Finding out you are pregnant is one of the most exciting times of your life but can also be overwhelming. There are endless choices, and every decision seems critical when you are responsible for growing, birthing, and caring for a baby. Many decisions require additional inputs like information, research, or expert opinions. Even the most minor decisions can seem significant given the high stakes of growing, birthing, and raising a human. Getting caught up in constant decision-making is easy, ultimately leaving you mentally drained and overwhelmed. This article guides you to focusing on what matters most and avoiding overwhelm.
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Finding out you are pregnant is one of the most exciting times of your life, but it can also be overwhelming. If this is your first pregnancy, there are a lot of unknowns. The more you learn, the more you discover what you don’t know. When I first found evidence-based information for pregnancy, it was like opening Pandora’s box. As soon as you dive into the research on one subject, it raises questions on other topics. You can quickly get stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to learn about everything and stressing out over every decision, big or small.
It is estimated that an American adult makes 35,000 decisions a day. That may sound unrealistic, but everything you do involves a decision. When your alarm goes off in the morning, you must decide whether to hit the snooze button, what you will choose to wear, what you decide to eat for breakfast, and whether you will watch the news or check your email. Everything you do all day involves a decision. Some may seem on autopilot, but every decision takes mental resources.
Decision fatigue describes the impaired ability to make decisions and control behavior as a consequence of repeated acts of decision-making. The idea is that your ability to make decisions is a finite resource. The more decisions you have to make, the more it can exhaust you mentally and reduce your ability to make good decisions.
Many decisions you make during pregnancy require additional inputs like information, research, or expert opinions. Even small decisions can seem significant given the high stakes of growing, birthing, and raising a human. It is easy to get caught up in constant decision-making, ultimately leaving you mentally drained and overwhelmed.
Make Tasks Manageable
Pregnancy is a major transitional period in your life. Not only do you need to adapt to the physical and emotional aspects of carrying a baby. You must also navigate your prenatal care, plan your birth and prepare for a new baby. Thinking about doing everything at once is an easy way to get overwhelmed. You need to break down tasks into more manageable portions. Let’s break down everything pregnancy related into five smaller categories and discuss ways to focus your attention on what matters.
Answering Your Pregnancy Questions
As soon as you find out you are pregnant, you have a ton of questions, and you are likely questioning behaviors that were once on autopilot. To avoid mentally keeping track of your questions, keep a running list in a notebook or a note app on your phone. Some of these questions may automatically get answered while listening to a podcast episode; some may be questions to ask your doctor or midwife. Others may require some searching. You can focus on the relevant questions right now and hold off searching for answers you don’t need for months. Take advantage of face time with your care provider at your prenatal appointments to ask any questions.
Some key episodes of the Pregnancy Podcast may answer a lot of questions.
A search function on the pregnancy podcast website allows you to search all episodes and articles by keywords. If you have a question you are having trouble finding an answer to, shoot me an email, and I will do my best to point you in the right direction of information that can help you. Pregnancy Podcast Premium members have access to the entire back catalog of episodes on every pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum topic.
Choosing Your Doctor or Midwife
Choosing your care provider is your most important decision early on. Your doctor or midwife is one of the most significant influences on your prenatal care and birth. This is your expert resource for navigating pregnancy. Their knowledge and experience will enable them to answer your questions and help you make important choices about your prenatal care. You also need the support of your care provider to get the birth experience you want. It is critical that you feel comfortable with them and confident that they will support you.
Spending a little more time finding the right provider at the start of your pregnancy can prevent a lot of wasted time later if you are not getting the care you want or are having trouble getting answers to your questions. Remember that you hire this person to be on your team. If you are unhappy with your care provider, you can change to someone else. It will be easiest, and you will have the most options the earlier you are in your pregnancy. Most care providers have limitations on when they will take on a new patient. No matter how far along you are in your pregnancy, explore other options if you are unhappy with your doctor or midwife.
Navigating Policies and Standard Procedures
All care providers and birth venues have policies and procedures to guide their prenatal care and birth practices. It can be challenging to go against the grain on policies and procedures. The BRAIN acronym is a great tool to help you evaluate any intervention or procedure. BRAIN stands for:
What are the benefits?
What are the risks?
What are the alternatives?
What does your intuition say?
What happens if you do nothing?
This gives you an easy framework to apply to any aspect of your prenatal care, birth, or newborn.
Dialing in Your Birth Plan
A powerful tool for focusing on what is important to you for your birth is your birth plan. A birth plan is your plan of how you envision your birth and what happens directly following the birth of your baby. A birth plan is much more than a piece of paper you hand to your care provider. It is the process you go through to prepare for your desired birth experience. Creating your birth plan is an exercise that you will need to include your doctor or midwife on. It is not a list of demands. It is your plan for how you want to bring your baby into the world and the key preferences you want your doctor or midwife to support.
I highly recommend that you limit your birth plan to one page. This is the key to narrowing your focus on what matters. You will provide copies of your birth plan to support staff present during your labor. Nurses, doctors, and hospital staff are busy and have many other patients. No one wants to spend a long time sifting through several pages of requests. Not only will they miss some of the things you have listed. They may miss the items that are really important to you. You may be able to fill up five pages with things you want during your birth, but spreading your attention over that many things isn’t as effective as narrowing your focus to a shorter list.
There are many resources from the Pregnancy Podcast to assist you in creating and writing your birth plan. The Pregnancy Podcast has episodes that examine the evidence of every intervention during labor and birth that you can include in your birth plan. To browse by topic, check out the episode guide. Premium members have access to the entire back catalog of episodes ad-free.
If you want to see my birth plan, I am happy to send it to you. You can request a copy here. This is the birth plan I created for my first birth planned at a birth center. I will also send you the backup plan I wrote in the event of a hospital transfer.
The Your Birth Plan book walks you step-by-step to create a birth plan. There are short sections with evidence-based information to help you decide your preferences from starting labor until you are home with your baby. This book has you covered no matter what type of birth you are planning. There are sample plans from home birth to a planned cesarean and everything in between. Plus, the master template includes everything you could include, and it is quick and easy to customize to your preferences. Premium Members receive a free copy of the Your Birth Plan book. It is also available on Kindle as an instantly downloadable PDF.
Preparing For Your Newborn
It is easy to get wrapped up in pregnancy and birth, but you also have to prepare for your baby, which involves stocking up on a lot of products ahead of time. From diapers to pacifiers, there are many options, and it can be challenging to find the right products. If you have considerations about safety or environmentally friendly products, this can add another layer of complexity.
There are some great resources to narrow your search and limit the time and frustration of finding the right products. If you are concerned about ingredients in skin care products like bubble bath or diaper cream, the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website is a great resource. Even if you are not purchasing products on Amazon, product reviews can help compare brands or items. Consumer Reports is an excellent resource for evaluating everything from humidifiers to strollers and car seats. You can also ask friends who are parents for their recommendations. Once you find brands you know, like, and trust, you can stick to their lines of products rather than starting from scratch whenever you need to buy a new baby item.
If you are still overwhelmed, spend more time on the big purchases, like a mattress or a car seat, and less time on small, inexpensive things, like bottles or pacifiers. With access to quick shipping or a Target or Walmart nearby, you can pick up anything you need on short notice later. As long as you have diapers and a car seat to get your baby home after they are born, you will survive. The other things may be convenient and make things easier, but humans have survived for a very long time with organic cotton swaddles or fancy baby carriers.
Tips to Focus on What Matters
Even after breaking big projects into smaller tasks, it can be challenging to determine what you should be focusing on right now and what really matters. Here are some tips to guide you to focus on what matters most and avoid overwhelm.
Focus on What Is Relevant Now
Nine months is a lot of time, and it may feel like a short time to learn about everything about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting. You do not need to have all of the answers right now. If you just found out you are pregnant, you may want to focus on the things that apply to you right now. Find out what foods you should be cautious about during pregnancy, and don’t spend time learning about vaginal exams, which wouldn’t even happen until late in your third trimester. If you come across information you want to consume later on, flag it to revisit later when it will be relevant. Getting overwhelmed early on will burn you out and have you throwing up your hands and giving up later. Pace yourself and focus your attention on the things that are relevant right now.
If you are unsure what is relevant right now, the 40 Weeks podcast is the perfect guide. There is a short episode for each week of your pregnancy. In about six minutes, you can learn how your baby grows each week and what is happening in your body. Plus, get a heads up on what to expect at your prenatal appointments and a tip for dads and partners. You can find 40 Weeks anywhere you listen to audio. Visit this page to sign up with your email and due date to get each week delivered at the perfect time in your inbox.
Can you outsource this question, research, or task to someone else? You may have a question your doctor or midwife can quickly answer. If you need to look into a topic, ask your partner to do some digging. If you have friends or family members with kids, they can help by sharing their experiences or advice. There may be some topics you need to tackle yourself, but if you can outsource the question or research, delegate so you can focus on other things.
Trust Your Gut
If you feel very strongly about something, it is important. Even if it is a seemingly small thing. If your partner feels very strongly about something, it should also be important to you, and vice versa. How you feel or how your partner feels is valid, even when you don’t agree on everything. There is a past episode on When You and Your Partner Disagree that goes into more detail about navigating those sticky situations.
You do not have to justify every decision or have an explanation as to why it is important. The fact that you have strong feelings about it is enough to make it a priority. If you are dead set on a particular stroller, get it. If it is essential to you that your voice is the first one your baby hears after birth, prioritize that with your care team and your partner. Trust your gut; if it feels important to you, then prioritize it.
Avoid Rabbit Holes
It is easy to start going down rabbit holes and driving yourself crazy. Usually, this begins with a simple Google search. Next thing you know, you have spent way too much time reading message boards, articles, and blog posts. You have more questions than when you started and still don’t have the information you initially sought. Sound familiar? I have a few tips to help you from spiraling down into rabbit holes.
Limit Your Time
Parkinson’s law is the idea that work expands to fill the time available for completion. If you give yourself a time limit to look into a particular subject, you are less likely to waste a lot of time searching endlessly and more likely to finish your task within the allotted time. If you want to find out whether it is okay to drink Gatorade. Give yourself five minutes to look into it. Don’t get sidetracked with reading about sugar, trying to find out if you are getting enough electrolytes, and what the potassium requirements are during pregnancy. Set a timer or look at the clock, find your answer, and get out of there. For more complex questions or issues, you may want to give yourself a bigger block of time to look into it. You may also want to set a limit. If you cannot find an answer within a specified time frame, it goes on the list to ask your doctor or midwife. This tactic also works well when shopping for baby items. Give yourself a time limit to look for a particular item, decide, and move on.
Utilize Trusted Resources
There are endless sources of information on the internet that range on the spectrum from evidence-based to completely false. You need to find the resources that you can go to for trusted information. This limits your searching and information consumption from the entire internet to one or a few sources. If you are reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a resource of information for you. The Pregnancy Podcast website has a lot of information and resources. You can start here, reference the episode guide or search by keyword.
Your doctor or midwife should be your top resource for questions. Keep a running list of questions that come up in between appointments. When you do have a visit with your doctor or midwife, refer to your list. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Here are a few places I look to first for information:
I refer to the recommendations released by big organizations within the medical community. While everything is not always evidence-based, these organizations set the guidelines that most practitioners (specific to each organization) tend to follow, and it tends to be a good starting place for information and a reference of the most accepted policies:
ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) is the largest membership organization for OBGYNs.
ACNM (American College of Nurse-Midwives) is a professional organization that represents CNMs (certified nurse midwives) and CMs (certified midwives).
AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) is the largest pediatrician organization
Take a Break
If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a step back. Take a break from listening to podcasts or searching for things on Google. Cutting back on your information consumption and focusing on something else can be a refreshing break from information overload. That could mean relaxing with Netflix, getting outside and away from your phone or computer, or enjoying quality time with your partner.
Keeping Things in Perspective
Every decision seems critical when you are responsible for growing, birthing, and caring for a baby. Often we put a lot of focus on something only to discover later that it was not as big of a deal as we thought. You may want to ask a few additional questions when trying to determine what you should focus on. Will this matter in the future? In three months, will you look back and regret or even remember this? Can you change your mind? Is this a permanent decision? There are few decisions that you are stuck with and cannot change. You can only make the best decisions with the information you have right now.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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