Hello and welcome to pregnancy! These next 40 (or so) weeks of your life will be full of new, confusing, and beautiful transformation. And this guide is here to help.
By scrolling down, you can skip to any of these topics:
Overview of pregnancy
Due dates are really guess dates
Things to consider during pregnancy
Preparing your mind and body for birth
Birth plan / birth preferences
Top 10 books to read during pregnancy
OVERVIEW OF PREGNANCY
First Trimester (0-13 weeks)
The first trimester is often the hardest, but not for everybody. Many people during this time experience sensitive emotions, nausea, fatigue, full and tender breasts, bloating, constipation. Some don’t feel anything and find themselves wondering if this pregnancy is actually real. This is all normal! Though you can’t feel it yet, your little one is dancing around in there. In these first weeks, the placenta is beginning to form and implant in the uterine wall. The baby transitions from being nourished by a yolk sack to having a direct line to your bloodstream through the placenta. This amazing organ filters toxins, removes waste, and allows all your nutrients to be passed on to your baby. Because your baby is now your body’s top priority, it’s important to make sure you’re getting extra water, vitamins, minerals, iron, and protein. If you’re going to take a prenatal vitamin, make sure it’s made from whole organic foods like MyKind Organics. Head over to the post about the first trimester if you want some tips about making this time easier.
Second Trimester (14-27 weeks)
The second trimester is when most of us who suffered from the rollercoaster of nausea finally get some relief. Now that you can probably eat a wider variety of foods without feeling sick, it’s a great time to focus on healthy eating. (Head to the bottom of this page to subscribe and download a free 7-day meal plan!) Your little one now has hair, nails, and can even suck her thumb. Her skin is protected in a white coating called Vernix. Your uterus has expanded with your growing baby and you’ll probably see a bump appearing some time during these weeks. Some people develop a dark line from the belly button down to the pubic bone. This is called the Linea Negra. It’s normal and disappears a little while after after birth. You may also begin to experience a tightening of the belly every so often as your body is practicing for labor. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions. Your uterus actually does this throughout your whole pregnancy but we can’t always feel it.
Third Trimester (28-40 weeks)
The third trimester is when it gets real! It’s common to feel like you couldn’t possibly get any bigger, and then you do. And the reality sets in that somehow this being is going to come out of your body soon. But what a wonderful time it is! You can probably feel your baby responding to your voice and movements now. It’s a great time to sing and read stories. If you have a favorite book or song, repeat it every day and your little one will remember and find it soothing once they’re out of your belly. If you haven’t already, this is a great time to visit a chiropractor every 1-2 weeks. Chiropractic adjustments are super helpful for aligning the pelvis and creating space for your baby’s optimal position for birth. And if you’re having any pain or discomfort, adjustments help relieve that too! Toward the end of these 40 weeks (or 41, 42, or even 43 weeks), your body will naturally begin the birth process. If you’re curious about signs you could be going into labor, subscribe at the bottom of this page to get an update when that post is available!
DUE DATES ARE REALLY GUESS DATES
At your first visit with your care provider, they will probably “date your pregnancy” by using a transvaginal ultrasound (inserted into your vagina) to measure the size of the baby. You can always decline ultrasounds. Another common method to estimate the due date is by counting from the first day of your last menstrual cycle. If you were using fertility awareness method or taking ovulation tests while trying to get pregnant, you may know the day you ovulated and have a pretty good estimate of conception.
Here’s the thing about due dates…
They are always a guess! Some babies need to come out earlier and some need to come out later. For a healthy mom and baby, the birth process will begin on its own naturally without any interference. In fact, statistically, the majority of first time mothers will go into labor around 41 weeks. Many doctors like to induce at 39 or 40 weeks, so this is something to talk about in your prenatal appointments. When labor is induced, there are risks that come with it. So do your research! When your body goes into labor naturally and you feel safe and secure, your hormones will be working in a perfect harmony to birth effectively.
Check out these posts: 5 Ways to Avoid Induction & Birth Interventions & Natural Alternatives
Check out this podcast: Nature's Hormonal Blueprint for Labor
Check out this podcast: The Problem with Due Dates
THINGS TO CONSIDER
There are a common set of routines in maternal care during pregnancy, and they differ depending on your care provider. The most important thing for you to know is that you always have a choice. You can request or decline any of these routines and I urge you to discuss each one with your care provider as well as doing your own research. (A great resource is Evidence Based Birth.)
Here are some common routines to consider:
(Visit the post about choices in pregnancy to learn more about each one.)
There are two types of care providers for pregnancy and birth: obstetrician and midwife. Both of these professions focus on healthy births and babies but they approach it in different ways. This means each one offers a different type of care, and it’s important that you choose a provider whom you feel most safe and supported with.
Obstetricians are trained surgical specialists. In the United States, most (about 89%) of births are attended by obstetricians. Their expertise is in medicalized birth and active management of labor. Obstetricians attend all types of birth but specialize in cesarean sections and assisted vaginal births with forceps or vacuum extraction. They care for both high-risk and low-risk clients. In standard obstetric care, prenatal appointments usually last about 20 minutes because they are seeing many clients. Some obstetricians have never seen a natural birth in medical school. They’re view of birth tends to be more clinical and medically focused.
Check out this podcast: Asking More of Your OB
Check out this podcast: Pregnancy is NOT a Disease that Needs to be Treated Medically
Midwives work both in hospitals, birth centers, and homes. Midwives scope of practice is in normal, physiologic birth so they are typically caring for low-risk clients. The foundation of the midwifery model of care is that birth is not inherently dangerous. Healthy women have evolved to be able to give birth over many generations. Most of what happens in birth can occur without major medical interventions. In most high-resource countries most people would be receiving midwifery care, and research shows this reduces the need for interventions in birth. Midwives focus on supporting your psycho-social, spiritual, community, cultural, and mind-body connection in pregnancy and birth. Midwifery care is highly individualized, centered on the needs of each family. Prenatal appointments are generally longer (about an hour), covering a large range of topics like nutrition, self-care, exercise, mental and psychological preparation for birth.
Check out this podcast: All About Midwives
What about Doulas?
Doulas offer physical, emotional, and informational support throughout your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Unlike obstetricians and midwives, a doula is not a medical professional. Doulas are not there to choose your path. Instead, they are a reassuring presence to help you navigate your course. They make sure you are feeling cared for, confident, and have the information you need. Typically, you’ll have a few prenatal meetings to get to know each other, form a birth plan (or birth preferences), practice labor positions, answer any questions or concerns you have, and provide local resources. Doulas can attend births at home, birth center, or the hospital. Studies show that having a doula reduces your likelihood of needing medical interventions.
Check out this podcast: Birth Doulas
You’ve got options! In the last 100 years, it has become most common to give birth in a hospital. There is, however, a growing rate of births occurring in birth centers and at home. Of course there are things to consider like insurance coverage and your state of health, but the most important factor when choosing your birth setting is feeling safe and secure.
Hospitals have the most resources for dealing with emergencies, but they also have the highest rate of interventions. Most hospitals encourage birthing people to labor at home as long as safely possible before coming in. It takes about an hour to get into a labor and delivery room.
Here's how it typically goes when arriving at the hospital:
You’ll be asked to put on a hospital gown and get into bed. (You can always bring your own clothes.)
Two belts will be wrapped around your belly to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and your contractions.
The nurse will ask a bunch of questions to get your health history. (The birthing companion can be prepared to answer these questions.)
They will want to do a vaginal exam to measure how many centimeters dilated your cervix is. (Generally birthing people are not admitted until 5-6 centimeter dilated.)
A nurse will want to start and IV or heplock and might want to draw blood. (You can decline these procedures.)
An anesthesiologist will visit to have you sign consent forms in case of emergencies.
You may be offered medication for pain relief or to induce contractions.
You can labor in bed, around the room, in the shower or bath, sometimes around the hospital.
When it’s time to push (10 centimeters dilated), you’ll be asked to be on your back with legs supported.
Your nurse and OB or midwife will coach you through pushing.
After the birth, you should be able to have your baby skin-to-skin on your chest and may be offered breastfeeding support.
There are routine tests for the baby as well as an antibiotic eye ointment, vitamin k shot, and HepB vaccine. You can decline any of these. (Do your research ahead of time and put all of your preferences in your birth plan.)
Some great hospital birth resources are:
Podcast: How to Have an Amazing Hospital Birth
Blog post: How to Have an Amazing Hospital Birth
Up until the 20th century, we’ve been giving birth at home. Culturally, birth was always considered a natural and normal event. In birth, we need our hormones to flow freely, so it makes to do it in a place where we feel most relaxed. Homebirth is actually safer than you’d think! (Check out this post: Skeptics Guide to Home Birth) And one of the benefits is that you can birth in water if you want to! With a home birth midwife, you’ll have the same amount of prenatal appointments as you would in a hospital, but they will either be in your home or the midwife’s office. Midwives have all the medical supplies necessary to take your blood pressure, listen to baby’s heartbeat, and handle emergencies. (Only 11% of home births need to transfer to a hospital, and only a small fraction of that percentage is emergency.)
Here's how it typically goes when having a homebirth:
When labor starts, your midwife might come to check on you. She might wait to come until things are progressing.
When she arrives, she will maintain a calm presence and respect your birth space.
An assisting midwife will arrive at some point so you and the baby each have a medical support person. There will be very little, if any, interference with your labor. You can have cervix checks if you want to.
Your midwife will check the baby's heartbeat at least every 15 minutes.
Your body will lead the way. You will be able to move around freely, eat, and drink as you please.
When your body has the urge to push, you will be calmly supported to let your body guide you.
After the birth, you and your baby will be able to cozy up into bed.
The umbilical cord will not be cut until it stops pulsing, or you can choose to leave it attached until it falls off on its own. (This is called a lotus birth.)
Often, the midwives will cook you a meal and clean up the birth space.
You will have gentle breastfeeding support before they leave.
You can have the same baby routines you’d have in the hospital, but you and your midwife will have discussed your preferences earlier in pregnancy.
If a transfer to the hospital is needed at any point, your midwife will assist you every step of the way.
Here you can read or listen to my homebirth experience:
Post: The Homebirth of Nadir Aviv
Podcast: Roaring Baby Out Instead of Pushing
There are two types of birth centers: free-standing or independent birth centers and inside or on hospital grounds. A free-standing birth center will be a little more like homebirth, as they can make their own policies. A hospital birth center will have more similarities to hospital care and follow hospital policies. Both types of birth centers are safe and generally have warm, welcoming atmospheres. It can be a good middle ground between a hospital and homebirth. Take the time to visit a few birth centers near you and get a sense if any of them feel good to you.
PREPARING YOUR BODY & MIND FOR BIRTH
Nutrition & Hydration
Up your water intake to 2.5-3 liters per day. Good quality water (spring or filtered) is best. Up your protein (75-100 grams per day) by eating things like nuts and nut butters, seeds, fruits, veggies, lean meat, tofu, eggs, safe fish. Buy organic produce whenever possible and eat the rainbow, especially orange and red foods like beets and sweet potatoes. Enjoy dark leafy greens, root vegetables, fruits of all kinds. Subscribe to get a free 7-day meal plan with shopping list by subscribing at the bottom of this page.
Movement & Alignment
Creating space for your baby’s optimal position for birth and strengthening your birthing muscles are so beneficial. Do a variety of exercise including walking, hiking, swimming, and yoga. (There’s a fantastic 30-min prenatal yoga routine at spinningbabies.com) I also recommend having regular chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture treatments if you have those resources available to you. Practice is key. A good way to create a practice movement for labor as well as gaining knowledge and community is to join a childbirth class, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
Check out this podcast: Baby's Position and Labor Flow
Check out this quick animated video showing how a baby is born: Normal Vaginal Childbirth
There are two incredible facts about how the brain works that can have a huge impact on the way we birth:
Our minds can only hold one thought at a time.
Every thought and emotion has a corresponding physical response in the body.
This is great news! Here’s why…
We have the power to create our birth experience as it’s unfolding. And this is why affirmations are such a great tool. With repetition of positive affirmations and trust in the birth process, tension leaves the body and we open up to breathe our babies down.
There are 6 “P’s” to consider when framing affirmations. They should always be…
Personal - resonate with you
Positive - think about what you want instead of what you don’t want
Precise - specific!
Plausible - this could actually happen
Present tense - avoid the words “will or going to” - it’s happening now
Practiced - repeat, repeat, repeat!
You can learn more about this in the book, HypnoBirthing The Mongan Method, or come to a HypnoBirthing class! Check out Instagram @intuitive.birth for some inspiring affirmations.
Taking a childbirth class with your birth companion (if you have one) is one of the best things you can do to prepare. Some people really do trust the birth process or trust the medical system to take care of them and don’t see any point in taking a class. Let me tell you, you’ll wish you did!
Here are a few benefits of childbirth classes:
Understanding the physiology of birth demystifies it and reduces fear.
You’ll get to practice breathing and relaxation techniques as well as labor positions.
Your birth companion will learn some tools for supporting you.
You’ll probably get an introduction to breastfeeding, which will set you up for success.
You will feel more bonded with your baby and your partner.
You will have a community of other parents going through the same thing!
Out-of-Hospital Childbirth Classes
Find an out-of-hospital childbirth class in your community. These will be taught by either a midwife, doula, or certified childbirth educator. An independent childbirth class will be holistic, focusing on the mind body connection and empowering you in your birth experience. If you want to take it a step further and dive into the perspective that birth can actually be calm and comfortable, look into taking a Mongan Method HypnoBirthing® class.
If you’re located in the SF Bay Area, come learn HypnoBirthing with me!
In-Hospital Childbirth Classes
Most hospitals offer a childbirth class to prepare parents for their upcoming birth. Now, I myself have not attended a hospital childbirth class, but I’ve been told by other birth professionals and parents that these classes are more about teaching you how to be a “good patient”. You’ll learn a bit about the birth process from a medical standpoint, where intervention is a common practice. Labor is likely to be spoken about in a very structured and linear way. This can be deceiving because labor and birth in its natural state occur as a flow, meaning it will evolve in its own way in its own time.
BIRTH PLAN / BIRTH PREFERENCES
Why we use the word “preferences” is because birth doesn’t always go according to plan. Actually, I would argue that birth rarely ever goes the way you expect. For some that could be a pleasant surprise and others disappointing.
Here's why it's important to create a birth plan:
Getting educated so you can make informed choices.
Having your birth support people be on the same team.
Being able to accept and trust however your birth unfolds.
For a sample birth plan, I highly recommend the one in the book, HypnoBirthing The Mongan Method.
If you need some help understanding a choosing your preferences, Evidence Based Birth has some great handouts.
It is very common to spend so much time preparing for birth that we forget all about postpartum. The days and weeks (or even months) after birth will be a whole new world. Your body will be transitioning from carrying a baby for 9 months, shedding all your pregnancy hormones, beginning to produce lactation hormones to nourish your baby from your breasts, and healing all at the same time. You and your partner will suddenly be in your new roles as parents and discovering what that means for you and your relationship. People may want to visit. Chores will need to get done. It can be a super overwhelming time. Do yourself a huge favor and set yourself up for a smooth, comforting, and gentle postpartum. I created a Postpartum Wellness Toolkit specifically to prepare you for this time. Check it out and learn more! If you’re curious about what your body is going through in the weeks after birth, check out this post about the Postpartum Period.
TOP 10 BOOKS TO READ DURING PREGNANCY
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
HypnoBirthing The Mongan Method
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
Gentle Birth Choices
Birthing from Within
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
The Vaccine-Friendly Plan
The Birth Partner (for your birth companion)
FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUPS
A group that I found so supportive and encouraging throughout my pregnancy and continuing on after birth is the Natural Birth Support Group.
You can also find support and community in our Intuitive Birth & Motherhood Group.
Thank you for reading this guide and I hope you have found it helpful. Please comment below or send me a personal message to let me know what you think.
I will leave you with this…
Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives - Trailer