Many of my pregnant patients ask me the same question the first time they come to see me: How is one supposed to feel while pregnant? Each time I have to force myself not to laugh, not because it is a funny question but because there is no logical answer. The fact is, the way you feel today has absolutely no predictive value as to how you might feel tomorrow. And if you want to get really specific, the way you felt this morning may or may not be similar to how you might feel later in the afternoon. Although the one definitive thing I can tell you is that the term morning sickness must have been coined by a man, because I can’t think of anyone who has reported that their nausea and/or vomiting is only experienced in the morning. Maybe it is worse first thing, but symptoms don’t tend to go away as soon as the clock strikes noon.
This might be one of the most challenging things about pregnancy. There are no rules about physical and psychological symptoms. Some women feel marvelous physically, never a moment of nausea or heartburn, but are wracked by mood swings. Others feel less depressed or anxious than they have in years, but can’t sleep due to leg cramps. If your mother had nausea during her pregnancies, it might mean you will as well. Or you won’t.
My advice is to stop looking for what others have experienced during their pregnancies, and instead focus on how you are feeling. If you have any symptoms which bother you, whether they are physical or emotional, tackle each one.
Track what might make you feel worse (the smell of coffee, cooking meat, seafood) and do whatever you can to avoid those triggers. I remember once leaving a restaurant with a napkin plastered over my nose after a nearby diner ordered a seafood medley. Maybe more importantly, imagine what actually appeals to you. Examples include tart, citrusy, salty, or minty flavors. Seek out things which appeal at the moment. I have one patient who survived on orange soda and potato chips because those are the two things which sounded attractive. My older daughter is made up of Dunkin Donut chocolate chip muffins; it was the only thing which appealed to me for months. And she is 5”8’. And a soccer goalie.
This is a surprising one since most pregnant women experience constant fatigue, especially early and later in their pregnancy. However, my colleague Jodi Mindell recently completed a study and found that most pregnant women experience disturbed sleep throughout their nine months. If you fall into this category, try to figure out why your sleep isn’t good. Do you have to get up to pee all night? Maybe try to drink more during the day and less later in the evening. Do you lie awake and worry? Then try to learn some relaxation techniques to use to help get back to sleep. Do you have back or leg pain? Experiment with different positions, creative use of supportive pillows, and mandate nightly back massages from your partner.
Many of my patients find their volatile emotions a bit hard to handle, and their partners are bewildered much of the time. Tearfulness, irritability, overwhelming love and affection, distaste, or clinginess can all be experienced within minutes of each other. It could be a sign of hormones and there isn’t much you can do about that, or it could be a sign that you are tired or upset with something. Check in with yourself to see if you can determine what is bothering you. Small things can sometimes set you off balance more than the big ones, the so-called daily hassles of life. Make a list when you are in a good place of things which you know you can do to help yourself feel better; take a walk, watch birds at a bird feeder, watch your favorite chick flick, eat a really good piece of chocolate, etc.
The key here is that pregnancy can make you feel so out of control of so many things that you might forget that you have more control over some things than you realize. Identify what is bugging you, focus on finding a solution, and take action.
— Alice D. Domar Ph.D is the author of the new book, “Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom” (Tarcher, August 30, 2016).