How to Advocate For Yourself In Pregnancy—From an OBGYN

Don't be afraid to ask questions, seek a second opinion or follow-up during those long 40 weeks.
how to advocate for yourself in pregnancy

For many of us, life is wildly busy—managing a demanding career, handling household affairs, keeping the spark alive with our spouse, tending to our families and friendships, finding time to exercise, and the list goes on. Our days are filled to the brim. 

If your life is anything like mine, your “to-do” list probably feels like a recirculating fountain! And unfortunately, this frenetic pace has no regard for big transformations like pregnancy, everything in your life expects you to keep pace as if nothing is changing. 

Yet the reality is that a lot is changing, your whole life is changing.

How you see yourself, the way you feel about things, your relationships, your body and body image, your appetite and sleep patterns, your mood, your energy level—pregnancy brings changes to all of this and more!

It’s no wonder that the excitement of pregnancy can be clouded by overwhelm. Even women who are thrilled to be pregnant can simultaneously feel exhausted and too stressed out to really experience the magic of all that’s happening inside them. 

I once heard a Zen teacher say that “our attention is the most basic form of love.” So how can you give yourself some love by creating space in your life to focus more attention on your pregnancy? I promise, this isn’t meant to be an esoteric question!

As an OBGYN physician with 15 years of experience caring for pregnant women across many diverse settings, I have developed a very good sense of what can make pregnancy more enjoyable.

Additionally, I have spent a lot of my career studying the intersection of our mental landscape and physical well-being. Therefore, allow me to offer you a few suggestions.

Choose the right provider

Start by choosing the right prenatal care provider for your needs and desires. There are real differences in how prenatal care is provided depending on who is providing it. Consider what is important to you and make sure you find a doctor or midwife who can meet your needs. 

Your prenatal care provider is your guide and advocate, and they can impact the tone of how you feel about your pregnancy. In general, you’ll be best served by a provider who is not only knowledgeable but also supportive and compassionate—someone who really gives you their attention. 

Here are some things to consider: 

  • Is it important for you to see the same provider for the majority of your visits? 
  • Or do you prefer the variety of seeing different providers? 
  • Do you want quick in-and-out visits? 
  • Or would you rather have lengthier appointments with time to explore questions and concerns? 
  • Where do you want to deliver? At home? In a birth center? Or in a hospital? 
  • How important is it for you to know the provider who will be caring for you in labor? 
  • Would you like to see a provider who specializes in pregnancy care or do you want someone who can see you for everything including your pregnancy?

Finding a prenatal care provider who you trust will eliminate a lot of the fear and worry that is common during pregnancy. And feeling heard and well cared for frees up a lot of mental energy.

Advocate for yourself in your workplace

Don’t shy away from advocating for yourself in your workplace. As women, we are often taught to believe that the whole world is depending on us. We commonly feel over-responsible which adds to feelings of stress and pressure. And even worse, many workplaces do not accommodate pregnancy. 

You may feel a lot of pressure to “just suck it up.” But the nausea and fatigue of the first trimester and the exhaustion of the third trimester can be really intense, and expecting yourself to suck it up and work through it is unreasonable. There’s also a lot of societal expectation to work at your usual pace right up until you deliver, and I’ve heard many women express frustration at not having a week or two before delivery to get settled and prepared. 

So, if you have control over things like this, don’t feel guilty about getting your needs met. And if you truly don’t have control, be compassionate with yourself!

Recognize that the problem is not you, it’s that many of our cultural norms are not aligned with what’s best for our well-being.

The bottom line is that it’s really ok, and beneficial, to slow down at work during pregnancy and have firm work-life boundaries. 

Make time to care for yourself

When we are perpetually in a go-go-go mode, our nervous system revs up to high alert and then it can actually feel impossible to slow down. In many ways, our modern lifestyle runs contrary to how we are genetically engineered. We have not evolved to thrive under constant stress. 

In fact, extensive research by experts like Gabor Mate MD shows that the increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and panic disorders can at least partially be attributed to the perpetual strain modern life places on our nervous system. Therefore, make a conscious decision to care for yourself by stepping out of the frenzy for at least 30 minutes every day.

Wishing you had more time to relax doesn’t work, you literally have to block out the time on your calendar. Whether you take a prenatal yoga class, or get a massage, go for a walk with a friend, meditate, read a book, journal, take a bath, or nap on the couch, self-care is vital especially during pregnancy. It grounds your mind and supports your body, and also allows time to develop a sense of connection with the life growing inside you. 

Cultivate supportive relationships

I think many of us would agree that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a sense of social isolation that was already evolving. Humans are social beings and having connection with others fuels a sense of well-being, especially connection with those who share a common experience like pregnancy.

Prenatal exercise classes are great for this. So are birthing classes. I have lots of patients who end up forming close friendships with people in their birthing class which then gives way to a community of friends raising children together. 

Close relationships also give us a space to explore all that is happening and changing in our lives, a place to unpack feelings: worries, joys, frustrations, uncertainties, etc. I’m very introverted, my natural inclination is to shy away from social situations. I particularly dislike carpooling. 

So awhile back when a physician colleague whose daughter is on a cross country team with my daughter asked if I wanted to carpool to a meet that was about an hour away, my immediate reaction was, “no!” But I stepped out of my comfort zone and agreed to carpool, it turned out to be a lot of fun! And it was a great reminder to be open to connection with others, it adds joy to our lives.

Remember, pregnancy, with all of its ups and downs, is a very unique time of your life.

Whether you are glowing with the thrill of being pregnant or feel like your body has been hijacked, it can be an experience full of wonder and awe, and even more so if you take time to be present.

I recently worked with an exceptional life coach, Dr. Jessie Mahoney, and she taught me that “the grass is greener where you water it.” The more you water the lawn of your pregnancy, the greener and more lush it will be. And who doesn’t want to lay down and take a nap on a beautiful green lawn?


  • Dr. Anna Dowling

    Dr. Anna Dowling is an ob/gyn who is fueled by a passion for genuine, heartfelt connection with her patients and their families. Her holistic approach to medicine reflects her belief that health and well-being requires so much more than attending to our physical bodies. She believes we all possess innate wisdom which is meant to be nurtured and honored if we are to truly thrive. When she is not caring for patients, she can be found rambling around the beautiful wilderness of the Pacific Northwest with her spouse and children.

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