First-time pregnancy can be overwhelming. Women’s bodies are rapidly changing as baby forms a house inside them. There are mood swings, bouts of nausea, concerns about the welfare of that little growing bean, doctors appointments, prenatal vitamins, and a desire to do right by baby and the whole family really. It can be a stress inducer for sure. One of the remedies is to get more information, as much information as possible.
Many women seek advice from authoritative sources to calm their nerves and educate themselves about what’s happening to their bodies and how their life is about to change. That is just about the time when they turn to the library shelves and those ever-popular pregnancy books.
On the way to work, just before bed, and in the wee hours of the morning when she just can’t sleep, the mom-to-be pours over these pages as if she is going to have a final exam. Certainly, she is going to be tested. This is just the beginning. But not all books are created equal. Even some of the best and most well-regarded guides to pregnancy serve up some weird and unexpected advice.
What’s worse is that many of the women reading these books, especially first-time moms-to-be, follow every word with intensity and follow through on all the suggestions. While most of the writers of these books have the best of intentions and can help alleviate some of that stress, they also might alleviate fear and offer tips that don’t necessarily apply to the reader. Each woman and each pregnancy is different, after all.
Should women avoid these books all together? Absolutely not. But they should be objective in their reading and recognize what applies to them and what doesn’t. They should also ask questions and verify claims that seem incorrect or exaggerated. Instead of thinking of these books – even What to Expect... (Workman Publishing Company, 5th Edition 2016), which is considered the bible of pregnancy – as the end all and be all of what they should be doing, they should listen to medical professionals, midwives, doulas, women who were pregnant before them, and their own minds and bodies.
Still, who can turn away from a train wreck? Here are some of those outrageous claims and tips the pregnancy books would have women believing (if only they weren’t so smart):
15 Moms Need Everything At The Hospital
This is another doozy that women will read in a number of books. Of course, none of them uses this language exactly. But they tell women to carry soothing music, books to read, cross-stitch to do, or a word jumble or two. They might suggest bringing snacks to the hospital, and those chocolate cigars for baby’s visitors. (Believe it or not, that's still a thing.)
Then, there’s all that baby stuff, including blankets, hats, booties, and clothes to start. The truth is that there is no need to pack for a month’s long stay. Most healthy women and babies stay three to four days tops (and that’s a lot). No one pushing a watermelon out of something the size of a grape is going to have time to do a word search, nor will she be able to read a book.
In fact, most veteran moms will tell people they didn’t get to read a book again until the baby went to school. And the hospital actually provides babies with blankets and the basics.
Of course, moms should bring pajamas for themselves and baby. Their own toiletries – soap or body wash, shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrush – and clean underwear and clothes are musts. They should have any adorable outfit for welcome-to-the-world photos and going home for the first time. If those cigars catch their fancy, then why not?
But there’s no need to bring hundreds of receiving blankets or lots of books and heavy stuff that can weigh down mom (or more likely dad). Most hospitals won’t let parents leave in a car without a car seat that is properly installed in the car, so that’s another one that moms must put on the list of stuff to bring. Then, they should leave all that extra stuff home.
14 Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
What to Expect When You’re Expecting is probably the most guilty of this. In its quest to cover everything and anything that might be part of a pregnancy, the book unwittingly sets off red flags all over the place.
The descriptions down to the minutia of what’s happening inside a pregnant woman's body, explanations of the possible diseases, disorders, and challenges that can cause birth defects and maladies in an unborn child, and explanations of how past behavior (STDs, drug use, smoking, etc.) can affect one’s child now is enough to make a pregnant woman want to hide under the covers for the next 9 months or maybe until baby turns 18.
Sometimes there is such a thing as too much information. Overloading a woman’s brain about everything that can go wrong defeats the purpose of alleviating stress. It can make the mind wander to ugly places. One way for readers to prevent this alarmism while still gathering the useful information in books such as What to Expect is to skim the topics and read what is most relevant to their bodies, experiences, and pregnancy.
Women should ignore the scary stuff to prevent unnecessary anxiety.
13 Dads Should Wear An Empathy Belly
Three dads in the United Kingdom wore 33-pound empathy bellies to get a feel for the weight moms carry during pregnancy. Designed to put pressure on the bladder, stomach, and lungs and cause abdominal distention, the suit gives men some idea of the discomfort of pregnancy, according to the Daily Mail.
Of course, the hormones and baby’s movements are not part of the deal, so they can’t possibly get the full flavor. Still, the three men used their experience to promote The Book of Everyone and admitted they had more respect and empathy for pregnant women as a result.
The three men were wearing the belly everywhere but the shower for 10 days. They even wore it to work. Most husbands would get many a strange look and perhaps a call for resignation if they wore this get up on the job. Such body suits are expensive and most men would not be able to wear this enough to truly understand the physical conditions of pregnancy.
Instead, mom and dad should just try and keep the lines of communication open, so they can share what’s happening in the bodies, minds, and hearts of each of them during the pregnancy.
12 Write A Three Page Birth Plan
A writer for the Today Show Website once mentioned she followed instructions from a book and wrote a lengthy birthing plan. Alpha moms, of course, want to plan every detail of every day of their child’s life beginning with birth. Their efforts to be prepared are admirable. But this is crazy advice because labor and delivery is the kind of thing that one simply cannot plan down to the minute.
Of course, moms can do all the right things during pregnancy, choose the right doctor or midwife or doula or all of the above, and get an idea of what the birth will be like. But they have to contend with many unpredictable happenings. For starters, moms, unless they are scheduling a C-section, don’t know the exact date this is going to happen.
Due dates only give moms an idea about when to expect baby. Then, of course, there can be complications. Or one’s doctor might not be available and someone else will be there. The list of possible changes goes on and on.
Women have been delivering babies for centuries, and never before did they have so much homework or planning surrounding it. The population lived on, so mom can chill out without guilt. She doesn’t have to write out a plan for the day.
Instead, she should express to those who will be with her what she hopes to have – natural childbirth vs. epidural, breastfeeding or not, skin-to-skin touch in the aftermath of the birth, etc. But then she also has to be flexible and realize that things might not go as planned. Preparation includes being prepared for all the various variables and going with the flow.
11 Moms Should Lead A Delivery Team, Not The Doctor
Natural childbirths have been trending in recent years. As a result, mothers have begun considering helpers in the delivery room beyond doctors. Some have even opted for an at-home delivery, which is possible with careful planning. The advice to get a delivery team, on its own, isn’t all that bad. Of course, the person delivering the baby should feel comfortable and secure.
Within reason, they should be allowed to have whoever they’d like surrounding them. Certainly, doulas and midwives can be helpful. This tip makes the list because this isn’t the right choice for all moms. This push for delivery teams has piled on the guilt most moms already have about whether they are making the right decisions for baby.
In addition, these extra people are not always covered by health insurance and can be costly. The average mom might not be able to afford a full-fledged delivery team. And that’s okay. The point is that the books sometimes make it seem as though women who can’t afford (or simply prefer medical doctors) are somehow wrong.
Frankly, women just need to make informed decisions that are right for them as individuals.
10 Breastfeeding Guilt Trips
Once again, the advice isn’t all bad. The problem is this absolutism, which brings on more guilt and hostility, the last thing any mother wants when bringing a life into the world. Breastfeeding is natural, and there are proven health benefits. It’s also a wonderful way for mother and baby to bond. If that is what women hope to do, then they should go for it and plan to start as soon as possible.
Most hospitals offer lactation services to help women get started. But there are women who don’t make enough milk or whose milk is actually not healthy for the baby. Then, there are also women whose lifestyle and schedule are not conducive to breastfeeding and would simply be more comfortable bottle feeding.
The implied judgments in this kind of advice is what’s wrong with it. The books that tell moms exactly what they must do without listing all their options are getting it wrong.
9 Go To The Hospital After The First Contraction
Books and TV shows lead people to believe that women should run to the hospital when they start having contractions. But delivery is more complicated than that. It usually takes a long time, and the first sign of contractions is actually not the best time to go. If women go too early – before they are dilating much – they might get sent home.
If it’s still early and not too early, they are confined to the hospital and unable to eat anything in the meantime. Women should keep track of the time between contractions and put off the hospital as much as they can. They should also eat something before leaving for the hospital to ward off hunger pains and get strength for what lies ahead, according to Lamaze instructors, midwives, and many veteran moms.
Active labor, which is when women are having strong contractions that last for 45 to 60 seconds and come three to four minutes apart, is the time to go to the hospital, according to WebMD.
8 Dad Should Watch What Mom Eats
In that same Today Show Website story, a woman griped that her husband was forcing her to eat the foods he learned about in one of these pregnancy books. He was force feeding her fruits and vegetables and worrying when the morning sickness kicked in and she vomited whether she was getting enough of the nutrients.
His intentions were good, but he might have stepped over the line here. Of course, dad should help mom decipher if there are dangerous foods that she should avoid, but she should be able to choose, especially because many women have aversions during pregnancy. While it is true that supportive dads can help improve mom’s pregnancy and experience, they can also go overboard.
Sometimes, the advice in these books enables them to do this. In their excitement, they might get too involved and they might try to make decisions about mom’s body that are simply not theirs to make and therefore are not helpful at all.
7 Dad Should Help Mom Choose An OB-GYN, Ya Right!
Certainly, dad can offer his opinion about the doctor (or midwife or doula) who mom ultimately chooses, but he cannot have the final say. She is the one who must make the decision because it’s her body, and she’s the one who is going to have to do all the work.
The books aimed at fathers don’t necessarily suggest dad should decide, but they offer lots of advice about questions to ask, opinions to share, and the kind of doctor mom should have. This made the list because it is easy to see how some men might read this kind of content and figure they need to step in. It could even lead to arguments, which is not helpful at all.
Dad can offer his opinion when asked. If it comes down to two people and mom is having a hard time choosing, he can share his opinion. But he has to make it clear that she is the decider. Really, mom is the one who has to be comfortable with the person, who will be all up in her private parts and helping to get a baby out of her. Period.
6 Women Don't Need An Epidural
Ever since the idea of Lamaze took hold, women have learned that the epidural and any kind of medication to ease the pain of labor and delivery is a bad thing. Again, guilt is piled on if women even want to consider saying yes to the drugs. As with any medication, there are risks. (In fact, you can read both sides of the story - about the 15 Reasons Why An Epidural Can Be Risky and the 15 Reasons an Epidural Is the Way to Go.)
With a natural childbirth, women go into the delivery room and use breathing techniques, distractions (such as that soothing music), and even walking around as ways to power through the pain of contractions. It certainly is the right choice for some women. But not everyone has the same tolerance for pain. And there are unpredictable situations.
Some women have to have induced contractions, which can be more painful than natural ones. Others might experience cluster contractions, in which there is little to no break between pain and is a signal of what could be a long labor. These women can be helped by the epidural, say medical professionals.
Certainly, the science speaks to both sides of this coin, according to Slate. But in the end, it’s up to women to weigh what they know about epidurals and natural childbirth and make a decision that works for them and their baby.
5 Expectant Women Go Psycho
Comedian Jenny McCarthy wrote a humorous book, Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth about Pregnancy (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 10th anniversary edition 2014), in which she writes that women “turn psycho” during pregnancy. Her hilarious description of an argument she had with her then-husband is her proof of this “fact.”
Clearly, McCarthy was using hyperbole to get some laughs and make a point about the mood swings all women experience. But many a joke has been made about the psychotic pregnant woman, and this does a disservice to both pregnant women and psychopaths, who need help.
Yes, women may have what appear to be violent mood swings.And they might even lash out at their loved ones, especially their spouse, when pregnant. It’s the hormones talking, at least some of the time. But psychosis, which is what psychotic people have, is defined as an impaired relationship with reality. It can include hallucinations and delusions.
While pregnancy does not usually bring out such symptoms, postpartum psychosis does exist. It is severe and rare, and it usually happens to women who are already bipolar or have had a history of postpartum psychosis, according to WebMD.
These women are often a danger to themselves and their newborns, so people should recognize the symptoms, which include feeling removed from one’s surroundings and child, disturbed sleep, confused and disorganized thinking, bizarre behavior, extreme agitation, and references to hearing or seeing things that are not there.
Most of us, however, might just lose our temper once in awhile, which is not at all the same thing.
4 Eat Crackers And Ginger Ale Cure Morning Sickness
The problem with this advice isn’t so much that it’s wrong or even bad. In fact, eating a dry cracker and sipping on anything with ginger in it can ease nausea and upset stomachs, which are common in pregnant women. What gets moms upset is the use of the phrase “morning sickness.”
The fact is that morning sickness isn’t limited to the morning. It’s not even always limited to the first trimester. Some women experience the nausea and vomiting at all different times of day. Some experience it throughout the nine months of pregnancy.
For many of them, the thought of putting something in their mouth – even a dry cracker – when they are feeling sick seems like a complete misunderstanding of what’s happening. Like all the other tips, moms have to listen to their own bodies, talk to their trusted doctors, and make decisions on what to do for themselves.
3 Bust Out Those Designer Clothes
Most women are thrilled that the days of hiding growing bellies and wearing ugly maternity clothes (hello muumuu) are behind them. Nowadays, plenty of high-end designers are offering lines for pregnant women. An entire book, Bump It Up: Transform Your Pregnancy into the Ultimate Style Statement (Ballantine Books, 2010), is devoted to being a fashionista replete with pregnant belly.
It's a wonderful sentiment. Pregnant women who've got it can flaunt it. The problem with this advice is that many women can't afford all these designer brands, especially when preparing their bank accounts for the jolt of bringing a child into the world. It doesn't make much financial sense for most women to invest heavily in maternity clothes because they can only use them for a little under nine months.
Besides the practical reason, many pregnant women don't feel much like dressing up. Sweats and a T-shirt are far more comfortable, and that's okay. Women who feel dressed up when they throw on those jeans with the belly band and a blouse should not feel like a lesser person because they didn't buy Fancy McSnooty's latest maternity dress in magenta.
2 Classical Music Creates Smarter Children
This advice has been around for at least the last few decades. Many people don’t look twice when a mom is on the bus and has headphones wrapped around her pregnant belly. Many women read books out loud to their fetus. Of course, just about every mother talks to her belly in the hopes that junior can pick up the sound of her voice and start to build those communication skills from the start – err, before the start really.
There actually is some scientific proof supporting these efforts, according to Parenting. Certainly, babies begin to recognize mom’s voice, and so the bonding begins. But some people read these books suggesting music and reading and all the rest, and they take things really far. A fetus doesn’t have to take a foreign language class, nor should mom be losing sleep about finding the time to read Pride & Prejudice to her little one.
1 These Books Instil Fear
Book authors want to engage readers before they are pregnant to boost sales but also, presumably, to inform women about getting pregnant and the ways in which they can increase the odds of a healthy pregnancy. That’s fair and reasonable. But these books can also scare those who are thinking about getting pregnant.
Frank discussions about miscarriage, birth defects, and exactly how a woman’s body changes during pregnancy, are important. No one should go into this blind. But there is a fine line between offering information and instilling fear. The last thing women should do is read up on rare complications or experiences that probably won’t apply to them anyway.
So, readers must take everything with a grain of salt as they say. Women should recognize that authors are forced to make sweeping generalizations or point out the more unusual happenings to reach a wide audience and sell books. If something does come up in a book that freaks out mom, she should talk to a doctor or professional, who can help her sort out whether this applies to her.