The Unexpected When You're Expecting
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
I know, I know this blog is meant to be about postnatal life but we have to do a little bit of groundwork before we get there. I don’t want to deep dive into pregnancy though because there is SO much out there already - books, videos, classes...you name it, it probably exists to “teach you” about pregnancy.
But here are just some unexpected things I learnt when I found I was expecting...
Working out how pregnant you are is more challenging than you would think. Pregnancies are dated from the first day of your last period. For example when I found out I was pregnant the test said I was 1-2 weeks pregnant which matched up with when we know (generally!) that we had conceived. However I was immediately ‘4-5 weeks’ pregnant according to how pregnancies are dated by the NHS in this country. I had no idea that this is how pregnancies were dated and it lead me to be very cagey with anyone who asked me my “due date” - because I just thought it was all kind of bulls**t really! A little side note that if you don’t have regular periods or can’t remember when your last one was you may be referred for an early dating scan to estimate how far along you are - have heard that people try this in the hopes of getting an extra scan but no guarantees. I had an early scan because of severe stomach pain that there was then concern about that the pregnancy was ectopic (when the pregnancy sadly begins to develop and grow in your fallopian tube and the pregnancy can’t be saved) but no it turned out I had severe IBS brought on by my new little friend growing! A couple of Peppermint tablets a day thankfully sorted that out.
Most people know that it’s recommended to take Folic Acid for the first trimester (first 12 weeks) however I found out when we started trying that it’s actually recommended to be taken for at least three months before you become pregnant so I started taking it as soon as we started trying (literally the week I came off the pill even though I knew we wouldn’t fall pregnant right away due to the pill needing to get out of my system!) If do you find out your pregnant and haven’t been taking it though don’t panic at all - as long as you start taking it as soon as you know you’re pregnant that’s great!
On the subject of pregnancy supplements there are lots out there that lots of people take - I personally didn’t take any apart from folic acid for the first 12 weeks and then I stopped. You only need to folic acid in the first trimester due to the physical development that takes place in the foetus during that period of time. Obviously if a medical professional tells you to take additional supplements do follow their advice and not mine...I'm simply a very tired lady on the internet sharing what she did!
Falling pregnant means food is a minefield of what you can and can’t have so I had this NHS webpage on my phone basically at all times to refer too. Everything from fish, to eggs, to meat and more has different recommendations or restrictions so just keep an eye on what you’re ordering if you go out to eat - I missed Carbonara the most (if it’s made properly a raw egg is mixed in and is only considered partially cooked!) However looking at the site now it's already different from a year ago when I was pregnant so that tells you how quickly recommendations can change. One thing that is the same though is avoiding supplements with Vitamin A in it. This also is for skincare products which was eye-opening for me, so my beloved Retinol got relegated to the back of the bedside table drawer for the best part of a year!
Morning sickness. Oh you evil misnamed thing. It’s doesn’t just happen in the morning and you don’t actually have to be throwing up to be experiencing it! I had nausea and dry heaving from weeks 5-13 of my pregnancy but only threw up once after coming home from our 12 week scan. I thought this meant I didn't have morning sickness because I wasn't actually being sick everyday but it turns out that's not the case. My dry heaving was so bad that I would spend hours in the bathroom because every time it started it felt like I was going to be sick and I would just be violently dry heaving and retching for periods of normally 10 minutes minimum at a time and this would happen, at the peak, around 20 times a day. When I went to see my usual osteopath after I’d passed the 12 week point (you can't have appointments like osteopath ones before then due to the increased risk of miscarriage in the first trimester) I had basically a whiplash injury from the amount of dry heaving I had been doing. So...that was fun!
Hormone changes - where do we begin with this one! There's no denying that most women experience some highs and lows hormonally from pregnancy until at least 3-4 months postpartum. I was genuinely surprised that I wasn’t too bad though early on in pregnancy. I had some rage (directed only at my poor husband for no reason at all) and I did bawl at a dinosaur dying in the most recent Jurassic World film but other than that I wasn’t too all over the place! Postnatal hormones were a different story for me that I’ll come on to later!
Physical changes...a lot will change beyond a bump growing. Your nipples may get bigger and darker to help your baby when it comes to feeding - this is because it is literally creating a more obvious target for them as they can't see much when they're newborns. A dark line may appear down your bump and might not disappear fully after. I just checked my stomach for the first time in a long time and mine has now gone at 8 months postpartum. My forearm hair bizarrely grew at a ridiculous rate! I got really bad back acne. I retained water like mad to the point where at the end of my pregnancy you could poke my legs and the dent would stay there. Your feet may get bigger and not just through the swelling - some women’s feet actually grow bigger during pregnancy too. It’s mad times! It’s not all that pretty but when you feel your baby move inside you it’s all worth it (although it can also be bloody creepy too)
Do your Pelvic Floor Exercises. Seriously do them. For all the jokes about trampolines and sneezing postnatally do what you can now to try and help your future self. Even if you aren't pregnant you should be doing exercises everyday. A Female Health Physio told me "a strong core does not mean a strong floor" and apparently this is a huge misconception. You could be an Olympic athlete at the top of their game physically but still have a weak pelvic floor if you don't exercise it. So do it ladies. Now. Off you pop. Three times a day. Highly recommend the NHS Squeezy App. It's worth the £2.99.
Heartburn and exhaustion separately are not fun, together they're just plain awful. Towards the end of pregnancy I carried a large bottle of Gaviscon everywhere with me and basically swigged from it all day. Probably not recommend but it definitely felt needed. The heartburn will also love to flair up at night time too but by the end of pregnancy you probably won't be getting much sleep anyway. Between the heartburn, the kicks in either your ribs or your bladder, the frequent toilet trips and your husband snoring away beside you so loudly you want to smoother him with a pillow don't anticipate many restful nights. What also won't help will be people telling you to "get some sleep now as it'll be your last chance." True but ultimately not at all helpful and might make you want to also smoother them given the opportunity.
The first leaflet I read that the midwife gave me at my 12 week appointment was one about perenial tearing which in hindsight is not the first leaflet I should have reached for. I am going to do a whole seperate post on tearing and grazes because I know for me it was one of the things I was most worried about and, shock, it happened. Apparently around 80-90% of women who give birth vaginally have a tear and around one third of women in the UK have a tear that requires stitches. It's part of giving birth. Once you get your head around that fact it does make things a bit easier. It sounds terrifying but the reality really isn't. One thing you can do to help is perineal massage from when you are 34 weeks pregnant. I did it but can't tell you whether it really helped because my son came out like Superman with his arm next to his head so tearing was unfortunately unavoidable!
Colostrum collecting is another thing you will have no idea about until you are pregnant. Colostrum is often known as 'liquid gold'. It is thick and yellow in colour and it's the first form of milk you produce once you have a baby. You don't actually start producing breast milk until you're milk has come in on day 3. That is a hellish day and will also have it's own blog post dedicated to it! But prior to giving birth you can collect colostrum. This basically involves milking yourself. Another fun evening activity to master when you already feel like a whale in the last few weeks of your pregnancy. However it is something that's worth doing if you can because it sets you up in case any feeding challenges arise and means you have a store of this precious product saved and ready for your baby should you need it. It does feel very weird to do though and it takes time to master. My hospital had a free class you could attend on it (don't worry we didn't milk ourselves in the class!) where a feeding specialist talked through the whole process so if it's something you're considering see whether your hospital offers anything. I was so skeptical about the whole thing and started really late doing, I think I was in the last week of my pregnancy when I started, but it proved useful in the early days.
Talking of the end of pregnancy I did not know until I was pregnant that you are actually considered full term from 37-42 weeks pregnant in the UK but your due date is calculated to when you will be 40 weeks pregnant. However as I said before this is based off the first day of your last period before falling pregnant so a due date is an estimate. Don't hold too much to it. Only 5% of babies in the UK are born of their 'due date''. Alongside this you are considered to be, in the UK, overdue when you go past 40 weeks pregnant. However 'overdue' differs in different countries across the world so again don't worry about the due date or going 'overdue' too much at all. Most first pregnancies do go 'overdue' - I gave birth at 40+2 which means 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant, so I was only just 'overdue' but was already offered a sweep which I turned down.
A sweep is officially called a membrane sweep. This is when a midwife puts their fingers inside you to try and start your labour by separating the membranes between the baby and the cervix. This is routinely offered once you pass your due date but I declined one at my 40 week appointment. I had done some research myself and had found that there are limited studies on how effective it actually is even though it's routinely offered. So I decided to go with the mantra "My baby will come when my baby is ready" and he did. However, of course, if you want to accept one or more (you can have more than one) then do it! There's no harm in it and if it's right for you then it's right to have one.
The above mantra came to me from a hypnobirthing course we did - The Positive Birth Company Digital Pack which I cannot rate highly enough and I rave about to everyone and anyone. My husband also recommends it to everyone too and he was so skeptical about it at first. When I first fell pregnant I quickly became terrified of giving birth but doing this online course (as well as doing a Mumma's & Beans Antental Course and a Pregnancy Yoga course) all led me to feel super positive heading into labour which I really do credit with the fast, pain relief free labour I was able to have - I will be sharing my birth story in another blog post soon. My husband also found the courses incredible useful in understanding the science of giving birth. At first he was majorly put off by the term 'hypnobirthing' as to him it sounded "hippy dippy" but he was totally onboard, particularly after doing the Digital Pack and it made the world of difference for both of us.
Finally...take photos. I'm not even talking the posed photos. Take a mirror selfie of your beautiful bump in your big maternity pants and bra. You won't want to and you'll probably hate it at the time but I regret not taking more photos because I felt like a whale. Now I look back at the ones I do have and I'm in awe of what my body did and what it would go on to do. So take the photos, store them away and look at them at a much later date.
So that's just a few things from pregnancy. I could go on and on but like I said I'm just trying to get through these parts to get to the postnatal experience which is what I'm here to talk about. If there's something you think I've missed share your s**t in the comments! It's good to know you're not alone and that this is all totally normal so start those conversations now, you never know who you might be helping.