Is my baby going to be OK? Worrying during pregnancy

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I think I drove my obstetrician crazy. Since my psychology practice focuses on women’s health, I see pregnant women frequently. And I don’t tend to see women who have effortless calm pregnancies. I see women who experienced infertility, or had a miscarriage, who had a difficult previous pregnancy or a high risk current pregnancy. So every time I saw a new patient with some pregnancy issue, I became convinced that I too would have that issue; I suffered from what is called medical student disease. You hear of some disease that someone else has and suddenly you develop those exact symptoms. And my poor suffering obstetrician would sigh, ask me how I had heard of the obscure pregnancy complication of the week, and reassure me that my baby and I were indeed fine.

With the prevalence of social media and the constant availability of the internet, one can not only hear about every symptom in the book, but can look them up within minutes. However, there are a number of problems with that. First of all, most pregnancies are accompanied by lots of symptoms, the vast majority of which do not signify anything scary. In addition, there are lots of web sites which do not contain accurate information. There are estimates that more than half the medical information available online is not correct. Finally, your health care team knows far more about you and your pregnancy than do so-called internet experts.

This is not to say that some women do experience pregnancy complications. It does happen. But the odds are very much in your favor that you are going to have a normal pregnancy and healthy baby. Unless your obstetrician/midwife has told you that you have cause for concern, you need to hear about/read about other women’s difficult pregnancies, have empathy for their situation, but not assume that you are going to have the same challenge.

Get the right info

And what do you do if in fact there is a concern? Get your information from your obstetrician/midwife and any websites they recommend, not random sites on the internet. Ask to see a high risk obstetrician (often called an expert in maternal fetal medicine, or MFM). If you aren’t already being seen at an academic medical center, you can ask for a referral. Take really good care of yourself and be cautious about who you tell. If you are upset, obviously you are going to want to get support from family and friends. But be aware that pretty much every person you tell is going to dash to their computer, look up whatever the issue might be, and then may well call or email you with scary information. So you need to be explicit in how you communicate with people. You might well simply say that your medical team has some concern, is doing some testing, and you will let people know as you know more. You may need to set boundaries, and inform your loved ones that you trust your doctor and don’t want to hear information that they might discover.

This is also a good time to practice some relaxation techniques. There are many free apps these days, such as Insight Timer, which provide a huge choice of guided relaxation exercises. Each time you begin to feel anxious, a sense of calm is only a click away.

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