who passed away, but having something tangible can be a huge comfort.
As a way to support other moms like her, Jarrar plans to work with hospitals in her community to provide disposable cameras to parents who have just lost their baby. “Even if they aren’t ready to look at the pictures right away, I know it can be a nice way to remember your baby,” she says.
Create a virtual keepsake
Zapanta founded the site Calvin’s Cupcakes, where she creates virtual remembrances for parents who have lost a baby.
Parents provide their baby’s name, date of birth, and any special notes, and Zapanta creates a virtual cupcake that appears on the Calvin’s Cupcakes site on the baby’s birthday. There’s no charge, and parents are welcome to copy the cupcake and put it on their own website or blog.
“It’s my way of giving babies attention that they wouldn’t normally get,” says Zapanta. “That’s what’s hard in the baby-loss community. Some people seem afraid to mention our baby – they don’t want to make us feel sad or upset. Our babies are always going to be in our lives and we are always going to be sad. But we want to talk about it.”
She said the biggest reaction she gets from parents who visit her website is that they like to see their baby’s name on the screen. One Mother’s Day, Zapanta wrote in the sand the names of babies she knew had died and emailed photos to their moms. “One mom said, ‘I haven’t seen my son’s name in seven years. It’s so nice to see it,'” says Zapanta.
Find support online
BabyCenter’s Community has many groups where grieving parents support each other, including Miscarriage, Stillbirth & Infant Loss Support; Bereaved Parents; Multiple MCs; and Multiple 2nd or 3rd Trimester Losses.
Parents also share photos and memorials in these two BabyCenter groups: Pregnancy & Infant Loss Memorials and In Memory.
You’ll find more online communities and resources for grieving parents listed in the “More resources” section below.
Wear a reminder of your baby
Zapanta and her husband each wear a resin pendant with their son’s ultrasound image on it. She made the pendants herself out of wooden tiles. Others make or order jewelry that features their child’s name or birthstone.
Lucy’s father, Watson Kawecki, wears a pin on his shirt or pocket every day in memory of his daughter.
A week after her son Jordan died, Kara Jarrar decided to get a tattoo on her arm of Jordan’s footprints.
“There are angel wings on the sides and a halo above his name,” says Jarrar. “I put it where everyone can see it. I like to talk about him. My tattoo has brought me the most comfort.”
Help other parents suffering a loss
After losing her son during pregnancy, Michelle Ramirez began Juanito’s Wish. The charitable group fills boxes with lotion, tissues, a book of quotes, and a teddy bear, and donates them to rural hospitals for parents who have suffered a loss. Other moms volunteer as grief counselors.
Get friends involved
Zapanta asks friends to take and post photos whenever they see Calvin’s name on a street sign or book cover. On Calvin’s birthday, friends of Zapanta and her husband made scrapbook pages. “We don’t have his first steps or first words, but we have the people who care about us and care about him,” Zapanta says.
Start a foundation or fundraiser
Tracey Deitzler lost her daughter, Kali, when she was 9 weeks old. She was born ten weeks premature with multiple birth defects. Deitzler honors her daughter’s life with a fundraiser called For the Love of Kali. The money raised goes to various organizations that have helped Tracey and her family, and to the funeral home that provided their services for free.
Send a message
Duenas and Kawecki’s daughter Lucy was born at 3:38 p.m. For the first year after she died, Kawecki sent Duenas a text message at 3:38 every day they were apart. “It would say, ‘I miss you,’ ‘I miss her,’ or just the word ‘love.’ Some days he sent a picture of the name ‘Lucy’ he’d seen out and about during his day,” says Duenas.
“Even now, I know that at 3:38, he’s looking at a clock,” Duenas adds. “And sometimes he still sends a text.”
Other ways parents remember and honor babies
- Holding a memorial service or gathering – large or small – at a place of worship, in a park, or at home
- Writing poetry or a story, published or unpublished
- Creating art for themselves or to share
- Creating music or a playlist
- Making a collage or memory box
- Planting a tree
- Releasing butterflies
- Putting statuary in a garden
- Etching the baby’s name on a stone and placing it outside
- Engraving the baby’s name on a brass plate and displaying it
- Wearing jewelry that contains a keepsake, like a lock of their baby’s hair
- Lighting a candle
- Celebrating Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15
- Putting up a picture in a dedicated space
- Making a donation to a charity in their child’s name
- Donating a book or some children’s clothing to a children’s charity in their community
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby by Deborah L. Davis
Healing a Parent’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Child Dies,by Alan D. Wolfelt
The M.I.S.S. Foundation
Crisis support and long-term aid for families after the death of a child
Information and counseling services for grieving families
Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope
A place for women to share their experience of losing their baby, with photographs to illustrate that miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss affect women from all walks of life
An Internet community for people dealing with grief, death, and major loss
More than 600 chapters that assist bereaved families and a variety of written and video resources
The Dougy Center
Support for children, teens, and their families grieving a death
Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support
Serves those whose lives are touched by the death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or in the first few months of life
Bereaved Parents of the USA
Self-help group that offers support, understanding, compassion, and hope to bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings
A Place to Remember
Resources for those who have been touched by a crisis in pregnancy or the death of a baby
Grieve Out Loud
Support and resources for pregnancy and infant loss, including a pen-pal program that connects moms, dads, and grandparents who have lost babies to others with similar experiences
How to deal with grief over losing a pregnancy
It’s normal to feel shock, grief, depression, guilt, anger, and a sense of failure and vulnerability when you lose a pregnancy.
The days, weeks, and even months following a loss can be incredibly difficult and painful – even more so if this wasn’t your first pregnancy loss, or if you carefully planned this pregnancy and thought you’d done everything “right.” Or you may simply feel withdrawn and moody and unable to concentrate or sleep.
If you told people you were pregnant, you’ll probably worry about announcing this news and you may find even the most sincere expressions of sympathy difficult to take
A few things to keep in mind as you work through this troubled time:
Understand that it’s not your fault. Pregnancy loss or complications can strike anyone. Talk openly and honestly with your partner about what’s happened and how it’s affecting you. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to deal with grief. Accept your feelings as they are and don’t judge yourself or your partner for how you respond.
Give yourself time to heal. Don’t pressure yourself to get past the sadness quickly. Your healing will be more complete if you deal with your grief as it comes. You may find yourself reliving the pain, especially around your due date or other milestones. Over time, things will change and you’ll feel better.
Take time off from work. Even if you feel physically fine, taking some time away from your job may be helpful. You need a chance to process what’s happened, and taking a break from your regular routine will help you acknowledge and accept all that you’re going through.
Don’t expect your partner to grieve in the same way. If your partner doesn’t seem to be affected by the loss as deeply as you are, understand that everyone grieves differently. Share your feelings and your needs with your partner but give each other the freedom to experience the loss in your own way.
If your partner is a man, know that men and women grieve differently. While women tend to express their feelings and look for support from others, men tend to hold their feelings inside and deal with loss on their own. Men often feel they need to take care of their partners by remaining strong. So don’t misread his stoicism as not caring about you or your loss, and don’t judge yourself for not coping as well as he does.
Don’t close yourself off from others. Although it may seem painful to talk about, sharing your story allows you to feel less alone and helps you heal. You may be surprised by how many of your co-workers, cousins, neighbors, and friends have their own stories of loss and healing. And you may find understanding and support from unexpected people – which can help make up for the fact that some people you expected to understand don’t seem to get how much you’re hurting.
Someone who hasn’t gone through what you’re going through really can’t know what it’s like. Most people want to say something comforting but don’t know what to say. Try not to take it personally if they say the wrong thing or nothing at all.
How to break the news to others
Of course, you may not be ready to talk about it for a while. If your loss came after you announced your pregnancy, you may be in for painful confrontations with well-meaning friends and relatives who want to know how the baby is doing. One way to avoid this is to have a close friend spread the word about your loss and let everyone know you’re not ready to talk about it.
If you’ve announced your pregnancy on a social media site, you may want to post again, explaining that you’ve had a loss.
If you’re wondering how to explain a pregnancy loss to your child, read about how to talk to your preschooler about pregnancy loss.
Where to get support
Visit the BabyCenter Community for comfort, advice, and understanding from others who have gone or are going through a loss:
Miscarriage, Stillbirth & Infant Loss Support group
Miscarriage Support group
Recurrent Pregnancy Loss group
For in-person help, ask your doctor or midwife about pregnancy-loss support groups near you.
It may take a while to find one that suits you, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t like the first one you try. Find out in advance about the people in the group to see if you’ll fit in. (Have most of them had early or late miscarriages? Is it a group coping primarily with stillbirths?)
You may also want to look for a professional counselor to help you grapple with the difficult emotions you’re experiencing right now and, ultimately, to come to terms with your grief.
What your child knows – and needs to know
If you or someone close to your family has just lost or terminated a pregnancy, you may be wondering what to tell your child.
Regardless of whether your child knew about the pregnancy, he’ll likely pick up on the fact that something’s wrong. Even if he doesn’t ask why you’re unhappy, your behavior affects him, so it’s important to acknowledge it. What you say depends on your child’s age and temperament, but no matter what, make sure he understands he’s not responsible for anything that has happened.
What to do if your child didn’t know about the pregnancy
If your child is a preschooler and you hadn’t yet told him about the pregnancy, don’t feel compelled to tell him now. Explain that you’re feeling sad right now, but it has nothing to do with him. Reassure him that you love him and that you’ll be all right again. Give him plenty of hugs to demonstrate that your bond is still strong.
With a grade-schooler, you’ll need to take several things into account before deciding whether it makes sense to tell him about it now. On the one hand, he may not be emotionally mature enough to understand what happened, and the news may just be confusing and upsetting. On the other hand, he may be confused and upset if he knows you’re sad, but you don’t tell him why.
If you decide not to tell him what happened, it’s still important to acknowledge your grief. And be sure to give him the same reassurance you would give to a younger child.
What to do if your child did know about the pregnancy
Let her know what happened as soon as you can. She’ll realize that something has changed, but she may not have any idea what it was or how to ask about it.
“Suddenly, the grown-ups who were anticipating the arrival of a baby are sad and depressed, and the excited preparation for a baby has come to a halt,” says Michelle Barratt, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas.
But explanations can be tricky. Young children have a limited understanding of pregnancy and death, says Barratt. It can be difficult for them to comprehend the loss of a baby they’ve never seen.
Once you break the news to your child, she may not know how to react. She may mimic your behavior, regress, act out, have sleep disturbances, or become clingy, fearful, or distant. All of these reactions are normal.
Your child’s reaction may also seem alarmingly self-centered. She might react to the news by asking whether she’ll still get to go to the playground or to the movies with Grandma, who was arriving to take care of her after the baby’s birth. Or she might begin whining that she was supposed to get a big-girl bed when the baby came. For a young child, such responses are to be expected.
“Remember that children are generally egocentric and the question for them is, ‘What does this mean for me?'” says Barratt. Young children mostly want to know, “How is my world changed by what’s happening? Am I still safe and loved?”
It’s also possible that your child will show little or no reaction and even appear indifferent to others’ sadness. The reality is that for some children, the concept of losing a pregnancy may be too abstract to grasp or too confusing and scary to discuss. Respect your child’s reaction and don’t pressure her to talk about it if she doesn’t want to.
How to begin talking to your child about pregnancy loss
Keep it simple. Most children only need to know the basic facts – the baby won’t be born and that’s why you’re so sad. Unless your child presses for more information and you believe he’s mature enough to handle it, there’s no need to offer a detailed explanation about a miscarriage, terminated pregnancy, or stillborn baby.
Don’t hide your grief. “It’s a valuable lesson for children to learn that it’s okay to express emotions, even difficult ones,” says Susan Lipkins, a psychologist in Port Washington, New York. What’s essential, she says, is maintaining open communication with your child so he can ask any questions he has.
Be honest. Understandably, death is a tough topic to discuss with a young child. (For more on this topic, see our piece on how to talk to your child about death.) Parents often want to protect their child from this difficult reality. But he’ll be even more frightened and confused if you don’t tell him – in the simplest terms – why the baby is gone.
Be careful with language. Be as clear and concrete as possible. Euphemisms and vague language can confuse and scare young children, who can be very literal. If you say, “The baby fell asleep and will never wake up,” your child may develop fears about being alone or falling asleep. Similarly, saying, “We lost the baby” could lead him to worry that you’ll lose him, too.
Address your child’s ambivalence. Although most children will never articulate this, many engage in a form of magical thinking. If your child was ambivalent about the arrival of a sibling (as many children are), he may harbor guilt that he somehow helped bring on the pregnancy loss. Reassure him that no one caused this to happen.
Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know that it’s okay for him to ask questions about what happened. Children often spin fantasies about things they don’t understand. Once you find out what he’s thinking, you can clarify his understanding and reassure him.
Be prepared to repeat your explanations. Very young children will often ask the same questions over and over again to make sure they understand clearly what happened. Although it can be painful to answer difficult questions repeatedly, do your best to be patient and answer consistently and calmly.
Don’t expect your child to understand how you feel. If your child reacts to a pregnancy loss in a way that seems selfish or heartless, know that his behavior is probably appropriate for his age. He doesn’t have the life experience or cognitive ability to understand loss and death the way an adult does. He may think, “This affects you, but it affects me more!”
For that reason, don’t admonish him if he seems mostly focused on himself. Ultimately, being empathetic yourself – and accepting whatever feelings he has – is the best way to help him learn empathy.
Ways to support your child – and yourself
Make your child feel safe, secure, and loved. When unpredictable events like pregnancy loss happen, and the dependable adults in her life are behaving in unexpected ways, your child needs reassurance that she is safe and loved. Also, she may interpret your sadness as rejection. In the midst of your grief, try to remind her how much you love her.
Keep schedules and promises if possible. While a grieving period may be what you need now, young children do best when they have a sense of normalcy and a predictable routine. Try to maintain your child’s usual schedule for meals, school, activities, and sleep. If you promised her certain perks following the arrival of the baby (a big-girl bed or a different room, for example), follow through with those promises if you can.
Talk with other caretakers. Tell your child’s teachers, family members, and sitters about the situation, and let them know how you’d like them to answer her questions about the pregnancy loss.
Help your child by helping yourself. If you’re having trouble coping with a pregnancy loss, your depression may make it difficult for you to care for your child. “Being stoic doesn’t necessarily help your child,” says Lipkins, who urges depressed parents to seek professional help sooner rather than later. “Children learn from what we do,” she says. “We can use these situations to teach them how to cope.”
You could tell your child, “I’m very sad. I’m going to talk to a person who will help me feel better.” Also, enlist a family member, friend, or sitter to spend some carefree time with your child while you take time to care for yourself – whether that’s sharing your experience online with other women, spending time with trusted friends and family, exercising, or finding another healthy coping method that feels right to you.
Answers to common questions about pregnancy loss
Be truthful and concise: “You know that I was pregnant and you were going to have a baby brother or sister. Something happened and the baby died, so we’re not going to have that baby.”
Unless your child asks, you don’t need to go into an explanation about death right now. You can simply say, “You might not understand, but I’m going to be sad for a while. If I’m crying, it’s because I’m thinking about the baby.”
If your child has had some experience with death – perhaps a grandparent or a family pet has died – he may have some understanding of death. If he has more questions, answer them simply and honestly.
“When are you going to stop being sad?”
Again, be honest. Since you don’t know when you’ll stop openly grieving, it’s important not to make promises you can’t keep. But it’s also important to let your child know that you won’t be crying so much forever. Barratt recommends saying something like, “I don’t know. Right now, I’m sad. I’ll probably be a little less sad each day. I still love you and your hugs so much, but right now I need to be sad.”
“What happened to the baby?”
Even grown-ups don’t always know why a baby died. So honesty, in simple terms, is the best policy. It may be enough to say, “We don’t know what happened. Sometimes people get pregnant and have a nice healthy baby like you were when you were born. But sometimes it doesn’t happen the way we hoped, and the baby isn’t born.”
Or you might want to explain the loss within the framework of your family’s cultural or religious beliefs. “God (or ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘Mama’s body’) wants babies to be healthy and happy when they are born. Sometimes there is a problem, and the baby is not healthy enough to be born.”
“Will this happen to me?”
Your child may be concerned that something bad will happen to him as well. Answer with firm reassurance: “No, this definitely won’t happen to you. You were already born. You came out fine, and you are healthy.”
“Is this my fault?”
It’s unlikely a young child would speak about this fear, but it’s still important to address it. You can say to your child, “It’s nobody’s fault this happened. It’s not your fault. It’s not Mommy’s fault. It’s not Daddy’s fault. It’s just something very sad that happened.” Always end by validating the child: “And we’re so glad we have you.”
If your child does come out and ask if the loss is his fault, it may not help to blindly reassure him, says Barratt. Respond with a question instead, so you can get to the heart of his worries. “What do you think you could have done that would have caused it?”
Your child may say, for example, that after he yelled at you, the baby died. You can tell him, “When you yell at somebody, that’s not a good choice, but that’s not what made the baby die. It had nothing to do with what you or anybody did.”
If your child is feeling guilty because he was ambivalent about having a sibling, you can explain that everyone has good and bad thoughts, but thoughts and wishes don’t make things happen and had nothing to do with the baby dying.
“Do you still love me?”
It’s also unlikely your child will ask this question directly, but it’s essential to remind him that he is healthy and has a loving family: “We may be sad now, but we are still a happy and healthy family. We are together, and we love one another.”
Additional experts who contributed to this article: Kenneth J. Doka, professor of gerontology at the Graduate School of the College of New Rochelle, and Gerald P. Koocher, dean of the College of Science and Health at DePaul University.
It was my fourth time giving birth. You’d think I’d be a pro. In many ways I knew what to expect.
I remembered the physical pain. How it ramped up quickly, and how I lost my ability to control the sounds emanating from my throat. I was familiar with how to push a baby out: bear down like you’re going to the bathroom. I felt ready for the routine once we checked into the hospital; the gown opens in the back, I’d need an IV for fluids, nurses asking if I wanted an epidural, did I plan to breastfeed? Even though this was my fourth time giving birth, it would be my first time since we’d experienced the crushing pain of pregnancy loss.
This time, everything felt different. My mind buzzed with fear, because my reality now included the possibility something could go wrong at any moment. Yes, we’d made it to this point, despite my conviction we wouldn’t, but my anxiety was as palpable as the contractions that ripped through my stomach.
I experienced fear during delivery before our loss, too. But the main question racing through my mind then was Would I be able to handle the pain? This time, I was fixated on the idea that something could happen to my baby, or to me. From the moment we walked through the doors of the hospital, until I was pushing my son out, all I kept saying to my husband was, “I’m scared.” I didn’t need to say more; he knew why, coupled with excitement and anticipation, I felt punishingly unnerved. He’d been there every step of the way as I’d fought and clawed my way back from the brink of a deep depression in the year since our loss. He laid with me on the floor, on the bottom of the bathtub, on the side of the road.
That day, lying on the bed of the delivery room, each push bringing me closer to meeting my rainbow, I prayed to my angel baby. Just let everything be OK. The other refrain running through my head as I squeezed my eyes closed and tried to shut out the sounds of my own animalistic grunting: Let this be real. Although I’d seen my son in ultrasound scans, felt him moving inside me for months, and experienced just about every pregnancy symptom known to woman, I still had trouble believing there was a real, live, healthy baby. A baby who was mine. A baby I would soon be holding in my arms.
It wasn’t until I saw my son for the very first time; that scrunchy little face, his matted down hair, his chubby cheeks and squinting eyes, attached to a long, slippery, perfect, beautiful body, that I believed he was real. And it wasn’t until my sweet, strong, gorgeous little baby boy was placed on my chest that, at last, I exhaled and my fears slowly melted away.
I’d done it. I’d delivered my rainbow. Even if worry, guilt, sadness, anger, disbelief, shock and despair lurked around every corner throughout this pregnancy and birth, he was here, healthy and OK. And so was I.
I know I’m not alone in how emotional it was to give birth to my rainbow. Some BabyCenter community members were brave enough to share what it was like for them, and although every experience is different, what they all have in common is that loss played a role. “With rainbow pregnancies, you’re always waiting for bad news,” one mama said, adding after the birth, “I only felt grateful relief to have him safely in my arms.”
Another mom shared how complicated your emotions can be during the birth of a rainbow baby: “The moment I had her and heard her cry, I felt terrible pain and loss all over again for my first daughter who never got to cry. It was like I was reliving the death of my first stillborn daughter, but I had my living rainbow daughter alive in my arms. That is the most torn experience I’ve had in my life.”
One rainbow mom expressed her conflicting feelings about welcoming her baby, saying, “I did feel a bit of guilt and sadness, like I had just replaced my angel. But relief and happiness still won out.”
And this mama may have said it best about her thoughts during her rainbow’s birth: “Oh my God, did I actually just have a baby? You mean it’s mine and I get to keep him?”
I think every rainbow mom out there can totally relate. I know I can.
In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, observed every year on October 15th, the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes wants bereaved moms to hear about a little-known option: Donating their milk.
Kate Weidner of Oak Park, Illinois, says donating her breast milk was crucial to her healing process after losing her son Everett in 2017.
After being diagnosed with vasa previa, an extremely rare complication involving the umbilical cord, Kate was scheduled for a c-section at 34 weeks. This would allow her to deliver early enough to avoid going into labor, but late enough for the baby’s safety.
Things didn’t go as planned. When she was 33 weeks and two days along, she started bleeding heavily. She called 911. An ambulance rushed her to the nearest hospital, where she had an emergency c-section.
When Kate woke up from surgery, Everett was in critical condition and was transferred to a children’s hospital in Chicago. Kate was transferred there too as soon as she was stable.
“Once we got there, the doctors explained to me there was just no chance for him, that he had lost a ton of blood. Luckily, my husband made it in time when Everett was still alive and we were able to hold him and spend some time with him before he eventually passed away that day.”
It wasn’t until she was alone in her hospital room afterward when it dawned on Kate that her milk was going to come in. “Your body doesn’t know you don’t have a baby. My body didn’t know he was gone. My body continued to make milk as if he were here. That realization just kind of hit me.”
Kate made the decision to donate Everett’s milk. She had read about donor milk when preparing for Everett’s stay at the NICU. She started pumping while still at the hospital, and, with the guidance of a lactation consultant, was able to donate her milk directly to the hospital for critically ill and premature babies in the NICU.
Kate continued pumping once she got home, storing the milk in her freezer as she collected. In total, she donated about 300 ounces of Everett’s breast milk to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes. “It was really emotional. But it was also really healing. I went about six weeks after Everett died, and I really felt him there with me when I was doing that, which was great,” said Kate. “I packed up the cooler and I just felt so proud of him and of us.”
A star with Everett’s name hangs on a memory wall at the main milk bank office near Chicago, along with the names of other babies whose mothers donated their milk.
Roughly 15 percent of donors at the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, which serves Illinois and Wisconsin, are bereavement donors, according to donor coordinator Susan Urbanski.
Another one of the memorial stars bears the name Liam – the first child of Anna Calix.
“His pregnancy was just great; I didn’t even have morning sickness or anything,” Anna, who also lives in the Chicago area, told BabyCenter. “At every appointment, everything looked fine. He was a really active baby.”
Two days before her due date, Anna noticed her baby wasn’t moving as much as he normally did. “Being my first time having a baby, I didn’t know what was supposed to be normal or not.” [Editor’s note: Learn how a baby’s fetal movements feel, week by week]
After making some phone calls Anna decided to head to the hospital to get checked. Several different healthcare professionals attempted to find her baby’s heartbeat, but a doctor eventually confirmed her worst fear: Her baby boy had died. Anna was induced, and Liam was born still, due to what was determined to be a placental issue, as well as a fetomaternal hemorrhage.
In the face of this devastating loss, Anna was grateful for the opportunity to donate her, and Liam’s, milk: “When your baby dies in utero, you still have to go through all of the same postpartum changes that you do with a live-born baby,” Anna said. “It’s really kind of traumatizing – especially, I think, with milk production. But I felt like losing him needed to mean something, and I knew that was something I could do.”
“It gives you a purpose; it gives you something to do in those early days,” she continued. “Because you’re just kind of drifting through the day, and your mind can’t focus on anything. I remember just the process of getting up and getting dressed in the morning was this incredible long, difficult, painful process. Because you don’t want to get up and get dressed and face the day.”
Anna pumped every three hours for about three months. In total, she pumped about 700 ounces of Liam’s milk, and donated 425 ounces to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes. She donated most of what remained to two local moms, and saved just enough for herself to have breast milk jewelry made.
“The whole time I was doing this, it was comforting to know that all of that effort – as difficult as it was, both logistically as well as emotionally – was going to be worth it because he was going to help save babies’ lives,” Anna said. “Pumping kind of forced me to think about Liam, to think about what happened and what I was going through. Kind of like special time dedicated to him, in a way, too. I think having to think about it and process it kind of helped me move forward,”
Anna eventually went on to have a second son, Rio, who is now 6 months old.
“I think many, many moms want to somehow carry on their child’s legacy, help them be remembered, and this is a really excellent way of doing that,” she said. “I think just knowing that even though you lost your baby, by doing this, your baby is helping other babies. That’s a powerful thought.”
As for Kate? She’s expecting her third child, a baby girl, in January.
“It’s worth it to me to share our story – even though it’s very sad – if even one mother hears what happened to us and is aided in her grieving process through milk donation,” Kate told BabyCenter. “For me, milk donating was one of the most important things I did in my grieving process. It gave me a sense of purpose and it gave me control of my body.”
“I’m not saying that this is the right thing for everyone to do, at all,” she continued. “But it’s important people know it’s an option because it can give you back your sense of purpose, and help you give purpose to your baby’s life.”
Susan Urbanski, donor coordinator for the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, understands milk donation is a very personal choice, and not every mother will want to donate her milk. But, for those who do make the choice, there are two dozen milk banks similar to Western Great Lakes’ throughout the U.S., with hundreds of milk collection sites.
“Milk donation after loss is always possible. We accept all bereavement donations, regardless of any medications or lifestyle concerns. Any milk that cannot be processed for distribution can be used as part of our research program,” says Urbanski. “We have an in-house microbiology lab, and we also partner with hospitals and universities for ongoing human milk research projects.”
While awareness is growing, milk donation is not yet a well-known option for grieving mothers who must endure the physically and emotionally painful experience of having their milk come in, and no baby to feed. Let’s spread the word: The benefits of donated milk reach beyond the mothers who so generously provide it, all the way to the mouths and bellies of all the premature infants who receive this gift of pure love.
How to donate milk
Hear from a few brave mothers of babies gone too soon about their experience with bereavement milk donation in this video, produced by Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes