By Elizabeth Putfark
I remember the first day I told my mom I was pregnant. Almost immediately, she reassured me, “Don’t be nervous – the first year goes by so quickly.”
The first year?!” I exclaimed. “I’m still reading up on the first trimester!”
In fact, I’d already read so much online about common and uncommon symptoms, what to eat, what not to eat, what to start and what to stop that I could hardly imagine making it through nine months without causing myself or my growing child lasting harm. And all this before my first prenatal appointment!
What I’ve discovered in the 20 weeks since is that pregnancy just isn’t the same as it used to be. My mom remembers wearing oversized jumpers; I shop the “business maternity” lines. My mom was gifted with cakes; I catch shade walking into Starbucks. My mom kept her feet up; I field questions about my gym schedule and how many pounds I’ve gained.
One thing’s for sure: this is not my mother’s pregnancy. After talking with other expecting mothers, I know I’m not the only one feeling the heat that seems to emanate largely from growing online communities, where everyone has a voice and a venue for being heard.
For help sifting through the endless annals of blogs, forums, databases and how-to guides, we need more than our moms’ advice – we need medical specialists. At Flourish, we reached out to Anthony Agrios, MD and Shelly Russell, CNM of All About Women Obstetrics and Gynecology to get the scoop on how women are handling (and not handling) the information onslaught of the 21st century.
While stressful, having information at our finger tips is something of a luxury.
“I think [the online community] is helping women have a better idea of what to expect in a normal pregnancy,” explains Dr. Agrios. “They can learn a lot by chatting with other pregnant women who are in a similar situation and look up information about normal development. So a lot of the casual aches and pains that women used to be horrified by, now they already know are normal by the time they come in to see us.”
In addition, medical practices are able to advance their methodology and procedures at a faster rate than ever before. “We get faster conversion to new technology thanks to the spread of information,” Dr. Agrios adds. “Doctors will start to discover something and begin practicing a new way, while the textbooks still preach the old way.”
Still, even as information helps eradicate some fears and advance medical science, cyber space can feel like a dangerous place.
“The danger when you’re online searching is that there is no filter,” Dr. Agrios admits. “[Expectant mothers] have no way of apprising how common the frightening horror stories they read about actually are.” As a result, women often fear that one blogger’s rare problem is a real risk for them, even if the actual odds indicate otherwise.
CNM Shelly Russell agrees, “It’s not so much the advice that’s bad, but more the reaction that says, ‘This thing happened to this person…Oh my gosh, is it going to happen to me?!’”
Additionally, as they’re reading horror stories, women are also encountering the pressures of blog after blog about how to do pregnancy “right.”
“Hearing all these stories from others, it sort of raises your expectations because everyone thinks they’re doing things exactly right. You’re never going to exactly match someone else, because every pregnancy is different,” Dr. Agrios explains. “Also, [bloggers] are also often looking to push a certain storyline – maybe a tragedy that happened to them, or some fear they have – but they end up skewing the information.”
So with all the good and bad out there battling for our attention, how are we supposed to know what’s reliable, and what’s just noise?
How to Make it Work for YOU
Look for Reliable Sources
“I think a good rule of thumb is to focus on academic center websites, like the Mayo Clinic. Us.gov also has several healthcare websites,” Dr. Agrios recommends. “Those sites have carefully reviewed and edited information, and that helps weed out some of the more outlandish ideas.”
Set Your Own Boundaries
Since there is no limit to how much information can be posted, set your own limits for how much you can read. Dr. Agrios suggests that when it comes to sources, women should choose to consult more than one but less than four. “That way you get a balanced look,” he explains. “Also, no matter what you’re reading, you should avoid the comment section. They’re usually from people with no medical training whatsoever who just want to tear down or contradict the article.”
Know Your Stress Limits
Finally, it’s important to stay aware of your own stress levels and learn how to manage them carefully. “[If you just spend time online], you’re going to get overwhelmed!” says CNM Russell. “The best thing is to prepare to come in with a list of questions or concerns and discuss them with us.”
Pregnancy Apps, Doctor Approved!
“BabyBump and WhatToExpect both look pretty good. Patients always ask how big the baby is, what does it look like, and those are both great at giving you that information right away.” CNM Shelly Russell
“The Mayo Pregnancy app also gives hints of warning signs, so if a woman starts to develop new symptoms, she can type that in and know if it’s a problem, or if she will likely wake up and find it gone.” Dr. Anthony Agrios
Dr. Agrios adds that women who are prone to nervous speculation might consider seeking out Certified Nurse Midwives for their unique training in some of the more emotional aspects of pregnancy. “I think the people who go into [certified nurse midwifery) are more tuned into the emotional state of their patients,” he explains. “We see that a lot of patients in our practice who are particularly fearful or have difficult situations seek out Shelly or one of our other midwives.”
“I do spend a fair amount of time doing emotional counseling as well,” Russell agrees.
Most importantly, remember to seek counsel you know you can trust – the kind that comes from your personal OB, CNM or doctor.
“Get some ideas on the internet,” Dr. Agrios suggests, “but then call your doctor or midwife. We’ve gone through years and years of training and schooling. “A woman going through pregnancy cannot be expected to assimilate all that information just in the course of one pregnancy!”
To learn more or talk to a doctor or midwife today, visit www.allaboutwomenmd.com
Anthony B. Agrios, MD, FACOG is the founder of and senior provider at All About Women Obstetrics and Gynocology. A graduate of John Hopkins University and the University of Southern California, he completed his residency at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida before opening his own practice in 1998.
Shelly Russell, ARNP, CNM has over 20 years nursing experience, most of which she accumulated as a labor and delivery nurse at the North Florida Regional Medical Center. She graduated from UF’s Master of Science in nursing program in 2006 and has been working together with Dr. Agrios for many years.