Managing stress during pregnancy
For most mums-to-be, pregnancy is a happy and exciting time. However, for some, pregnancy can be a source of stress and anxiety. We all know about the importance of physical health during pregnancy, but we can be less likely to consider the effects of emotional health.
Experiencing occasional stress and anxiety during pregnancy is very normal, and for many women, these feelings will come and go. However, for around 15% or pregnant women, it can be more serious, and potentially harmful.
Rest assured that most women will go onto have a healthy pregnancy and baby even if they’re stressed.
But if you’re feeling stressed and anxious all the time, don’t struggle on alone, ask your doctor or midwife for help. There’s some evidence that continuous high levels of stress may have adverse effects on your baby. It’s thought that the stress hormone, cortisol, can cross the placenta and impact the baby’s brain development. High levels of chronic stress can also increase your chance of premature labour or a low birth weight baby.
Whist you mustn’t feel guilty or be hard on yourself, trying to overcome your stress or seeking help if you need to, will be beneficial for both you and your baby.
Here are some positive steps you can take to reduce your stress during pregnancy:
Talk about it
Sharing your concerns and feelings with your partner, friends, or family will help relieve some of your anxiety. Don’t bottle things up. Turning to others for support and sharing your concerns can really help you feel better.
If you have worries about your baby’s wellbeing, or a personal matter, you can always turn to your caregiver. There are many resources out there, so if you are honest about how you feel, you are more likely to get the support you need.
Talking to other mums-to-be can be another excellent source of support, as they’re probably experiencing the same anxieties as you are. There are plenty of antenatal, exercises or mum-to-be classes available, where you can meet others in the same position as you.
Rest and relaxation
Make slowing down a priority. You need to be kind to yourself and allow time to rest without feeling guilty. Treat yourself to some ‘you’ time and put your feet up, have a long bath, or read a good book. If you feel exhausted, go to bed early or take a nap if you can. Growing a baby is tiring work and it’s important to listen to your body and get all the rest you need.
Complementary therapies are another great way to unwind. Reflexology or massage in particular can be a wonderful way to de-stress. Many spa and beauty salons provide pregnancy treatments, but if you don’t want to put money aside, you can always ask your partner or a close friend or family member to give you a back, neck or foot massage.
Deep-breathing exercises, yoga, or stretching are wonderful to relieve built up stress and tension. You can teach yourself meditation, breathing exercises and visualisation techniques, they’re free, and you can do them anywhere. These are ways of relaxing by concentrating your mind on one thing and they’re often used in yoga.
Try to find a pregnancy yoga class near you. However, if you can’t join a class for whatever reason, there are many pregnancy yoga DVDs available, allowing you to practice in the comfort of your own home.
Look after yourself
If you’re used to caring for others, give your all at work, or find it hard to say “no”, making yourself a priority may seem unnatural, or even selfish. But looking after yourself is an essential part of looking after your baby. Now’s as good a time as any to get rid of the notion that you can do it all. Practice saying “no” and get used to the idea of asking your friends and family for help.
Take good care of your body and your mental health will improve too. Do your best to eat healthy food, drink plenty of water and take regular gentle exercise such as walking or swimming.
Laughter is one of the body’s best ways of relaxing, so meet up with friends, go out for a meal or watch a film at the cinema.
Pregnancy is also a great time to treat yourself to all the treatments you don’t normally splash out on or have time for. If your bump gets too big to paint your toe nails, have a pedicure, or create your own pampering session at home if you’re saving money.
Prepare for the birth
If the prospect of giving birth is worrying you, learning more about what happens during labour can make you feel more in control and less anxious. Understanding the process, stages of labour and most importantly, your choices, can put your mind at rest.
Being prepared can really help relieve stress. Antenatal classes are a great way of being well informed, and if you’re having your baby at a hospital or birth centre, you may be able to have a tour of the delivery suite, or an online tour should be available. Having a birth plan written up is also one less thing to worry about.
Speak to your midwife about your worries. Most likely they are completely normal and you won’t be the only woman having had the same anxieties. If your fear of birth is so overwhelming, the right support may help you overcome your doubts. Hypnobirthing is also a great way of feeling positive about the birth.
Times are financially difficult for many people at the moment, and with a baby on the way, it can cause considerable stress for some. But try not to worry; a baby doesn’t actually need that much in the early stages. Try and write a list of the essential things you really need and stick to it. You’ll also probably be pleasantly surprised by how much you can borrow, or get things in great condition second hand.
Make sure you know about your entitlements regarding maternity pay, and you may also be entitled to other supplementary benefits too. Speak to your midwife as they may be able to help you with equipment grants or pointing you in the direction of Charities that will give you good quality cots and prams for example.
What if your stress continues?
If you’re extremely anxious, feel unable to cope or manage your stress, or have a specific reason to be concerned about your baby’s health, consult with your care giver. They may be able to recommend some professional counselling. Some women can also experience depression during pregnancy, and this can be treated, so talking to your doctor or midwife can really help.