Why Many Women Experience Feelings of Guilt During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman on bed holding her belly

Sebastian Pfuetze / Getty Images

It's not hard to see why pregnant women can begin to feel overwhelmed as the months and trimesters wear on; few people get so much well-meaning, but unsolicited advice as expectant mothers. For first-time mothers, the feeling of not knowing what you're doing often turns into guilt. Even second, third, or fourth-time mothers can feel guilty when they make common pregnancy "mistakes."

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Common Pregnancy Guilt Trips

Woman are commonly held to incredibly high standards, and arguably even more so when there is a little baby's life involved. But that doesn't mean that you have to be the perfect woman, wife, and mother all the time. Don't beat yourself up about it these guilt trips.

What You Did Before You Knew You Were Pregnant

Since fewer than 50% of pregnancies are planned, it is common for many women to engage in activities that they otherwise wouldn't have had they known they were pregnant. Are you fretting about that glass of wine you had during week two? Or the sushi you had during week three? Don't.

While it's always best to heed the advice of your OB/GYN or midwife, what you did in the early weeks of pregnancy before you had that positive test generally isn't cause for alarm in the long run. Just be sure to take care now. If you're worried, talk to your healthcare practitioner.

Not Taking Your Prenatal Vitamins

Some pregnant women forget to take prenatal vitamins, while others aren't able to tolerate them (prenatal vitamins have a lot of iron, which can be tough to digest). While prenatal vitamins are important, they are a safety net, meant to supplement a healthy diet.

Eat well, switch vitamins to see if another brand is helpful, and talk to your doctor for advice. Do what you can, and know that you're not the first person to have trouble with prenatal vitamins and you won't be the last.

Your Nutritional Choices

There are days that eating well is harder than others. Sometimes eating well means planning ahead. This can be hard to do when you're battling exhaustion, morning sickness, and raging hormones.

If you're eating well the majority of the time and avoiding alcohol, forgive yourself a skipped meal or piece of chocolate cake every now and again.

Your Morning Cup of Coffee

Caffeine is one of the most common legal drug addictions, and many women simply don't feel as though they can start their day without a cup of coffee. With conflicting studies about the safety of caffeine for your baby in pregnancy, many moms aren't sure what to do about their need for that morning cup of joe. 

Most doctors and midwives acknowledge that in moderation (one or two 8-ounce cups a day), coffee is okay. If you're feeling guilty about your coffee consumption, try switching to half-decaf blend and wean yourself from there. 

Your Sex Life (or Lack Thereof)

You may be feeling guilty or worried about having sex during pregnancy. Many moms are worried that sex will hurt their baby (it won't). Others feel guilty when they don't feel "in the mood" or if their pregnancy is interrupting their sex life with their partner (it can, but that's okay, too).

Unless your doctor or midwife advises you to stop having intercourse, you're good to go—if you feel like it. Being too tired, too sick, too sore, or simply not wanting to are all perfectly legitimate reasons to not want sex. Keep the lines of communication with your partner open. Like any relationship, your sex life will have its ups and downs.

Not Feeling Like You Did the First Time

This can be a worry for second-time moms, who may feel less excited about a second or third pregnancy than they did about their first. This is a fairly normal feeling. 

To get back into the swing of things, consider taking a refresher childbirth class, joining a mom's group, or getting your older child involved in preparing for the new arrival. This will also help reduce some of the jealousy that older siblings tend to feel, especially if they'll be close in age to the new baby.​

Sleeping on Your Back

Lots of attention is paid to the sleeping habits of pregnant women. If you find yourself accidentally on your back when you know you shouldn't be, just roll over and get on with your sleep. It happens. The most important thing is for you to feel comfortable and get the best quality sleep you can. Your health is the baby's health!

Feeling Irritable

Your ankles are swollen, your back hurts, your clothes are all too tight—of course, you're not going to be a ray of sunshine the entire 40 or so weeks of your pregnancy. It's perfectly normal to feel irritable or to want alone time because your life is going to change immeasurably once the baby arrives.

Take time for yourself. Whether that's a long walk, a bubble bath, a prenatal yoga class, or just an afternoon vegging on the sofa with old movies, let your partner pamper you while you do the hard work of growing a human. 

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.