Managing Stress During Pregnancy
It is normal to feel some amount of stress during pregnancy. After all, pregnancy brings about lots of changes including body changes, pregnancy symptoms, hormone fluctuations and mood swings.
This post is intended to help you remain as stress-free as possible so you can have a healthier pregnancy. If the stress you are dealing with becomes more than you can handle, be sure to contact your healthcare provider or a therapist right away.
Normal Stress Versus Too Much Stress
Normal stressors such as a deadline at work, a disagreement with your mom or having to sit in traffic are ok and should not create any problems in your pregnancy.
Long lasting or serious stress such as coping with relationship problems, or losing a loved one may lead to problems if not addressed. Some experts believe that long-lasting severe stress can negatively impact a pregnancy and possibly cause complications.
How Does Stress Affect the Baby?
When an expectant mother (or anyone for that matter) is put in a stressful situation, the body thinks it is in danger and goes into a “fight or flight” mode, sending out a surge of stress hormones.
When the stress is short term, the stress hormones subside. When the stress or anxiety becomes a regular occurrence, the body’s stress response system will continue releasing stress hormones, which can wreak havoc on mom and baby.
The Risks of Regular Stress to Baby Includes:
- Risk of preterm birth
- Risk of a low-birth weight baby
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- Child development issues including emotional problems, hyperactivity disorder, and possible cognitive development in children
How Does Stress Affect a Pregnant Woman?
Chronic stress (stress that is always present) affects pregnant moms much like it would any other person. High levels of prolonged stress can put you at greater risk of a number of physical issues and health problems including:
- Preterm labor
- Trouble sleeping
- Digestive problems
- Tense muscles
- High blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
- Stress eating (overeating)
- Weakened immune system (you are more likely to get sick)
- Epigenetic changes that alter gene expression patterns in the baby – Learn more about how you can influence the genes you pass onto your baby
Dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Pregnancy
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when you continue to feel anxious after experiencing a traumatic or violent event, such as sexual abuse, a terrorist attack, or surviving a natural disaster. If you have PTSD you may experience things like:
- Serious anxiety ( you may not want to leave your home)
- Recurring nightmares
- A racing heartbeat or sweating when you remember the traumatic event
About 8% of woman suffer from PTSD during pregnancy. If you think you may have PTSD, talk to your provider or a mental health professional.
Tips for Stress Management During Pregnancy
Begin by thinking about what is creating the most stress in your life. It may be more than one thing but try and figure out the number one stressor. Sometimes understanding the cause of your stress helps to better manage and reduce stress.
If possible, try to avoid or limit the stressor (sometimes this is not possible) or simply find healthy ways to cope with the stress. Some women cope with stress by drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana or taking drugs, which can hurt mom and baby. Here are several healthy ways to deal with stress that you can try:
Exercise in pregnancy is a great way to release frustration and get your mind off of what is stressing you out. When you exercise your body releases endorphins (known as the feel-good hormones).
Exercise also helps lower your cortisol levels – a hormone that causes anxiety. Try low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming or take a prenatal yoga class. The recommended amount of exercise is 20-30 minutes per day several times per week. Exercise is generally considered safe and often recommended during pregnancy but always check with your healthcare provider first.
2. Get as Much Sleep as Possible
Sleep is important because it helps to lower stress. The American Psychological Association recommends getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Their research shows that not getting enough sleep affects your memory, your concentration and increases stress hormones.
The tricky part is that pregnancy can make getting a good night’s sleep a bit difficult! It is especially hard to get a good night’s sleep in the third trimester when you can’t get into a comfortable position. Try keeping the temperature in your room low (around 60-65 degrees Celsius) and consider getting a body pillow. Here is a post dedicated to sleep during pregnancy.
3. Talk it Out
Sometimes it helps to talk with another pregnant woman or mother if you are feeling anxious about issues relating to pregnancy, birth or becoming a mother.
During your prenatal visits, you should also feel comfortable speaking with your healthcare provider about the stress you are experiencing.
If you think you might be depressed or have ever struggled with mental illness, it is important that you speak with your health care provider right away. Do not try and manage this alone.
4. Eat Healthy Foods
Eating healthy helps to achieve a healthy mental state and healthy babies. Pregnant women will want to focus on eating whole foods as much as possible (those that are not processed).
It is also important to eat enough protein – experts recommend that pregnant women eat 75-100 grams of protein each day.
Here is more information on what to eat during pregnancy for the best pregnancy health.
5. Ask for Help
If you’re feeling stressed, reach out to people in your support network for help. Accept help from anyone who offers to bring you a meal, clean your house, watch your children or help you in another way.
6. Write in a Journal
Sometimes just writing down what is bothering you is very helpful. It can be a great way to discover how you really feel while releasing your stress.
7. Take a Bath
This one is pretty straightforward. Taking a nice long bath can be a great stress-reliever.
Bonus: add 1 cup of Epsom salt (found in most grocery and drug stores) into your bath. The magnesium in Epsom salt is a natural stress reliever and soothes aching muscles and back pains.
8. Get a Prenatal Massage
A prenatal massage is a wonderful way to relax, lower stress levels, and alleviate pregnancy-related aches and pains. Make sure to find a certified massage therapist who has experience with prenatal massage.
If you can’t afford a professional massage, asking a friend or your partner to rub your shoulders works too!
9. Be OK With Saying No
Pregnancy is a time to relax as you do the hard work of growing your baby. You may need to say no to extra activities or events. It’s important to know yourself and your limits.
Pregnancy is a special and temporary time, take it easy and enjoy it.
When you are feeling anxious try simply breathing. Close your eyes, inhale a deep breath through your nose, count to three and exhale through an open mouth.
It may also help to talk to your baby – tell your baby you love him/her. This should relax you and your baby.
11. Listen to Music
Listening to relaxing music can help you bring a sense of calm to your environment. Music has a relaxing effect on the mind and can be a wonderful stress management tool. Research has shown that listening to music reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
Managing stress during pregnancy is essential for your health and the health your baby. By prioritizing your health and well-being and seeking support you can better manage your stress.
The important thing to remember is that this information is not intended to cause you more stress but to help you be aware of the impacts of stress on you and your baby.
The goal is simply to be more mindful about stress in your life – when you can avoid it, do so…when you can’t avoid it, try some of the tips above to help you better manage the stress.
Disclaimer: Pregnancy by Design’s information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always ask your healthcare provider about any health concerns you may have.
March of Dimes. (2012). Stress and pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/stress-and-pregnancy.aspx
Shahhosseini, Z., Pourasghar, M., Khalilian, A., & Salehi, F. (2015). A Review of the Effects of Anxiety During Pregnancy on Children’s Health. Materia Socio-Medica, 27(3), 200–202. https://www.scopemed.org/mnsfulltext/16-1433924330.pdf?t=1563567500
American Psychological Association. (2004, May). More sleep would make most Americans happier, healthier and safer. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/research/action/sleep-deprivation
Mcgill (2013, March 27). Major health benefits of music uncovered. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/major-health-benefits-music-uncovered-225589
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