Top Pregnancy Fears: When to Worry and When to Let Go
Pregnancy brings on a roller-coaster of intense emotions: sheer joy, mostly—but also sheer worry: There’s the stress of planning, the crazy body changes, the endless list of dos and dont’s—and, oh yeah, the fact that you’re growing a tiny human inside of you. “Being pregnant is obviously a high-stakes endeavor, and it’s pretty typical to be worried that something could go wrong,” says Emily Cohen-Moreira, a certified cooperative childbirth educator and doula in New York City. But while some fears may be warranted, others are not. Here’s what real moms, including our favorite bloggers, freak out over the most—and expert advice on how to put these “what ifs” into perspective.
“I was always afraid I was going to somehow roll onto my stomach while I was sleeping and crush the baby! It makes me laugh now. It was almost impossible for me to move—I was so big, so the idea of rolling onto my stomach while I slept is pretty hilarious.” — Heather of The Spohrs Are Multiplying
Reality check: We hear this one a lot! If you’re used to sleeping on your belly, it’s understandable you’d worry about rolling back to that position in the middle of the night. But the truth is, you can relax—your body naturally protects your growing baby. In the early stages of pregnancy, it’s actually safe to sleep on your stomach, says Ashley Roman, MD, an ob-gyn and maternal fetal medicine specialist at NYU Langone in New York City. Once your belly (and baby!) starts to grow, it won’t be comfortable, or even possible, to lie for long periods on your stomach anyway—so chances are, you’ll change positions in your sleep long before you could do any harm to baby.
“I was constantly reading pregnancy books and checking labels to make sure I wasn’t eating natural cheese or nitrates or consuming too much caffeine. I lived much of the pregnancy in fear, and I attribute that to over-researching everything.” – Shannon
Reality check: With all the “eat this, not that” advice you get during pregnancy, it’s easy to over-obsess about every little thing on your plate. “Obviously it’s important to follow the guidelines on what to eat and drink during pregnancy, but also remember those lists are made out of an abundance of caution,” says Cohen-Moreira. “Women can get overly invested in making sure they’re doing everything perfectly, when it’s really unlikely that a mistake would result in anything harmful for the baby.”
Most warnings came about to help ward off food poisoning, which can cause serious complications during pregnancy. One of the biggest fears is listeriosis, a bacterial infection you can get from eating contaminated cold cuts and hot dogs—but thankfully that type of infection is extremely rare these days, says Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, a registered nurse and founder of Evidence Based Birth, an informational site about pregnancy and birth. For example, according to Dekker, a pregnant woman would need to eat about five million servings of soft cheese before she’d get a case of listeria.
Of course, you should still avoid problematic foods, including alcohol, raw meat, raw seafood and unpasteurized milk and cheese. But if you inadvertently bite into a slice of unpasteurized brie in your salad, you’ll likely have nothing to worry about.
“My biggest fear was miscarriage. And it was a choking, constant fear—because at the end of the day, there was nothing I could do past eating healthy and resting to keep my baby safe and healthy. Every moment that I stayed pregnant, I felt like getting on my knees and kissing everyone in thanks.” — Beth Anne of The Heir to Blair
Reality check: It’s hard to handle the all-too-real fear of experiencing a loss. “Your concern is a natural part of being human and it’s okay to be worried,” says Fahimeh Sasan, MD, an ob-gyn and founder of Kindbody, which offers holistic fertility, gynecology and wellness care. “It’s not something you can control or prevent and if it happens to you, you are not alone.”
It’s also important to know the stats. According to Dekker, an estimated 1 in 10 clinically recognized pregnancies end in early loss, with about 80 percent happening during the first 12 weeks. By the second trimester, that risk drops to less than 1 percent, she says. So if you’ve made it past the 14-week mark, you can relax.
“What in the world would I do if I was driving, grocery shopping or eating at a restaurant and my water broke? How could I explain the wet seat or my wet pants? These concerns kept me home-bound.” – Erica of Sweet Leigh Mama
Reality check: Contrary to what you see in the movies, labor doesn’t usually begin this way. Fewer than 15 percent of women have their water break before labor contractions start. Even if it does happen, says Sasan, it’s not a sudden deluge, but “more a gentle trickle that keeps going.” Fortunately, she says, “if it does break in public, you will very likely be the only person to know it.”
“At first I thought I was being paranoid, but I actually did end up almost losing my twins around 21 weeks. I spent five months on bed rest before delivering healthy, albeit small, twin girls at almost 37 weeks.” – Jennifer
Reality check: Preterm labor affects about 1 in 10 pregnancies in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So the risk is real, and it’s higher if you smoke, suffer from an infection, are carrying multiples or experienced preterm birth in a previous pregnancy. Doctors often don’t know exactly why preterm labor happens, says Dekker—but they do know that preterm labor doesn’t always end in preterm birth. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 3 in 10 cases of preterm labor stop on their own and, if not, certain treatments can help prolong your pregnancy or prepare baby for delivery. Contact your doctor right away if you think you’re going into early labor.
“Every time I would laugh, sneeze, cough—or God forbid do any of the above while walking or moving around—my bladder would let me down. I wore very long shirts in case it ever soaked through.” – Erica of Sweet Leigh Mama
Reality check: We’re not going to lie here—leakage mishaps can and probably will happen. When you’re creeping into the later stages of pregnancy, sudden laughter, sneezing or coughing are basically sure-fire ways to bring on a surprise dribble. A simple solution? Go to the bathroom regularly, even every one to two hours, Sasan says. “If you keep your bladder empty, it becomes less likely that you’ll leak.” (And as far as post-birth bladder control goes, Kegels are your friend.)
“I worried that I wouldn’t be able to take care of a baby. I’d never even changed a diaper before my daughter was born!” – Suzanne
Reality check: While the newborn stage is hectic and exhausting, it probably won’t take you long to get the hang of things. “It’s definitely good to do some prenatal education in how to care for and handle a baby, but obviously you’ll learn most of it once he or she arrives,” says Cohen-Moreira. “All new parents will have lots of opportunities to practice.” Suzanne says it was a “comedy of errors” at first when she brought baby home, but she figured it all out pretty fast. So even if you’ve never laid eyes on a diaper and haven’t a clue about swaddling, don’t worry! It’s not rocket science—you’ll get there soon enough.
Updated February 2020
Emily Cohen-Moreira is a certified cooperative childbirth educator, doula and lactation consultant in New York City. She founded her prenatal education service, Lucy the Laborer, in 2010 to provide individualized education and support for expectant and new families. She provides education on childbirth, breastfeeding and newborn care, supports laboring women as a birth doula, assists in home births and provides postpartum lactation support.
Ashley Roman, MD, is a double board certified ob-gyn and maternal fetal medicine specialist at NYU Langone in New York City. She earned her medical degree from Tulane University in 1998.
Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, is a registered nurse and founder of Evidence Based Birth, whose mission is to raise the quality of childbirth care globally by putting accurate, evidence-based research into the hands of families and communities so they can make informed, empowered choices. Dekker is also the author of Babies Are Not Pizzas: They’re Born, Not Delivered!.