So I’m a planner, always have been. Even when I was a little girl I would typically have some vision of how the day was “supposed to go” and more often than not there was a meltdown when it didn’t turn out as expected. Thankfully I’ve outgrown a lot of my rigid tendencies in adulthood, but I’m still a planner. And if there’s one thing you can plan too much for, it’s giving birth and caring for your first child. There are endless amounts of books, classes, webinars, lists, articles and blogs if you choose to partake, not to mention the stream of advice coming from well-meaning friends and family. How are you supposed to make sense of it all?
For me, planning and learning are relaxing tasks, to a certain extent. I like to know a lot about a topic, especially if it has to do with my health and well-being. I put together this post to document all of the resources that I’ve found helpful throughout this pregnancy. At 37 weeks, it feels like it’s time to let go of the planning stage and move into a space of calm acceptance.
I like that most practitioners have started referring to your plans as “birth preferences.” This takes into account the desire to and preparation for having a certain kind of experience, while also leaving room to be flexible and accept whatever might happen. I hope you find these resources to be as useful as I did!
Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood—and Trusting Yourself and Your Body by Erica Chidi Cohen
This was the first book I read on pregnancy, and it’s a thorough overview for first time moms. A lot of great info on what to expect each week and trimester, as well as a comprehensive look at the birthing process. I especially liked the journaling prompts and all the natural remedies, meditations and exercises. It became a reference book for me where I could look up any symptoms and read about how to choose a care team. It was a very non-biased explanation about all the options available, from home-births to C-sections. I thought it laid out the facts and pros and cons of each with knowledgeable neutrality. I will definitely continue to reference this book for breastfeeding and postpartum.
Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds by Cynthia Gabriel
As I learned more about the birth process, my preferences started to take shape. I knew that I wanted to deliver in a hospital setting, because there are so many unknowns with a first birth and many people I trusted around me recommended this route. But I also know that I am incredibly sensitive to certain medical procedures, namely pain medication and synthetic or manmade hormones. I wasn’t absolutely against using them, but I decided I wanted to try to prepare as much as possible to be able to avoid or limit their use. Enter this book, which I found to be incredibly informative and empowering. If you’re trying to decide if you want to go for an unmedicated birth or not, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’ve already decided to, it offers a lot of info about different caretakers, stages of labor, hospital procedures and pain management. I’ll share a quote from the introduction that really stuck with me:
I hope that this book will help you to overcome our culture’s messages and find your own power and strength as a birthing woman. No one can predict the physical aspects of your labor, but I have learned that if you bring all of yourself – your emotions, your intellect, your body, and your spirit – to your baby’s birth, you will be rewarded.Cynthia Gabriel
HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie Mongan
I know, I know the title of this book sounds very strange and the cover art looks like a 90s infomercial about baby powder but hear me out on this one. This book, and this methodology of birth preparation were incredibly impactful for me. Mongan’s approach is to release fears about birthing and instead approach it with a sense of joy and calm anticipation. So how do we do that? By practicing relaxation techniques and positive affirmations and by bringing our birth partner on-board as an active participant in the process. I love everything about this approach. As a person who has struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, I found it so helpful to have a straightforward directions. Feeling anxious about birth? Listen to a hypnobirthing audio track. Feeling overwhelmed that it’s “all on me?” Give your partner a script to read and calming techniques for labor. I’ve never used positive affirmations like this before. I took several of the phrases used in hypnobirthing tracks and wrote them on index cards with watercolor backgrounds, then placed them around my house-on the bathroom mirror, above my work computer, etc. That plus listening to these affirmations in audio tracks as I drift off to sleep has really shifted my mindset about birth from fear and worry to calm acceptance and joyful anticipation.
I started taking Prenatal Yoga about 13 weeks into my pregnancy and it’s been a wonderful experience. I took live virtual classes from Lily Dwyer Begg, a teacher who is local to my area of Maryland, but has also started offering a full suite of virtual classes during the pandemic. It was really nice to connect with other moms on Zoom once a week, and to receive feedback on technique vs. just practicing from a recording – and since I earned my 500 hour yoga teacher training certification two months before getting pregnant, I didn’t want to lose my connection to the practice. I ended up taking a break during the first trimester because the nausea and fatigue made it too hard to do much of anything besides exist. But once I started classes with Lily I was able to learn how to treat my body gently on the mat, using a slower pace and lots of props. It has helped me with lower back pain, pelvic instability, anxiety and taking time to mindfully connect with my body and the tiny person growing inside of me.
I also saw a chiropractor who specializes in prenatal care, at the recommendation of my naturopath. I had never seen a chiropractor before, and had some legitimate fears about neck and back cracking. But by week 25, I was experiencing some intense pelvic and lower back pain, to the point that it was making it hard to go up and down stairs. The chiropractor I saw was able to make some much needed adjustments and give me tips on how to sit properly for better alignment (sitting up straight, not crossing legs, basically the opposite of my usual slump on the couch!) With these visits, the pain mostly disappeared. I still have a lot of pelvic and hip instability when getting up at night, but at 37 weeks it’s totally to be expected!
Speaking of 37 weeks, I just got a prenatal massage this week and it was amazing. Alex got it for me as a Christmas present and I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to use it due to Covid but it turns out the massage therapist he found was taking strict precautions and we decided it was worth the risk if she came to our house and we both wore masks. The massage therapist was Marissa Modha and if you’re in the North Baltimore/Harford County area I highly recommend her. I didn’t realize how much tension I was carrying in my neck, shoulders and back but also how much I was craving any kind of human touch outside of my husband’s. It was truly a relaxing and connecting experience.
Apps and Products
I downloaded this app a few weeks into my pregnancy and I have to say that it has hands down been the most useful resource so far. At $59.99/year it’s a pricey app, but you can try it in a trial first or just pay $9.99/month. It’s well worth it in my opinion. Not only does it offer weekly meditations geared toward your specific week in pregnancy, but it also has on-demand guided meditations on tons of topics, plus audio courses, like a comprehensive hypnobirthing guide + affirmations. You also have the opportunity to register for live guided meditation events with other women, led by a professional facilitator. I used it the most during my first and third trimesters. I would always listen to the weekly meditations because they included anecdotes about what parts of the baby were in development that week. But in the first trimester, when I struggled with nausea, fatigue and insomnia the on-demand guided meditations and sleep stories were clutch. Now that I’m close to giving birth, I’m listening to the hypnobirthing course led by British instructor Melanie Bearne and her voice is just so soothing. If you’re interested in trying out the app for free for 21 days, let me know and I’ll send you a guest pass!
This body pillow was a must-have for me. I read so many reviews and took polls from my friends and this one won out in the end. It’s C-shaped, which means you can lie down with it or sit up and wrap it around you. They also sell a U-shaped version which might be better for people who switch sides a lot at night. The cover is removeable and washable. This pillow has helped me get through nauseous nights, align my hips and prop up my huge bump. I might even try to use it for nursing support, we’ll see!
I had a lot of pelvic pain during my 2nd trimester. When we went for the anatomy scan at 20 weeks and found out that baby boy was sitting very low in my pelvis, it made a lot of sense. A friend recommended this belly support band and it’s been a great help. I wear it when I’m walking the dog or going to the store, pretty much anytime I’ll be on my feet for a while outside of the house. It’s easy to put on, pulls the belly weight up off of the pelvis and it’s discreet enough to wear under most clothes.
I started drinking raspberry leaf tea regularly at around week 33. Made from the green leaves of the raspberry fruit, this tea does NOT taste like raspberries, but it does have some pretty powerful benefits for women, especially those who are pregnant. It has been known to tone the uterus and possibly shorten labor. It’s also chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Raspberry leaf tea is not recommended in the first trimester, as it can cause cramps. You can read more about the benefits and side effects here. I found the earthy taste to be a bit much as a hot tea, but it’s great as an iced tea.
Once I settled on preparing for a hospital birth with the least amount of medical intervention, Alex and I decided to hire a doula. A doula is a birth companion who provides mental, emotional and physical support to the birthing person and birth partner during labor. We hired someone through The Womb Room, which is a wonderful community and resource for women in Baltimore. Our doula has helped us build birth preferences, become more educated about the birth process and plan to stay at home during the early stages of labor before heading to the hospital. With all the Covid restrictions and isolation of the past year, it has been hard to share my pregnancy experience with others. Adding a doula who is knowledgeable, mindful, easy going and well versed in the stages of labor has helped me feel less alone in this experience and more confident that I can go through it making mindful choices that work best for me and for baby.
One of the other things I did early on was to join a Reddit community for moms expecting in March 2021. I am so very glad that I did. I love Reddit because of its anonymity and in general I think being able to find communities around specific topics leads to more meaningful online discourse. This particular group became private about 3 months in, and that has helped it to feel like a safe space. I don’t know any of these women but I feel like we’ve been through so much together: many losing their babies in miscarriages early on, finding out the gender of our babies (or not), navigating tough situations with family and caretakers. It’s been a journey and I’m so glad that I sought it out, especially in the absence of in-person support groups.
And finally, the backbone of my support system has been my husband, Alex. He has been there for me in every sense that a supportive partner would be: taking on more household tasks, helping me navigate the decisions and mood swings, celebrating with me along the way. But he’s also been there for me in a bigger way because of Covid. If I make it to 40 weeks it will be March 12, exactly one year since we both started working from home due to pandemic restrictions. Little did we know that one year later we would still be working from home, most days being each other’s only in-person interaction. It’s a lot. But it has helped us grow as a couple. We have a deeper understanding of each other’s rhythms and tendencies, and I think it will help us during the birth of our son. Alex also found two books helpful as he prepared to support me: We’re Pregnant! The First Time Dad’s Pregnancy Handbook by Adrian Kulp and The Birth Partner 5th Edition: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Partners, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions by Penny Simkin.
I hope that you’ve found this list of resources to be helpful. What are some of your favorite resources that you relied on in pregnancy? I would love to hear about them in the comments!