Stress and Pregnancy: Before talking about stress and pregnancy, you’re not paying attention if you don’t feel stress in your life. Everyone experiences stress, even pregnant women. What is not clear, however, is whether stress can have harmful effects on pregnancy.
Stress and Pregnancy: What It Does to Your Body?
Stress and pregnancy were always a big deal, so for years, obstetricians have looked to see whether an increase in stressful events could cause miscarriage, result in preterm delivery, or harm a fetus in some other way.
Until recently, the consensus was that while excessive physical work can bring on preterm labor, emotional stress did not affect pregnancy outcomes negatively.
This conclusion, however, has recently been challenged. There now is information to indicate that stress can cause the body to produce certain hormones that can perhaps cause miscarriage and that very likely can bring on preterm labor.
Additionally, even if doctors have no “smoking gun” linking stress with adverse pregnancy outcomes, pregnant women would want to decrease the amount of stress they have to contend with just because of how unpleasant it makes them feel.
These emotional consequences of stress can range from a mild sense of being overwhelmed to severe episodes of depression. They can eventually lead to pregnant women feeling withdrawn and unable to function.
Are there things pregnant women can do to reduce their stress and change how it makes them feel?
The answer is yes. To manage your stress and pregnancy, below are listed several techniques that both women and the clinicians who care for them have found useful in helping to relieve the sense that life is getting out of control.
We divided these techniques into two groups:
(1) readjusting your lifestyle to reduce stress
(2) specific maneuvers and activities you can do to change how you feel -both physically and emotionally-about the stress you are under.
Gaining control of your life during pregnancy
Take a close look at your lifestyle: Make yourself do this on paper. Look at your work activities, home and family responsibilities, and other obligations (church, community activities, clubs, and organizations to which you belong).
Then look to see how “doable” it is. Make sure you include time for yourself for such activities as exercise, downtime, and socializing. Once you have done this, be honest with yourself as you ask the following:
Is this schedule achievable, sustainable, or satisfying? If not, accept the reality that you have to change the schedule.
- Accept the fact that even if you currently can thrive in your busy and demanding lifestyle:
You likely won’t be able to sustain it as the pregnancy progresses and makes more physical demands on you. Therefore, prepare yourself to cut back on what you’re doing and allow more time for relaxation.
You will need to sleep more. You will need to change the times you eat a lot of meals to make sure you can eat a balanced diet. You will feel better if you allow yourself time to engage in a good exercise program.
Finally, you will need to allow yourself some “mental growth” time. This is time for reading, thinking, and planning for the new, significant role of mother you will soon assume.
Be prepared to give up some control over the lifestyle
You have worked so hard to attain it. Many things about pregnancy are not in your control. You may experience severe morning sickness.
You may have overwhelming fatigue. You may develop a pregnancy complication requiring hospitalization or home bed rest.
For many women, especially those with demanding jobs, the thought that biology might interfere with their responsibilities borders on the intolerable. But it happens. Be prepared to accept this.
Stress and pregnancy: How to Treat Stress Naturally during pregnancy?
- Make up your mind :
That you, and not your husband, your mother, your boss, or your friends, will determine how you feel about your pregnancy and how you cope with it.
Other than your medical care providers, you are the best person to determine your needs, how hard you should work, how much you should rest, what you should eat, and all other aspects of your behavior during pregnancy.
Indeed, listen to the advice of medical professionals, friends, and family members you trust. But don’t allow yourself to be made to feel inadequate.
- Keep lines of communication open with those you love:
Especially your spouse. Unless they are currently pregnant, your spouse, parents, and friends will not know precisely what you are experiencing and will not be able to anticipate your wants and needs.
Let them know. Tell them how you are feeling and how they can help. At the same time, you must also be sensitive to your spouse’s concerns and anxieties, especially if this is your first pregnancy.
Stress and Pregnancy: Don’t be a hero
This is especially important to deal with stress and pregnancy if your work environment is in a traditionally “macho” field. Such professions as law, medicine, and corporate life often make demands that are impossible for pregnant women to fulfill if they are to remain in good health and reasonably sane.
Discuss with your spouse and boss what you can and cannot reasonably do and adjust accordingly.
Your employer wants you to work as long as possible during your pregnancy. By adjusting your work environment in minor ways, you will often be able to contribute much more to your organization than by following your former rigid schedule.
- Do your homework :
Learn as much about pregnancy and its ramifications as you can. Read, talk to friends, attend classes, and talk to your doctor or midwife to learn as much as possible, not only about the biology of pregnancy but its emotional implications.
In this way, if you do begin to experience new and disturbing emotions, you’ll at least not be surprised by them.
Permit yourself to relax. This means making time for relaxation and not doing so only when the odd spare moment occurs. Take time to do whatever makes you feel good.
Read a book, see a movie, get a massage, and sleep late when you can. Each of us has our own means of personal “profit-taking.” Please make sure you do something, do your best to enjoy it, and by no means allow yourself to feel guilty about it.
Teach yourself–or get taught–relaxation techniques
It has been shown by many researchers, notably Herbert Benson, M.D. and Alice Domar, PhD., that by learning to elicit a state of deep physical rest on command, both your body and your mind return to a calm, relaxed state.
Heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormone levels, and muscle tension will drop. The mind experiences a marked diminution in tension and the perception of stress.
This is called the Relaxation Response. Techniques for eliciting the response can be learned from health care providers or by reading the excellent description in Dr. Alice Domar Self Nurture.
8. Talk to yourself–and write it down:
The process of explicitly identifying thoughts and feelings and putting them into written form is an excellent way to both come to grips with what you are experiencing and help resolve any of these troublesome feelings.
Doing so will give you better insight into yourself and often relieve the pain of previously disturbing thoughts or feelings.
- Test the origins of your emotions for validity:
In stress and pregnancy, this process is called “cognitive restructuring.” We all get feedback and messages from those with whom we deal in the world.
Often, we make negative assumptions about ourselves based on this feedback and thus feel bad about our interactions and ourselves. This process of negative thinking occurs spontaneously and can often be overwhelming.
But suppose you can begin to identify these repetitive negative thoughts and write them down to ensure you clearly understand them. In that case, you can then begin seeing what triggers them and determine whether your thought or the emotion it evokes is reasonable.
Whenever you get one of these thoughts, look to see what caused it. Ask yourself if what happened—a comment, a relaxed look, etc.—deserves the negative response you gave. You can break the cycle of negative feelings sparked by everyday events in your life.
Consider the possibility of obtaining professional help
The field of psychopharmacology has advanced so much over the last 15 years that seeing a therapist no longer automatically involves years of once-a-week visits to talk about your feelings.
Although such “talk therapy” can be helpful, there are now many safe medications for pregnant women.
These medicines have very few side effects yet can transform how you feel. Depressed moods are often caused by changes in the biochemistry of the brain.
Some medicines can safely adjust the levels of brain chemicals. These medicines, like the insulin a diabetic takes, can correct abnormal biochemistry and make you feel better and happier.
If you and your healthcare provider decide that such medications would be useful, try them. They will not cause a miscarriage or harm your baby.
Stress and Pregnancy: The verdict!
Life is complex and often challenging. Stress will not be going away anytime soon. There are, however, ways that you, as a pregnant woman, can evaluate the stress you are under and make changes in your life to better deal with it. By so doing, you’ll have a healthier pregnancy and be a happier person.