Access O'Dell

The scoop on Nancy O'Dell's new book, Dancing With the Stars …. and what happened when her breasts met McDreamy

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Nancy O'Dell, co-anchor of NBC's Access Hollywood, has had a busy year so far: Daughter Ashby (named after O'Dell's grandfather) turns 2 on June 11; O'Dell was scheduled to compete on Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) (and had to drop out due to a knee injury); and in April her first book - Full of Life: Mom to Mom Tips I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was Pregnant (Simon Spotlight Entertainment) comes out. She spoke with us one afternoon in March after taping Access.

Fit Pregnancy: First of all, how is your baby? Nancy O'Dell: Ashby is doing so many things: She took her first step during her first birthday party, and she babbles constantly. She started talking at about 17 - 18 months and now you can't stop her. She's combining two and three words, and of course one of her favorite words is "No!"

FP: You obviously love being a mom.... O'Dell: I think it is just the best thing. I was at DWTS rehearsals so much until this past weekend — I'd tape Access, then we rehearsed 5 to 6 hours every day (I think I was the only person with a regular job) — I just said, "OK, I am spending the whole weekend with Ashby." And we had the best time. Being away from her so much was the hardest part.

FP: You are very open, giving your viewers tremendous access to your life, your wedding and pregnancy, your experience with DWTS. Why? O'Dell: Well, for one thing, my boss really likes me to...but seriously, the wedding was such a happy period in my life. I finally found the man of my dreams. [O'Dell is married to tech executive Keith Zubchevich.] He is just the most wonderful man in the world. I thought, why not share that?

As far as the pregnancy went, the viewers had to watch as I got bigger, so I couldn't really avoid talking about it. It was a funny time in Hollywood - everyone seemed to be pregnant, and I had had a miscarriage about nine months earlier. We were trying again, and the stress was so high. I remember hearing so many stories about other people's struggles and their miscarriages, I felt I had to get personal with the viewers.

I was worried how my boss would react; I needed a new wardrobe, couldn't travel the way we'd been doing. But it all worked out.

FP: How long did you take for maternity leave? O'Dell: I remember Jan Curl telling me, "Don't feel like you have to come back so soon." So I took her advice and was off for a full three months. I just wanted to do everything for Ashby; I didn't want someone else doing it. The first day back at work, I cried, I missed her so much.

FP: Did you breastfeed? O'Dell: Yes. I write about it in the book, and give what I think is an important piece of advice: While you are still pregnant, see a lactation consultant. I didn't think I had to. I thought you just put the baby on your breast, they suck and that was it. I never read how difficult it can be. I wish so badly someone had told me to learn before I gave birth — all the different holds, how latching on to the whole areola is crucial, and how to use the breast pump.

But I was bound and determined to nurse. When Ashby would latch on (to just the nipple!) and I was screaming, I found that the football hold helped ease the pain some. And I was constantly putting gel packs on my breasts.

No one thinks to tell you these things, they just want to talk about all the great stuff and forget the other. None of the books I read really addressed that.

FP: And is that why you wanted to write your book? O'Dell: That is why. I'm the kind of person who takes notes constantly — it's the journalist in me. And it's always fun to look back, and it will be for Ashby, too, when she's older and when she's pregnant. I filled notebook after notebook with interesting, embarrassing, surprising stuff.

For instance, I didn't know that your breasts might leak colostrum before you give birth. I was taping a broadcast and the cameraman starting zooming in closer to my face...because two dime-sized spots were forming on the front of my blouse. If I had known, I would've worn breast pads.

So, I realized there really is a need for a book like this. A friend threw me a shower and one of the games was to tell me what to expect during the delivery or the first week home. I'm reading what they wrote and going, "What? You can poop on the delivery table?"

I woke up one day with all these red spots on my chest, freaked out, saw my doctor and he said, "Oh, it's just that you have so much blood circulating, you are seeing the ends of your blood vessels through your skin." And leg cramps! No one told me about leg cramps until after I had woken up with them in the middle of the night. My mom told me what to do.

FP: Where did you get your material? O'Dell: Mostly from my own experience. I write about what happened to me, and what I learned. Here's another example: I had no idea that sensitive, hard nipples can be the first sign of pregnancy. I was interviewing Patrick Dempsey one day, and my breasts seemed to be having this extreme reaction to McDreamy, but it turns out I was pregnant. We were trying, so it was top of mind, but I didn't know.

FP: What are some of the most valuable, surprising things you learned? O'Dell: Gauze. Everyone gives you all this gorgeous nursery stuff and cute baby clothes, but I wish they had told me that you need gauze to wipe a newborn's bottom. That you can just use a baby nail file instead of those scary baby nail clippers. That you should register for soft clothes instead of jeans, and for some 1-year-old sizes because you get way more than you need of newborn clothes.

FP: How did you deal with the weight gain? O'Dell: Well, I hid it the first three months (there are tricks in the book). That first trimester I gained more than I was supposed to, mostly in my breasts, which Billy [Bush, O'Dell's Access Hollywood co-host] noticed right away and asked me if I was pregnant. But I leveled out and gained about 27 - 30 pounds.

I started pregnancy with a back problem, and my doctor told me another rule I didn't know - that whatever exercise you had been doing before pregnancy, you can continue. Even though I had been a runner until I developed my back problem, I had not been running before I got pregnant, so I swam, did yoga and walked.

About 8 weeks after I had Ashby, I stared running again and it was hard - I didn't realize how often you have to feed the baby. You nurse for 45 minutes, she falls asleep, then wakes up and you feed her again. I would run down my driveway and back. Eventually I got a trainer to come in the morning while she was sleeping, but we had to get used to the interruptions. We did moves that were a combo of ballet and Pilates. By the time I went back to work, I'd lost all but 4 or 5 pounds, but I still felt mushy. I'm talking Spanx. Double Spanx.

FP: What's your best bit of advice on what is a big concern of new mothers - how to calm a crying, or even inconsolable, baby? O'Dell: While I was pregnant, I had dreams about going to the store and leaving the baby in the shopping cart. I would wake my husband up, and ask him, "Am I really ready? Do I know what to do? Have I read enough?" And I really worried about knowing what the baby wants when she is crying. You read that they are either hungry, sleepy, need their diaper changed. But it doesn't always work like that. Completely by accident we discovered that Ashby loves the sound of water and it is really calming to her, so we put a fountain in her room. It works.

FP: How do you deal as a working mom? O'Dell: I've dealt with it, but not well. My mom died three days before Ashby's first birthday, and I think because I crave that relationship so badly, the working part has been tough. When I went back to work, I'd cry, and the minute we were finished I'd run off the set and go home. But my boss hasn't sent me out of town too much and I take her with me. The most I have been away from her is a day. I need my baby fix.

And it really is one big constant guilt trip. Sometimes you have to say I'm going to stay with my family and not do this for work, then you worry about work, or you say, I'm going to miss this family event to do my job, and you feel guilty about that.

My advice here? Be in the moment. If you decide to do the family thing, then be there. And if you decide you can't sacrifice your job, don't think about being with your family. It'll drive you crazy.

FP: Can we talk a little about Dancing With the Stars? How disappointed were you to leave the show? O'Dell: During the rehearsal, a week before the first show was to air, I had gone through a month of rehearsals. Tony [Dovolani] and I were set to dance the waltz first, and we were doing really well. I could feel the music and dance the routine, and I felt ready to go out and perform.

So, we moved on to our second dance — a salsa, and while we were doing a step called the grapevine, I took a twisting step and bent my knee backward, then pulled my leg in during a spin, and Ow! We discovered it was a torn meniscus. The only way to heal is with surgery.

But I am anxious to get back [to the show]. I liked the rehearsal and training. I liked the athletic, physical aspect. It's much harder than you think. You don't realize how much you are lifting your arms and raising your legs, and even if you aren't sweating, your core has to be tight. I started seeing muscles in my back, I had abs for the first time since I was pregnant. I enjoyed it. And Ashby is a huge fan of dancing.

FP: Will you have another baby? O'Dell: We haven't decided yet; we're not actively trying, but we're not NOT trying. It was stressful that first time, after I had the miscarriage. I had every measuring device there is to figure out when to have sex. Then we tried a technique my friend said was foolproof: You have sex every day 5 days before ovulation and 5 days after. The first month we tried, boom. We had decided that we would turn to science if it didn't work. But it did.

I write about all of this - conception, miscarriage, the pregnancy, in the book. I want people to know they are not the only ones going through these things.

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