5 Things No One Tells You About Pregnancy, According To An Obstetrician

About 24 hours after I found out I was pregnant, I was laying in bed, feeling excited, when it hit me: I didn’t know that much about pregnancy. Sure, I’d read the occasional article about ‘what to expect’ and heard of the (sadly delicious) foods that should be avoided, and I’d asked my sister vague questions about her experience, but I’d never really considered what it was actually like to be pregnant.

As a result, the questions were endless. Like, did I need to stop dyeing my hair? Should I put my upcoming hiking plans on hold? Was I going to be super sick, all day, every day? Suddenly, I couldn’t sleep — the weight of the unknown was starting to stress me out.

Today, as a seasoned mom, I realize that it’s totally normal to have nonstop questions swirling around in your head. The truth is, until you experience pregnancy firsthand, you’re not going to know what it’s like. And looking to others who came before isn’t always super reassuring: Medical advice changes over the years, so the tried-and-true words of wisdom your mom or grandmother abided by may not hold up so well today.

Romper teamed up with Stanford Children’s Health to discuss all the lesser-known aspects of being pregnant, and provide some answers to those much-stressed-about questions. We chatted with Virginia Chan, D.O., an OB-GYN at Stanford Children’s Health, and got her take on everything you never knew — but should definitely be aware of — when it comes to this chapter of your life.

1. You Don’t Have To Press ‘Pause’ On Working Out

It’s a popular misconception that you shouldn’t exercise — or lift grocery bags, or take the stairs, or stand on the subway — while you’re pregnant, especially in the first trimester. “It’s a bit of a cultural or generational difference — our parents would often say this about the first trimester. ‘Just stay in bed, don’t exercise, or you’re going to miscarry,’” Dr. Chan tells Romper. But that isn’t necessarily true.

“[During pregnancy], you want to be fit and maintain energy and stamina,” and exercise helps with all of that. “You can generally exercise the same amount as you did prior to pregnancy,” says Chan. “We usually recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.”

The only types of activities to avoid are ones that could actually be considered dangerous, like those that have high risks of falling or injury. And be aware: Your doctor might tell you to change or cut back on exercise if you develop certain complications during your pregnancy or are considered at high risk of miscarriage. But overall, moderate exercise is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!

2. Be Mindful Of Ingredients In Everything, Not Just Food

It’s pretty common knowledge that when you get pregnant, you should ditch the wine and margaritas (“There’s no safe level of alcohol you can consume,” reminds Chan). That, plus any foods that have a higher risk of giving you an infection (think: unpasteurized dairy and undercooked meats) should also be avoided, since you’re more sensitive to food borne illnesses that can cause complications.

But food labels aren’t the only ones that matter — it can also be valuable to take a second look at your cosmetics and body care items. Chan suggests talking to your OB early on if you have any concerns or questions about the safety of products in your routine.

“For the most part, over-the-counter products like hair dyes and nail polishes are likely safe,” says Chan. That being said, it’s important to avoid products that contain retinol during those nine months. When in doubt, run it by your doctor! Remember, that’s what they’re there for.

3. It’s OK To Trust Your Gut When Something Feels Off

When I was pregnant, I was constantly afraid that I would come across as a worrier if I called my doctor too often. But here’s the thing: While pregnancy can certainly cause some weird symptoms that are totally normal, you’re the first line of defense when something doesn’t feel right.

For example, at 36 weeks, I initially dismissed some extra wetness I felt one morning and chose not to “bother” (eye roll) my doctor. Well, it turned out that my water was leaking and my baby was coming early — thank goodness I already had an ultrasound planned for later that day because truthfully, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to get in touch with their office.

That’s why, per Chan, “if there’s any concern at all, you should always reach out to your doctor to be safe.” Your practitioner is the one who can help you figure out if you should be concerned or not.

4. Postpartum Depression Is Very Real

Chances are, you’ve heard of postpartum depression — but that doesn’t mean you’d necessarily recognize if it starts to affect you. “It’s very common to feel a little down, cry occasionally, or be really fatigued in that first week or two [after birth], especially for first-time moms,” Chan tells Romper. “Suddenly, you’re sleep deprived from labor and from this little being that’s crying all the time.”

Since this experience is so universal, it can be easy to miss the signs that it’s becoming more serious. If, over time, you (or those around you) notice those feelings aren’t improving, even as you and your baby start learning to adjust to your new life, it might be postpartum depression. According to Chan, “if [these feelings are] affecting how you’re functioning, you should speak up and talk to the doctor because you can get help and support you need.”

5. You Don’t Have To Settle For No Sleep

“We think, as moms, especially first-time moms, that we’re super beings who don’t need much sleep,” says Chan, but that’s simply not true. “I stress this for all my patients: Sleep is very important and you need to prioritize it because when you don’t sleep, you’re going to be even more emotional, depressed, and fatigued.”

After birth, that fatigue can affect everything: your mood, your relationship with your baby, your milk production, and your physical healing. In Chan’s opinion, “it’s just a downward spiral” when you don’t put sleep first.

So give yourself permission to buy body pillows that help you sleep comfortably while you’re pregnant. After birth, try your best to sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s also OK (and crucial!) to ask for help from your partner, family, or friends so you can get some much-needed rest. Remind yourself that household chores and entertaining guests can wait. Your health — and your baby’s health — is what matters most.

For more information on Dr. Virginia Chan and her practice, visit