Some people float through pregnancy and delivery worry-free and on top of the world. But for many parents-to-be, pregnancy, and stress go hand in hand: Am I eating healthy enough? Which prenatal screening tests do I really need? Should I feel more movement in there?
Some concerns demand attention, but others may be draining you during a special time.
“From the moment the pee hits the stick through postpartum, we have access to all of this information online that’s doled out in a way that’s black and white—and not always accurate,” says Dr. Shieva Ghofrany, an ob-gyn, and co-founder of Tribe Called V1 , a virtual platform that arms users with knowledge in an effort to make them less anxious.
The internet can empower you, she says, but none of the shoulds (“you should skip the coffee”) and musts (“you must put your baby on a schedule if you ever want to sleep again”) are very encouraging.
A little worry is normal, but constantly stressing over things like planning a perfectly decorated nursery, avoiding deli meat, or drafting an ironclad birth plan can start to weigh on you.
Ready to stress less? Here are five common concerns experts say it’s okay to let go.
Not Sticking to Your Birth Plan
You may worry that if you don’t stick to your birth plan, you’ve failed. The reality is, when delivering a baby, flexibility is your friend.
Putting all your hopes in a hyper-specific birth plan where you’re in control of every minute detail might work against you. A 2021 BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth2 review of 11 studies from nine countries found mothers whose birth expectations don’t match up with reality are less likely to feel satisfied by the experience and may be more at risk for developing postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“If you try to control every single thing in an effort to calm yourself down, you can create more anxiety, because many things are not controllable,” Dr. Ghofrany says. “I can’t say to anyone ‘for sure, you’ll have a C-section” or ‘for sure, you’ll have a vaginal delivery.’ We can only respond to how the labor and baby are progressing.”
It’s great to communicate your wishes regarding mode of delivery, pain relief, and skin-to-skin contact to your provider, but try to think in terms of birth* preferences* rather than a rigid plan, says reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Oreck. That way, you’ll advocate for yourself while also reducing the likelihood of disappointment. When it comes to your birth plan, Dr. Ghofrany suggests focusing on elements that are typically in your control, like a curated playlist, a favorite essential oil to dab on your pulse points, or cozy socks to wear in recovery. For the biggies, though, the ability to pivot is invaluable.
“Just like life, labor doesn’t always go our way,” Dr. Oreck says. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
Pooping During Delivery
You may worry that you’ll poop during delivery. The reality is, you’ll probably poop during delivery. It’s a good sign.
Dr. Ghofrany estimates that 60–80% of her vaginal delivery patients poop at some point during the pushing process. And guess who minds? Not your doctor!
“What we as gynecologists wish people understood is that it doesn’t gross us out at all,” she says. “Blood, amniotic fluid, poop, pee, and discharge—that’s our daily life.” A little stool released during delivery means you’re using the right pelvic floor muscles to push the baby out; any nearby fecal matter gets eliminated in the process.
Panicked about what a support person might see, smell, or hear? You can always ask them to stay near your head. But remember: “Every single person on earth poops,” Dr. Ghofrany says. “Partners may feel freaked out by the blood or like they’re going to faint, but…they’ll be in shock, awe, and mesmerized by the experience, not disgusted by it.”
Grooming Your Hair Down There
You may worry you need to groom your pubic area before prenatal checkups or delivery. The reality is, that your labor and delivery team doesn’t care about hair down there.
They also don’t care if you’ve shaved your legs, have a full face of camera-ready makeup, or painted your toes Silent Mauvie pink. Yet a JAMA Dermatology study3 found that 40% of women ages 18–65 tidy up their pubic hair before visits to their ob-gyn. And many pregnant people express concern over being able to get waxed before their due date, says Talitha Phillips, a certified labor and postpartum doula and CEO of Claris Health4 , a Los Angeles-based nonprofit serving women and their families before, during, and after pregnancy.
“I tell people, if it makes you feel better to have a pedicure or be waxed, pick a date a little before your due date to make an appointment,” Phillips says. “But no one in the medical world cares, and once you’re in labor, you really don’t care about these things.”
Pressure to Breastfeed
You may worry that you must breastfeed. The reality is, there are many ways to nourish your baby.
The “Breast is Best” campaigns of the ’90s5 has led to countless new parents beating themselves up over how they feed their baby. The touted benefits of breastfeeding include boosting children’s intelligence and immunity and helping them maintain a healthy weight, instilling “a pressure which, for many women, can be debilitating,” says Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University and author of Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know. “If it doesn’t work or you don’t want to do it, it’s almost like that’s your first opportunity to fail.”
According to Oster, much of the research fueling these claims is based on flawed data that fails to establish whether breast milk is responsible for physical, emotional, and behavioral benefits or if it’s attributed to the more favorable educational, socioeconomic, and occupational circumstances (including longer parental leave) that breastfeeding parents tend to have. When these factors are considered, Oster says, many of the advantages disappear.
If you feel strongly about nursing, do it! If the idea turns you off or becomes an unreasonable struggle (due to low milk supply, issues latching, lack of support, or any other reason6 ), you have options, including pumping, donor milk, formula, or some combination of those.
Formula is designed to mimic the nutritional makeup7 of breast milk as closely as possible, giving your baby exactly what they need. And using it—exclusively or as a supplement—is extremely common: 83%8 of parents in the U.S. use formula in their baby’s first year.
Phillips adds that formula feeding affords Mom more flexibility, since there’s no need to pump or plan work and other activities around the baby’s feeding schedule. Someone else can always jump in—a perk Phillips herself says she appreciated. “My youngest child is adopted and got formula. My other child was breastfed. I do not feel more bonded to one over the other, and it was nice because other people, like my parents, were able to feed the baby.”
Drinking Alcohol Before Knowing You're Pregnant
You may worry that you drank alcohol before you knew you were pregnant. The reality is, that in all likelihood, everything will be fine.
The scene: You just discovered you’re pregnant and remember that you had several glasses of wine last week during a night out with friends. Resist the urge to go down the Internet rabbit hole—Dr. Ghofrany says not to get too worked up over it.
“The likelihood of significant harm from moderate drinking around the time of conception up until the first positive pregnancy test is very small,” Dr. Ghofrany says.
Drinking heavily during pregnancy (defined as having more than three drinks in one sitting or more than seven drinks per week) is dangerous, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists9 (ACOG) says “no amount or type of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.” But according to ACOG, “the most important thing is to stop drinking alcohol when you find out you are pregnant.” Before then, the odds are strongly in your and your baby’s favor.