Seeing as I’m not with child quite yet, I can’t predict what mum-to-be camp I’ll fall into. The clued-up pregnant Presbyterian type who devours books, articles and podcasts on what to expect throughout the pregnancy, or the laid-back mama who lets nature takes its course and relies on mum friends to diagnose whether what I experience is normal or not.
After asking the aforementioned what they wish they’d known before going through the entire nine months, it appears this isn’t a bad tactic to take. “I think someone should set up an alternative group with a few home truths about babies and labour,” Caroline, mother of three, told me. Until then, here’s what these new mums want you to know, regardless of how far into your baby journey you are.
No one checks you're pregnant
You go to the doctors to reveal you’re pregnant, cue party poppers, high fives and a beaming reaction. Or not. “They just take your word for it that the pregnancy test was positive,” Sarah told me. “I didn’t really feel pregnant until about six weeks when morning sickness kicked in, and before that, the only indication was that my boobs ballooned in size.” (The baby moving and squirming doesn’t arrive until much later.) She’s certainly not alone in this pan-faced GP experience. “I expected a ‘ta-da’ moment but the doctor was very matter of fact and said that I didn’t need to do anything except avoid vitamin A and take a prenatal supplement,” reports Sophie.
Be prepared for people to touch you
Conversation starter, fine, but be aware that people—people you don’t even know—will think they have a free pass to touch your stomach. “I really disliked how other people thought my bump was an open invitation to give me advice about pregnancy, labour and how to raise my child, and I got bored of everyone discussing whether it would be a boy or a girl based on my size,” admits Sarah. “And people touching my bump felt like an invasion of my privacy and a very intimate thing to do to someone you’re not intimate with!”
The scans aren't like in the movies
Terrifying and amazing at the same time—apparently. But also clinical and disengaging. “They were way less emotional than I thought, and I felt like I was on a conveyor belt—there’s no hand holding and tears,” says Michelle. “That’s why I booked in for two private scans (around £50–£90), which were well worth the money, as you get to properly look at the baby. Either way, be prepared for the awkward silence, the sonographer always goes quiet when they do it, as they’re concentrating and listening, but it doesn’t stop you feeling anxious.”
Is it like a spa? Is there any scan etiquette? Does one require paper pants? “Wear something with a loose waistband that you can easily pull down and a loose top you can pull up and be prepared for the cold jelly. It doesn’t hurt though,” she continues. Sophie also gives me the heads-up that you don’t have to drink as much water as they advise. “My bladder was so full it had pressed the baby into oblivion, and I felt so uncomfortable I had to run out to relieve the pressure and try again.”
Don't become too attached to your birth plan
In Rachel’s words, “What’s the bloody point?” Most concur that in reality, you never usually take the road you expected to take, but that the entrance isn’t the be-all-and-end-all; it’s what arrives at the end you need to focus on.
Research your hospital
When you go into labour, the last thing you want to do is navigate a tricky road system, but it’s worth considering what you’ll be arriving into. “I made a snap decision on proximity to my house, but I should have researched the hospitals stats and other people’s feedback,” says Rachel. “Find out if you can have a private room, their rates of C-section versus live births, how many birth pools they have, when they will do sweeps and how far apart they space them [when they thin your cervix to induce labour]. It’s really important stuff I wish I’d have looked into.”
It's okay to exercise in those 9 months
The thought of it might not sound appealing, but engaging your core and staying fit will help you in the long run. Just be prepared to dial the intensity down when you need to. “I found I had more exercise-related injuries than usual because of the pressure on my joints, which is why some people choose things like pregnancy yoga, but I found exercise encouraged me to carry on as normal,” says Michelle.
Sarah is in agreement and asked her doctor straight-out if it was okay to continue with running, cycling, weights and tennis, and he reassured her by saying that his wife had cycled up to 32 weeks pregnant. “It’s important to go at a pace that feels right for you on that day, but I feel the strength I had helped me carry the weight of the baby and recover quicker.”
Morning sickness doesn't last forever
It might feel like forever, but these good authorities tell me in reality it’s about four weeks. Of course, those four weeks are also when you’re trying to hide the face that you’re pregnant too. Also hard work when you’re a massive boozer, I’m informed. Expect Gaviscon to become your new go-to tonic of choice throughout the entire experience.
It can be a beauty minefield
Because it’s unethical to test products on pregnant women, most companies default to a vague don’t-use policy, which extends to breastfeeding as well. Some brands now use a “not suitable for pregnant women” stamp, but the number one rule is avoid essential oils. Bio-Oil, on the other hand… Seems it’s not just a myth; it works wonders on stretch marks!
Pregnancy can be way more serious than mood swings
Hormones impact everything—let’s just look at PMS or stress for clarification. When you’re expecting, this might mean more tears, but it can cut deeper. “What I didn’t expect was the crippling anxiety, panic attacks and depression that hit me during both of my pregnancies from about the six-week mark,” reveals Sophie. “Having never suffered with these symptoms outside of pregnancy, I was totally blown away by how my mind was affected by the hormone surges.”
“Even with the loving support of friends and family, meditation, yoga, therapy I’ve needed SSRI antidepressants from the week 12 mark (they won’t prescribe before this for fear of it affecting the baby), which has made the rest of the pregnancy manageable and even pretty enjoyable,” she continues. “Of course, this absolutely isn’t the case for most women, but I’ve read that around one in 10 suffers some combination of perinatal anxiety and depression. With so much focus on postnatal depression, I hadn’t ever considered it might happen during pregnancy.”
“Mother Nature really helps you out in the late stages of pregnancy and newborn days. Your hair doesn’t get greasy nearly as quickly as it normally does, and it looks and feels amazing,” reports Rachael. There’s also the fact it can encourage you to be a bit more adventurous, like when you’re on holiday and wear that glitter eyeliner you’d usually steer clear of. “I enjoyed discovering lipstick and flashy socks and footwear, which became my go-tos when other clothing was off-limits,” says Sarah.
For Laura, pregnancy number one was a new BabaBing baby bag with waterproof baby mat, eco-friendly nappy sacks, lanolin, homemade sweet potato mush, nappies and a Sophie the Giraffe. By baby number three, it was a Balenciaga mini city handbag, a babygrow and a nappy! So don’t be afraid to pack light. People can deliver the rest if you’re missing anything.
NCT isn't for everyone
A clear divider in the group, National Childbirth Trust is the common go-to group for parents-to-be. Some leave feeling ready to take on the world (and motherhood) and make friends for life; for others, it can be preachy and pressured. Again, it’s luck of the draw, and depends on the teacher and the others in your group, but it’s notorious for promoting natural labour as the preferred plan, resisting the drugs if possible and that breast is always best.
If you’re not feeling confident already, it can add anxiety when it comes to the birth, breastfeeding and everything that follows. “One NCT teacher made my husband and I awkwardly slow-dance to ‘My Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas in a circle with our partners as a ‘practical’ exercise of ways to relax when in labour,” reveals Laura. “I would have preferred five minutes of shouting profanities—slow-dancing was the last thing I wanted to do when giving birth!”
Again, do your research. One mum who was pregnant at the same time as her sister and lived in neighbouring towns found she had much more in common with her sibling’s gang than her own. “You can join any group, so pick your postcode carefully,” is her advice. Indeed, her sister only has glowing things to say. “You’re paying for the friendship group and not the advice, so soak up the bits of information, disregard the rest and focus on getting phone numbers for the all-important WhatsApp group once the classes are over. Don’t worry if on your first session you don’t immediately spot someone you think is like you—my closest mum friend is absolutely not who I thought I’d end up being buddies with, but she turned out to be a really similar mum.”
And don’t panic if there isn’t NCT in your area. There are other options. “I chose Preparation for Birth and Beyond (the government one) and paid for a hypnobirthing workshop and baby first-aid classes,” says Olivia. “There are also apps like Peanut or Mush that have great forums about what’s on in your area, advice from other mums and ways to connect—a bit like a dating app, but worth doing to establish a support network while you’re on mat leave.”
Your body will do weird things
Bleeding gums, skin tags, your inner core temperature rising, feeling full when you’ve only had half of what you’d usually devour, pregnancy acne on your back, neck and arms… Let’s not even start on the hormonal changes. Then there’s coffee; while half the mums said they went right off it, some said it was the only thing that cured their morning sickness. Normal service has been resumed since the births, and bumps are not putting baristas out of business! Oh, and Camembert is A-OK to eat as long as it’s been baked, so now you know!
Take time before the due date
We’re hardwired to think we should power through and work until our water breaks, but the stress can actually put a delay on the baby’s arrival—there’s a reason people talk about the “nesting” phase. Sarah pointed out that someone told her it was important to think of her team at work too—what would have happened if the baby had come early and she would have left them in the lurch with unfinished work and no handover?
“After that, I decided to leave a week before my due date, more out of fairness to my colleagues,” she says. “I was so grateful of that time and look back on it fondly as I did prenatal yoga, watched movies, sat on my own in cafes; it was the most relaxing time of my life and so important as when I went into labour; my chilled state helped me focus and get through calmly.”
Taking the drugs does not make you a bad mum
“I’d have been better off if someone had just said it hurts like crazy, so take all the drugs you can,” says mum of three Caroline. Rachael is in agreement: “Labour can be amazing, but there are no prizes for a drug-free birth!”
You will feel ridiculously vulnerable after giving birth
All of a sudden you’re a mummy and responsible for a human being, which is alien in itself. It’s not uncommon to burst into tears if a fast-moving vehicle whizzes by you, you can’t get the tube or you’re too scared to leave the house. “I kept thinking about all the bad things that could happen and totally overreacting, but it passes after a few weeks,” Rachael reassures us. Lowering your expectations is another gem to remember. “Time is different with a baby, and you just have to go with it rather than trying to achieve things you would have done before,” says Olivia. “You won’t get things done and will feel like you’re failing if you don’t accept that.”
Your body doesn't automatically ping back into shape
It doesn’t matter if you exercised beforehand or not, you can’t predict how your body will look or behave after you’ve had a baby. It’s all a bit Russian roulette. “Once you’ve just had the baby, you still look about seven months pregnant,” says Caroline. “The ward I was on was a mix of pregnant people and new mums and when someone asked me how pregnant I was once I’d given birth, I was mortified. Some people to jump back into shape but some take just as long to lose that bump-post pregnancy, I wish I’d really understood that.”
The remedy? Try to ignore the mums lucky enough to revert to their pre-pregnancy jeans early on and focus on the coffee and cake or big bar of chocolate that will get you through some of the darkest times. You won’t get those first few months of mumhood back, and the gym will always be there, plus you’ll never realise how much of a workout you get with all the walking and baby lifting you do in the first 12 months. One thing that will return to a normal size sooner? Your ankles as that swelling is just down to water retention.
It's unlikely you'll be a "natural" breast feeder
This one opens up a can of worms like no other but the one common ground is that it’s hard, really hard. Nipple cream, compresses, bruised nipples, cluster feeding, getting the right latch… some find their groove, others don’t and are forced to give up after excruciating bouts of mastitis. Or stop after a few weeks because they want to share night feeds, the baby isn’t getting enough of what it needs or for any other reason. It’s a personal choice that everyone should respect and not feel guilty about, which can be easier said than done.
There’s also what happens when you stop breastfeeding that no one tells you about, says Laura. “I ended up feeding my three children until they were all just short of their first birthday, more from their own will than mine,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong—it’s an amazing thing to feel that connection; at times it’s a lot easier to whip a boob out; however, I found that when I gave up breastfeeding, it took a huge toll on me psychologically and physically. No one warns you about the massive low you can encounter with the change of hormones when you stop breastfeeding. I had postnatal depression after all three, which coincided with when I gave up breastfeeding. There’s also a lot of pressure on women, and no one tells you about the negative side effects it can have on you to prepare you for what may come.”
Oh, and breastfeeding doesn’t ruin your boobs, pregnancy does, so if that’s what’s worrying you, shelve it. By the time the baby is born, the damage is done!
Things won't be equal between you and your other half
Expect to hate your partner a little or a lot sometimes. And also your parents who will see your baby as a big deal for them as well. You need to be prepared to make room in your life for them, the in-laws and your new addition, which can be pretty challenging, Olivia flags up.
And finally, your life is not over
I’ve been a witness on many an occasion to people telling mums-to-be that their life will never be the same again and that they won’t be able to go to a fancy restaurant for the next 18 years. While many of my informants did recommend going out as much as you can and having date nights beforehand, SJ says that it’s just not true; it’s just that chances are you’d rather stay at home and just look at your baby. Plus it’s a great excuse not to have FOMO.
It’s also pretty amazing. “People forget to tell you how fun it is, how utterly joyful and how all of that other stuff is rubbish,” she says. Michelle agrees: “The best thing about being pregnant was the excitement I was growing our baby; take pics of your bump too, but don’t post them on social. I unwittingly took a photo of my bump the day I ended up in labour, and I love looking at that one—just before she came out!”
Revert to this moment and the one when you first hold your baby to remind yourself if you’re ever questioning this. “I wish I could bottle the feeling and keep it forever—enjoy that moment along with the first bite of toast and tea you have after giving birth because nothing will taste better,” says Laura.