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Book Review: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

what to expect

It’s THE book. Everyone’s heard of it and most people with kids have read it. There’s even a movie of it? More accurately there’s a movie that uses the same title. I’m pretty sure it’s not an adaptation of the book. And I don’t have plans to see it, haha.

Overall, I liked this book. I know a lot of moms who don’t like it, though I’m not sure of their reasons. Most people I know who don’t like it are really in to alternative medicine and all natural lifestyle, but all of those things can be found in this book. They’re not exclusive, and the book is full of information on traditional medicine and c-sections and everything else too. I think it does a really good job of giving you a nice overview of, well, what you can expect.

So if you only read one book while you’re pregnant… well, maybe not this one. While it’s great at giving a broad overview of what’s going on in the womb, what symptoms you may have, complications, and labor and delivery in a variety of situations, I would say it still leaves a lot up to you to research and figure out for yourself. Maybe that’s why ads for other books in the “What to Expect” series are sprinkled throughout every chapter.

Now I will say this: if you only read one book on being pregnant – that is, one specifically talking about the nine months you have a baby in your tummy – this is a great choice! It covers the baby’s development in-depth, and also gives in-depth lists of symptoms which is great for when you’re wondering what’s normal and what you need to call the doctor about. Once it gets in to labor and delivery, though, it starts to feel very rushed. Terms fly by with little explanation and I found myself reaching for my phone to google things a lot in this section.

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The book is called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” which I suppose doesn’t promise a lot of info on labor and delivery itself, but I thought it was kind of a drag to get to the end and not have more info on that. It broadly covers a lot of things I guess, but it reads as if it expects you to have already gone through a labor and delivery class, and this is just an overview. So if this is going to be your “one book,” be sure to sign up for the labor and delivery classes offered at your local hospital so that you’re sure to get all the information you need.

My favorite thing about this book BY FAR was the week-by-week guide to pregnancy. You can actually get this for free in the form of the “What to Expect” app. Each week you can watch a video covering what’s going on with your baby, what’s growing that week, and what milestones they hit. I actually read the book AND watch all the videos as they come. It’s a lot of fun. For instance, this week (25) my baby’s nostrils opened up, and now baby is practicing breathing. That’s cool to know! It also lets you know how big the baby is in lbs, length, and comparison to a fruit/veggie.

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If you don’t get the book, do get the app. On top of being fascinating and fun, it’s also a great way to keep track of how many weeks along you are.  I’m always forgetting and it’s nice to just click and get the answer. It even includes days – today I’m 25 weeks and 5 days along. Convenient.

I also love the run down it gives of what to expect at each doctors appointment, and what the various tests are looking for. It’s also helpful to know what all they test for every visit, and what tests are only done once or twice. That way, if you’re feeling a symptom and you look it up on google and it says it might be some scary complication or illness, you can check how they test for it. Oh, they look at the level of protein in my urine? Well, we do that every time I come in. It must not be that! It can save you a lot of worry to be in the know.

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Just one criticism of this area though – different doctors do different things, so sometimes the appointment run-downs can be WAY off. You may to certain tests way earlier or way later or not at all. This is just one of many reasons you should read the book as much as you can, and not just save each chapter to read month by month as your pregnancy goes along. The book is set up to encourage you to “read as you go” so to speak, but I think it’s much more beneficial to read ahead so that you actually know “what to expect!”

This is one of the biggest problems with the book. It is set up to read week by week, beginning before you get pregnant. And I guess cramming in the entire labor and delivery section in one long read. And there’s even some chapters for after the baby has arrived. This is just one example of how you kind of need to know what to do with this book to make it really “work.” Ignore the books instructions for reading it – just read it. In fact, when the book gives you specific instructions PERIOD, you probably need to ignore it.

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This brings me to “the pregnancy diet.” A large chunk of this book is devoted to healthy eating – which is nice if it were more accurate. Rather than suggesting healthy habits, the book outlines a detailed plan of what you need to eat and when, a guide to counting calories, and a specific weight gain goal you should have during your pregnancy. It’s all bunk.

My doctor asked me early on in my pregnancy if I planned to read this book. I said yes and he said “That’s fine. It’s a good book. But ignore the diet section and the weight gain. If you gained as much weight and consumed the calories the book recommends, your baby will very likely be overweight and you may need a c-section if they get too big to deliver.”

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The book says itself that the idea of “eating for two” is a myth, but looking at the calorie counts and weight gain recommendation says otherwise. It’s just way too much. The book also heavily promotes the “six mini meals” idea instead of 3 square meals a day. While I think that idea may be good in some situations, especially when you just don’t have an appetite, it is not a healthy habit. As one of my favorite bloggers, the Homeschooling Doctor, explained to me (and I hope I get this right) eating all day puts your body in a constant state of digestion. This can be distressing for your system, plus it takes up energy to constantly digest. Being pregnant I can promise you that I’ve never had less energy in my life, so using extra to burn calories all day instead of giving myself digestion breaks does not sound like a good idea.

Basically all you need to know is that the idea of six mini meals being healthier than three square is as much of a myth as the old saying that you’re “eating for two.”

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Now, you don’t need to skip clear over the diet section of the book. One thing that is very helpful is that it lists basic elements that a healthy diet needs and how much per day, and then goes on to list good food sources for these elements. For instance, protein. I had an incident recently of dizzy spells and near fainting, and the doctor said I needed protein STAT. Well, I knew right there in my book I had a handy list of over a dozen foods with high protein. How very helpful! So there is some good information in there, just take it with a grain of salt.

There will be some sections in the book that you can skip. For instance, the preparing to concieve section is pretty dull reading if you’ve already conceived. I read it anyway because I’m a completionist. But the book itself says that if you’re already pregnant then just skip ahead.

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Don’t always trust what the book says to skip, though! At the end, there’s a section on complications that it passionately says NOT TO READ unless you’re diagnosed with them. I can understand how reading about these things makes a mom prone to worry, but this section isn’t written like it’s for someone who’s been diagnosed already. Along with basic definitions of many terms, it also lists info on how some complications can be prevented. Well that’s no good to me if I’ve been diagnosed already!

In my mind, knowing a bit about what might go wrong is less likely to cause unnecessary stress and more likely to be a comfort if I find myself in that situation. For instance, I’m not planning on having a c-section unless it’s an emergency. But I still read every bit of the book that talked about c-sections and I’m even planning on taking the c-section class. If an emergency arises, there won’t be time to explain anything, so I need to know now. Isn’t that the essence of knowing “what to expect?!”

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Another good thing about reading that section even though the book said not to was reading about the different kinds of miscarriage. Why? Well, early on in our fertility journey, something showed up on an ultrasound. We never did figure out what it was. It wasn’t a baby. The doctor said it looked a bit like the sac, but there didn’t seem to be an embryo anywhere. I was having endo surgery anyway and we had it removed then as well. The doctor said it was possibly a miscarriage, but he was hesitant to call it that when we weren’t sure and it’s such an emotionally charged word. Well, in my reading I found that there is a thing called a blighted ovum, which is when a fertilized egg starts making a sac but never makes an embryo. For me, that was a comfort. To some people, it may not have been, but to me it seemed like there had simply never been a baby there. To me, it seemed no one had died and that it was just a false start.

We need to move away from the idea that “lay people” don’t need to understand illness and medical terms. Knowing your body is such a comfort, and knowing how illnesses and complications work is just as much of a comfort. Shame on you, What to Expect, for encouraging ignorance. I’m getting a little soap boxy here but this is what this entire blog is about so I can’t glaze over it. Education is a comfort, it’s ignorance that leads to fear. Not knowledge. READ THE CHAPTER. That’s the moral of this story.

Things got a little serious there. Want to see something funny? Surprisingly, What to Expect has an awful lot of this going on:

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Is this information requested a lot or…?

Anyway, moving on. There is an entire section at the end dedicated to pregnancy and chronic illness! Points for that! I went in to it expecting to be disappointed but I was actually very impressed at the variety of illnesses they covered and the information on how these illnesses can affect pregnancy! They covered fibromyalgia, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, and even IBS just to name a few. No PCOS or endometriosis though. I know this book isn’t exhaustive but come on, I think there are more people with endometriosis than there are people marrying their cousins. I’M JUST SAYING.

Speaking of endo though, the book does mention it. But it lists it as the “most common postpartum infection.” Which is EXTREMELY misleading and also not even true. It might be true of c-sections, but pregnancy most often cures endo rather than causing it. Plus they make it sound like its something that can be treated with antibiotics – it’s not. It’s also not a short term problem, it’s a chronic illness. This one sentence kind of ruined the whole book for me. I mean it’s presented as a fact and there’s just no basis to it. It made me wonder about the rest of the book.

((UPDATE: Reader “the best liar you know” pointed out that I may have misread endometritis, an actual post-pregnancy infection, and despite her username she was right! So it turns out it was me that was…))

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The week-by-week pregnancy tracking is fun and harmless and there are a lot of things in this book that I know are right because I’ve heard them from my doctor or from labor classes. I’ll say the same thing I said about Healthy Baby, Toxic World: it’s a good guide book of things to think about and research for yourself. I think that most people have no idea where to begin in pregnancy. They don’t know what they should know, so they don’t know what to ask. This book is great at introducing you to the most basic info. Pregnancy 101.

But in my opinion, pregnancy is such a special time and there is so much to know about it that you shouldn’t just read one book about it. You should google things and read blogs and talk to your doctor in-depth. If you are wanting to find an all-in-one book, well, I haven’t found such a thing yet. I think What to Expect is a great starting point, but the idea that it’s the Bible of pregnancy and all that is way overblown. Remember that in addition to flat out mistakes (yes I’m still made about the endo bit!) medical technology advances every day. My copy was from 2008, the 4th edition, but that’s still SEVEN YEARS old! A lot has changed! Get the latest info, take in-person classes, find out what’s been proven and what hasn’t and what the jury’s still out on. Life is so complicated and amazing. It’s worth learning about!

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So take a look at What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Take it with a grain of salt. Use your critical thinking skills and don’t blindly trust everything you read – that goes for any book. Since this book is so popular, you can find it at the used book store for almost nothing, and while I do have some harsh criticism of some things, remember that there was a lot of usefulness I got out of it, too. It’s a pretty good deal all around.

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About rachelmeeks

My name is Rachel Meeks. I have endometriosis, an incurable pain condition, IBS, a digestive illness, and PCOS, which causes irregular periods and infertility. After keeping my illnesses a secret, I started to get upset about how my fellow sick people were being mistreated because of ignorance. I knew that I'd need to stand up, make some noise, wear my heart on my sleeve, and admit that I am not well to make a difference.

11 responses to “Book Review: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

  1. Are you sure the section about endo wasn’t endometritis instead of endometriosis? Because endometritis IS inflammation of the lining of the uterus, usually cause by an infection, and common after delivery. And endometritis can be nasty, so should be definitely treated by antibiotics. Maybe its a typo if it does say endometriosis.

    • Look at that, mystery solved! I swear I read and re-read that section trying to wrap my brain around it and I just kept reading “endometriosis” somehow! Chalk it up to pregnancy brain I guess. How embarassing. I’m changing the post now! Thank you!

  2. Claire

    It’s such an exciting time for you!
    But my take away from this (totally not getting preggers any time soon) is your line “because I’m a completionist”

    ME TOO!

    I love the term, because it doesn’t matter what it is, I just like to do the whole thing. Which is not helpful when cleaning and the CFS is begging me to stop. Also not helpful when I watched the second half of Bathory – just confusing and not worth it.

  3. Allie P.

    I skipped ahead to the end the first time I attempted to read a pregnancy book only to nearly lose my cookies out of sheer terror. After that, I would only read what I should expect in the next two weeks. It was kind of like slowly wading into cold water one inch at a time.

  4. kbwriting

    I loved this book. I would also recommend the What to Expect the First Year. I found that very useful. I did not find the toddler one useful, but I also had no time to read it because I had a toddler!

  5. Pingback: Pregnancy Update: 34 Weeks/Doctor Debacle | Do I Look Sick?

  6. Pingback: Book Review: The Official Lamaze Guide | Do I Look Sick?

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