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Pregnancy is a time of increased sleep needs and—ironically—increased sleep problems. You might have heard the quip that sleep difficulties now are nature’s way of helping inoculate you against the sleep deprivation you’re likely to encounter once your little one arrives, but we reject the notion that you’re doomed to poor sleep for 40 weeks. Maximizing your rest is highly important right now, and if you have questions about how best to accomplish that, we have answers. Well, we have answers to these top 5 “sleeping for two” questions:
1. I’m in my first trimester, and the other day, I fell asleep at my desk! It was only for a few minutes and no one noticed, but I’m so embarrassed. I’ve never been a napper. How can I remedy this problem?
Maybe you were never a napper before, but pregnancy changes just about everything, so why not that, too? Early in pregnancy, in particular, the struggle (to stay awake) is real. And for good reason; the work your body is doing to nurture the new life inside it has been likened to running a marathon everyday. Meanwhile, hormonal changes and a more-frequent need to pee may be disturbing your nighttime sleep, so you may benefit from catching up in the daytime. If you have the space, the privacy, and the type of job that allows for a short snooze every now and then, by all means, take advantage. Just keep naps short—20 minutes seem to be ideal—so you don’t hinder your ability to fall asleep at night. If you don’t have a desk to lay your head on or a door to close, consider a brief shut-eye in your car instead of a coffee break. Or, lay down for 20 minutes when you get home to recharge for the rest of the evening. You deserve it.
2. I never in my life got heartburn, but now I can't even think about lying down in bed without feeling that burning pain in my chest. What's wrong?
One thing we know for sure is that your heartburn is not a sign that you’ll have a baby with a full head of hair, as the charming but false old wives’ tale tells us. Heartburn is caused by a weakening of the ring of muscle called the esophageal sphincter that normally keeps your stomach contents where they should be. When that occurs, food and stomach acid can back up and you’ll feel the burn. Why now if you’ve never had it before? Pregnancy-related heartburn (also called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) is likely caused by increased levels of pregnancy hormones that relax muscles including the esophageal sphincter. Increasing weight can also exacerbate the problem. GERD is surprisingly common in pregnancy—up to 50% of pregnant women experience it.
If heartburn is interfering with your sleep, consider lifestyle modifications as a first line of defense: Don’t eat heavy, greasy, fried or acidic or spicy foods, which tend worsen heartburn, and don’t eat too close to bedtime. Speaking of your bed, elevating the head of it can help you rest easier. If it’s truly bothersome, or isn’t helped by changes in diet or other habits, talk to your doctor about over-the-counter meds that are considered safe throughout pregnancy.
3. Before I got pregnant, if I had a headache or was sore from working out, I’d take some Tylenol and it would also help me relax and sleep. Is that no longer safe for me?
If you’re asking, it’s likely you’ve seen or read news fairly recently about a study linking pregnant women’s acetaminophen (Tylenol) use with evidence of language delays in toddlers. The study getting all the ink, published in the journal European Psychiatry, concerned an observed delay in spoken language among a cohort of Swedish women’s children at about 30 months of age. It’s worth pointing out that the study showed a correlation between acetaminophen use and language delay; they did not prove a causal link between the two. And it should be stated that the researchers themselves aren’t calling for pregnant women to swear off the pain reliever. They note that these results should be replicated in further studies—and that the children studied should be followed up on—before any recommendations are made. On the other hand, there have been other studies in recent years linking Tylenol use to problems such as ADHD and autism in children. But on the other other hand, in all studies of this kind, the moms took a fair amount of the pain reliever; this is not a case of popping a tablet for the occasional headache so you can sleep, but more consistent, regular use.
The bottom line is that you should speak to your doctor or healthcare provider and ask his or her advice about any drug or remedy—prescription or OTC—that you take while pregnant. Consider how often you need Tylenol. If you are achy from a workout, a warm bath or shower may help. If you can’t sleep, consider other forms of sleep hygiene, like drinking warm milk or eating a small, carbohydrate-rich snack, which may help you drop off. But if you have a fever—which has the potential to be harmful to your baby—definitely talk to your doctor about taking acetaminophen, because in some cases a fever may be far more provably harmful to your baby than a couple of Tylenol.
4. I'm having the craziest dreams lately. I wake up to pee (of course) and I can’t even believe the things I dreamed. Is it pregnancy related?
Maybe. Wild, right? Many pregnant women report far more active, crazy, vivid dreams than they recall having beforehand. The subjects can sound like the headlines on supermarket tabloids: “I Gave Birth to an Alien Baby!” “Recall” may be the operative word here. Some experts speculate that the explanation for vivid pregnancy dreams (or nightmares) may be as simple as this: Pregnant women wake up more often during the night for various reasons, and if woken during the phase of sleep associated with dreaming, you may just remember the dream more clearly in the moment than if you’d stayed asleep till morning.
Anxiety and worry over the impending event can also make some women have more turbulent and memorable dreams. As for the content of your dreams, who knows? If you believe that dreams reflect your subconscious or are a way to work through problems or events in your waking life, then dreams about labor and delivery or visions of your baby to be seem like a natural fit. If you’re curious and if your dreams are particularly entertaining or confounding, consider keeping a dream journal. Hey, your child may someday find it interesting reading!
5. I keep going to sleep on my left side, but wake up on my back. Help!
It's no doubt that you’ve internalized the advice that it’s best, after the first trimester, to snooze on your left side, which allows for unimpeded blood flow to your uterus. (If not the left side, then at least a side is better than flat on your back, and of course stomach sleeping simply becomes impossible after a certain point.) If you want to increase your chances of staying put and remaining comfy on your side, consider a body pillow or two to prop yourself in the best position. But if you wake up on your back, don’t worry—you’re not putting your baby in danger. Just make an effort (as best you can as you get bigger!) to resettle yourself on your side.
If you’re pregnant and have some notion of what “nesting” is, you may be thinking, “not me!” You’re a modern woman—not a mother hen! But if you’ve recently been seized by the need to clean, organize, unpack, decorate, stock up, and settle in, then, yes, that's nesting.
Nesting, which typically happens in the third trimester, is perfectly normal and even practical. It may include such obvious baby-prep activities as buying a crib, stocking a changing table, or decorating a nursery. But nesting can also encompass other “getting ready” bursts of activity around your home (or workplace), such as cleaning, cooking, purging unnecessary items, or getting finances and paperwork in order.
Got nesting questions? We’ve got answers:
Why is it called “nesting”?
You’re not a bird, of course—but your home is your nest. The term may derive from birds building nests to cradle their eggs and hatchlings, but much of the rest of the animal kingdom exhibits forms of nesting, too. In the wild, it’s about finding a safe space—warm, near food, and reasonably protected from predators. Isn’t that kind of how you feel about your home too?
Is nesting hard wired?
It may well be. There haven’t been tons of scientific studies about nesting, but at least one, conducted in 2013 at McMaster University in Toronto, Canada, and published in Evolution & Human Behavior, found that many pregnant women experience a surge of energy and the compulsion to do at least some sort of cleaning, organizing, and preparing in the later stages of pregnancy. The researchers’ conclusion should help you feel less like you’re a crazy person as you fold your zillionth onesie or clean the corners of the nursery again: The behavior serves as a way to make sure the environment we’re bringing our baby into is safe and cozy. It also helps you emotionally prepare for the sea of change that’s about to happen. The work you’re doing is a way to feel closer to this person you’ve yet to meet. Think of nesting as an early form of bonding.
What if I don’t feel like cleaning or painting the nursery?
It’s normal to nest. It’s also normal not to exhibit those signs. With that said, you may be doing your version of nesting and just not realize that’s what it is. For example, you may find yourself settling in to read books you haven’t gotten to, or sorting through your finances, or calling old friends. The point is we may all have the instinct in terms of evolution, but it’s not as evident in every person. Whether or not you can point to anything in particular you’re doing that qualifies as “nesting,” it doesn’t reflect on the health of your pregnancy, or on how good a parent you’re likely to be. Remember, too, that not all moms-to-be can nest—for example, if you’re on bedrest, go into labor early, or are adopting a baby and have little time to prepare.
I’ve found I don’t want to do much outside the house right now. Is that part of nesting?
It very well could be. Many soon-to-be moms experience nesting not as a flurry of cleaning or organizing activity, but as an instinct to burrow in at home, and/or to surround themselves with only their partner, close friends, and family.
Does nesting ever indicate something’s wrong?
Not in itself, even if it does feel like Martha Stewart has taken over your brain! But on a serious note, if you find yourself feeling unduly anxious—say, you’re losing sleep over things like car seats and cleanliness—speak to your healthcare provider.
Does nesting mean I’m about to pop?
No. If you finish assembling the crib and then your water breaks, it’s purely coincidental! Nesting urges may start earlier in pregnancy, but they peak in the third trimester, and it’s not anything physical or indicative of impending labor.
A final thought: What may feel and look frivolous on the outside (who really cares if the nursery walls are seafoam green or cornflower blue?) can actually have a powerful meaning. Nesting is your instinctive way to throw a switch in your mind from your old self to your new. What’s about to change, after all, isn’t the decor in your former guest room, but your identity. Nesting isn’t only about making room in your home for baby, but in your heart.
As 2017 winds down and we count down the days and hours until 2018 arrives, to-do lists spring to mind. What better time to consider another important countdown: the end of pregnancy? If you’re in the pre-baby homestretch, there’s something about those last several weeks that kick you into high gear, as your body preps for birth and your mind and heart prepare for parenthood.
As you count down to your own personal new year, here’s what you need to know to get as ready as you reasonably can be:
Visit the doctor (often). In most cases, you’ll be hitting the OB’s office weekly once you’re past 36 weeks. Aside from the usual assessments, your healthcare provider may recommend “kick counting,” which is a way to keep track of the baby’s movements throughout the day. Given the tight quarters, your baby’s moving less now then he was in your second trimester, but noting what’s normal now and keeping tabs on movement is still a good idea. Here’s how. As for when labor might start, your guess is as good as anyone else’s! A normal term is anywhere between 38 and 42 weeks, but talk to your healthcare provider to be sure. Signs that labor is imminent include the baby “dropping” lower in your uterus, an increase in Braxton-Hicks contractions, lower back pain and cramping, and what’s called “bloody show,” or the loss of the mucus plug from your cervix.
Feather the nest. We likely don’t have to tell you to tackle this task, since it’s nearly a universal urge for women in the final stretch of pregnancy to get her surroundings prepped and ready to welcome her new baby. This can include setting up a crib or other sleeping space, buying and washing bedding and clothing, sorting through gifts, decorating, and lots more. Not every pregnant woman will “feather” in the same way. Your friend may have dropped enormous sums on a state-of-the art nursery; you may be content washing some crib sheets and clearing a drawer in your dresser for stacks of onesies and cloth diapers. But whatever form it takes for you, embrace nesting. It obviously serves a practical purpose as you literally create space for a new addition, but these ritualistic and homey tasks also fulfill an emotional need to prepare you for impending parenthood.
Cook and freeze meals. If you’re a home chef, now’s a good time to get busy making food you or someone else can quickly heat and serve in the hectic vortex of the first several weeks at home with a newborn. Soups, stews, casseroles: All can be made and frozen in small batches. If you’re not that much of a cook, enlist loved ones to do the work for you; chances are you have people clamoring to help.
Wash baby clothes and gear. If you received gifts of toys, clothes, blankets, towels, sheets and other gear, now’s the time to unpack them, wash clothes for immediate use, and put away things you won’t need in the immediate term. If you plan to use bottles (either for pumped breastmilk or formula), wash and sterilize some now to be ready.
Get ready for the big reveal. Want to get a jump on announcing your new arrival? If you’re planning to snail-mail cute baby announcements, get your mailing list ready and address and stamp envelopes. You may also want to ready an email address list for immediate-term “Baby’s Here!” sharing. (Spare some time now, too, to send out thank-you notes for gifts received so far.)
Get birth gear ready. Whether you’re giving birth in a hospital, birthing center, or at home, be sure everything you need is close at hand. If you’re heading to the hospital, double check with them for what you should and should not bring, but tried and true items include any paperwork you need (ID, insurance card), a birth plan if you have one, nightgown/nursing gown, robe and slippers, clothes to wear home (something comfy!), personal toiletries, a pillow, your cellphone charger, and whatever you need to relax, such as music.
Make a birth plan. Creating a plan for how you envision your labor and birth to play out is not an exact blueprint, but it is a way to help you make decisions and share them with those around you, including your partner, birth coach, and doctor or midwife. Though what you plan may be upended by actual events, knowing what you want is empowering. And just the act of creating a plan requires you to research options and weigh possibilities. A plan can include things like what kind of pain relief you want (or if you want to avoid medication); if you want to have the option to stand or walk during labor, or use a birthing chair or stool; if you want to avoid an episiotomy or forceps; or if you want to breastfeed immediately (or not).
Give yourself a break. No to-do list is an absolute, and no one’s judging you if your bag isn't packed, your freezer isn't stocked, or you haven’t created mailing labels for birth announcements. Because here’s the thing about preparing for parenthood: No one really has a handle on it anyway. Happy New Year and happy soon-to-be new life!
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