Mothering rule No.1: trust your instincts. You know your baby best.
THE CONCERN: Caring for a new baby "I had major worries about not knowing what to do with a baby. I also worried that I wouldn't be a good mom." — Maureen Simmons, El Dorado Hills, Calif., mother of Meghan, 12, and Cameron, 7
Though the thought of caring for a newborn 24/7 may be daunting, soon enough, it will become second nature. "So much of parenting is trial and error, but you'll figure it all out," pediatrician Jennifer Shu says. "Strive to be the best parent you can be, but give up on the notion of perfection."
Shu also says a little preparation is not out of order. "The third trimester is the perfect time to choose a pediatrician and start brushing up on baby care," she explains. "Moms who wait until after their baby is born to start learning about baby care may find that they're too tired or busy actually taking care of the baby to do so properly." Shu recommends that all parents be well versed in three particular areas before bringing the baby home: feeding (for example, recognizing signs that your baby is not getting enough milk), infant health issues (such as knowing what temperature warrants an immediate call to the pediatrician) and car seat safety (the majority are installed and/or used incorrectly).
Reality check: "Parenting, although not easy, is not rocket science," Shu says. "Moms have been doing it for millennia."
THE CONCERN: Work issues "I worried about how I would get everything done at work and negotiate and plan my maternity leave."
— Dana Rousmaniere, Gloucester, Mass., mother of Julia, 3 , and Charlie, 13 months
"As you near the end of your pregnancy, you've got three jobs," says Old Greenwich, Conn.-based career counselor Nancy Collamer, founder of jobsandmoms.com. "First and most important is to take care of yourself because jobs come and go, but there are no do-overs with pregnancy. The other two are to ensure a smooth transition for your maternity leave and lay the groundwork for a successful return."
Before you go on leave, be sure to finish any projects you may be working on. Also organize and prioritize the work you'll be delegating in your absence, and give your co-workers and/or superiors the tools and information they'll need while you're gone. "If you take these steps, that will get you 90 percent of the way to the last step: laying the groundwork for your return," Collamer says.
Another vital part of the equation is negotiating your maternity leave. Some companies offer this benefit; others don't. "Find out what your company's policy is about this and what the precedents are," Collamer advises. Also ask about coverage under the federal Family Medical Leave Act and your company's medical insurance program. "And don't forget to look at what benefits your spouse is entitled to at his job," she says. "More progressive companies offer paternity leave." Communicate clearly with your boss: It's vitally important that you have a shared understanding of how long you'll be gone and what your availability (if any) will be.
Reality check: "You're bringing a new human being into the world, and you shouldn't feel guilty about doing that," Collamer says. "Go home and enjoy your time with your baby because you're never going to be able to repeat it."
THE CONCERN: Giving birth "I worried that someone would put a mirror between my legs during delivery so I could watch. I worried that I would throw up. I worried that the pain would cause my personality to change, like a werewolf's. I worried that I wouldn't be able to give birth naturally."
— Laura McNeal, Fallbrook, Calif., mother of Sam, 9, and hank, 7
Though concerns about delivery run the gamut, the issue of pain probably tops the list. "Yes, labor hurts," says Joyce Weckl, a certified nurse-midwife with The Woman's Place in Camarillo, Calif., and a co-author of Fearless Pregnancy (Fair Winds Press). "But keep in mind that most of the time, labor is just one day of your life and the bad part lasts just a few hours. You will survive." If you need help with the pain, don't be shy about asking for medication, and don't be embarrassed if you curse, yell, vomit or poop: Doctors, midwives and nurses have seen and heard it all.
Many women also worry about labor and delivery not going the way they'd hoped. "The key is to have a care provider you trust, one who shares or at least respects your philosophy," Weckl says. "If a woman goes to someone who's on the same page philosophically and something does happen that's different from her wishes, she's typically OK with it. Most of all, you need to believe in yourself and your ability to give birth."
So, yes, create a basic birth plan (see "The Best-Laid Plan"), but be flexible and remember that your health and safety—as well as your baby's—is what really matters. "There's much more you can do in your child's life that's more meaningful and important than how he was brought into the world," Weckl says.
Reality check: "Labor can't possibly be that bad because people tend to do it more than once," Weckl says.
For more information on soothing your anxieties, go to fitpregnancy.com/fears.