Between choosing a doctor, scheduling prenatal appointments and shopping for gear, there’s a ton to do before you give birth. Although your list might seem endless, experts agree there are some things you should make certain to do because they will make your pregnancy and your baby’s birth a happy and sane experience.
It can seem that with each new trimester, new worries surface about your pregnancy and the future and often keep you up at night. In fact, 76 percent of pregnant women reported poor sleep quality while 38 percent said they didn’t get enough sleep, a study in the journal Sleep Medicine found.
Fifty percent of sleep difficulties are likely due to physical discomfort and the other half are due to what Alice Domar, Ph.D. calls the “midnight amp.”
“You fall asleep because you’re exhausted and then you wake up and all the stuff that is making you anxious is magnified at night,” Domar, the executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Boston, Mass. and author of, “Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom: Tools for Reducing Stress, Anxiety, and Mood Swings During Your Pregnancy,” said.
One of the best ways to deal with worry are mini relaxations: deep, diaphragmatic breathing combined with visualization of something that brings you happiness.
“No matter where you, no matter what the situation, you can do a ‘mini’ and it will calm you down,” Domar said.
2. Take a childbirth class.
Between The Bradley Method, Hynobirthing, Lamaze, and the Alexander Technique, the options for childbirth classes are endless. Although which one you choose is a personal preference, it’s a good idea to take some sort of a childbirth class so you’ll understand what to expect during labor and what to do if something doesn’t go according to plan.
3. Write a flexible birth plan.
Although your provider will encourage you to write a birth plan, realize that you also need to be flexible because birth is unpredictable, said Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a board-certified OB/GYN in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. and assistant clinical professor at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
4. Think about postpartum depression.
If you have a history of depression or anxiety or a previous episode of postpartum depression or anxiety, you are at an increased risk. Although you can’t prevent it, it’s a good idea to know what the symptoms are and have a plan in place to help you through it. You might want to have the name of a therapist as well as a plan for how you will fit in stress reduction techniques and where you can turn for support.
“Having a safe place to express [these feelings] is one of the best ways to prepare yourself as a new mom,” said Dr. Deena Blanchard, a board-certified pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics in New York City.
5. Choose a pediatrician.
It’s a good idea to choose a pediatrician before you give birth and set up a short meeting with the provider to make sure she and the practice are a good fit for your family. Be sure to ask about their hours, how after-hours calls are handled and their philosophy on issues such as vaccines, antibiotics and sleep. You want to have a rapport with the pediatrician and feel that she listens to you, cares about your concerns and won’t rush you.
6. Make a choice about circumcision.
The decision to circumcise is a personal one and if you’re on the fence about it, do your research beforehand. Although circumcision rates are on the decline, the benefits outweigh the risks, according to a study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. If you do decide to circumcise your son, it’s a good idea to do it while you’re in the hospital because the procedure is more complicated later on, Blanchard said.
7. Get help with breastfeeding.
Although more than 81 percent of babies start out breastfeeding, over half continue until six months and almost 1/3 do until a year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although breastfeeding is natural, it’s not always easy.
“My number one tip would be:Have realistic expectations as best you can for something you’ve never done before,” Blanchard said.
Before you go into labor, take a breastfeeding class or find a lactation consultant who can help you after you give birth. Also, try to have a plan in place for when you’ll return to work and how your spouse will help, since studies show women who have support from their partners breastfeed longer.
If you encounter challenges, remember that no matter what you choose, any amount of breast milk that your baby gets is beneficial.
“You don’t have to be exclusively putting your child to the breast to be a breastfeeding mother,” Blanchard said.
8. Buy and install the car seat.
Don’t worry too much about the car seat you buy because any car seat that’s sold in the U.S. has to meet a crash standard, said Kate Carr, CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide in Washington, D.C.
You do want your baby to be in a rear-facing car seat until age 2, however. There are rear-facing-only car seats, convertible car seats and 3-in-1 car seats that can be used rear and forward facing and later as a booster.
Installing the car seat can be complicated. In fact, 59 percent of car seats are not installed correctly, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“If you can move it more than an inch, it’s not installed correctly,” Carr said.
Read the directions, call the manufacturer’s help line or find a car seat technician at safekids.org who can make sure the car seat has been installed correctly.
9. Get ready.
You want to make sure that you have everything squared away ahead of time, especially if you go into labor early. Cook and freeze some meals, pack your bag of essentials and pre-register at the hospital.
10. Gather your village.
Whether you’re excited to become a mother or nervous about what it will be like, it’s a good idea to have a support system in place before you give birth.
Be realistic about who is likely to help you and how much time they can give. If you don’t have family or friends nearby who can help, consider hiring a baby nurse, a postpartum doula or joining a new mom’s group to combat isolation and get support.
11. Don’t eat a big meal.
Think your labor will start soon?
“This is not the time to sit down to a big Italian dinner,” Dweck said.
Since you could vomit while in labor, it’s a good idea to have small snacks instead and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. What’s more, some hospitals may not allow you to eat once you’re there so it’s a good idea to give your body the energy it needs for labor while you can.
12. Take a babymoon.
It’s natural to focus your entire pregnancy on your health and your baby’s health but you also need to focus on the health of your relationship with your partner.
Before your baby arrives, consider going on an overnight trip or a short getaway.
“Taking a babymoon is a chance to be with each other and to talk about your relationship and work on communication strategies because having a baby is one of the biggest stressors to hit a relationship,” Domar said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.