After staying up late researching birthing options online (lotus, Lamaze, and water, oh my!), you can’t get to sleep. You’re feeling behind at work. And every meal you wonder what you can and can’t eat. (Feta cheese: yay or nay?)
Who’s stressed around here?
Between your physical changes (hello, hormones!), the unknowns, and all the things to do, the answer is — you.
But guess what? It’s completely normal and usually not cause for concern (or more stress). There are some types of stress, though, that can increase your risk for certain complications.
Let’s look at some common causes of stress that many women feel during pregnancy. They include:
- fear of pregnancy loss
- fear of labor and delivery
- uncomfortable physical changes, like nausea, tiredness, mood swings, and backache
- work and helping your employer prepare for your maternity leave
- fear of taking care of the baby
- financial stress related to raising a child
And of course, there’s the always frustrating stress about feeling stressed!
Not all stress is created equal, though.
Stress is a normal part of life, and it’s not even always a bad thing. And worrying about your baby and pregnancy are signs that you’re eager to be a good parent — and you will be.
A pressing deadline at work or a one-time disagreement with your partner may get your heart rate up. But they’re not typically cause for long-term worry for your baby. If you’re able to get past the stress and not linger there, you’re golden.
More concerning in pregnancy (and in life) are chronic stresses that you just can’t shake. They could increase your chance of complications like premature birth and low birth rate.
That’s because your body thinks it’s in “fight or flight” mode. You produce a surge of stress hormones, which affects your baby’s stress management system.
Serious stressors that most affect you and your baby include:
- big life changes, such as a death in the family, divorce, or losing your job or home
- long-term hardships, such as financial problems, health issues, abuse, or depression
- disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, or other unexpected traumatic events
- exposure to racism, an everyday difficulty faced by being in a minority group
- serious stress about pregnancy, such as a larger fear than typical around labor, health of the baby, and caring for the baby
Those who have experienced disasters may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They’re at a greater risk of having a baby born prematurely or with a low birth weight. If that’s you, talk to your doctor or a therapist — they can connect you with resources to help.
You might have noticed that stress can show up in your body as a headache, trouble sleeping, or overeating.
It can affect your baby, too.
So, what exactly are the risks to your baby and pregnancy?
Since preeclampsia often comes up — and fear of it can cause stress — we want to clear this up.
Further, not everyone with chronic hypertension gets preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that affects your blood pressure and organs, and could lead to early delivery of your baby.
So you don’t have to be stressed to get preeclampsia — about
The same review found a link between workplace stress and miscarriage, which definitely brings to light the importance of making adjustments and working with your employer. This may be especially necessary if you work a night shift.
The review also mentioned that healthcare providers tend to downplay the risk stress can cause in pregnancy, perhaps to reassure pregnant women and not cause more stress. But these providers may have a point: Remember that the chances of miscarriage after 6 weeks — which is around the time most women confirm a pregnancy — are fairly small.
Preterm birth and low birth rate
Another small study links stress to preterm birth — delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy).
Preterm babies are more likely to have developmental delays and learning disorders. As adults, they’re more likely to have chronic health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Also correlated is low birthweight (weighing less than 5 1/2 pounds).
On the flip side, premature infants are born every day, and most do quite well. The main point is to avoid adding risk factors — like stress — to your pregnancy if you can (or seek treatment), because the fewer the risk factors, the better the outcome.
Unfortunately, in some instances, the effects of prenatal stress show up later — sometimes, many years later.
Of course, once your baby arrives you might find you have a whole new set of stressors.
If you’re stressed caring for your infant, try to sneak in more sleep when you can and focus on healthy foods. Ask your partner to look after baby so you can do something for yourself like take a walk, journal, or talk to a friend. Know it’s okay to say no to too many visitors or prioritize your little one rather than a clean kitchen.
Now for some good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. You can get relief. Here are a few ways you can calm yourself and help your baby:
1. Talk with someone you trust
This could be your partner, best friend, doctor, therapist, or another pregnant woman. Join a mom’s group, either online or IRL. Being able to vent and feel heard is so valuable, whether or not you get to an immediate solution.
2. Ask your network for help
It may not come naturally to you, but it’s more than OK to ask for help. Chances are, your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers would love to help, but don’t know where to start. And if they’re wise enough to ask, accept their offer!
Ask for help creating a baby registry, cooking a few meals for the freezer, or shopping for cribs with you.
3. Be mindful
This could mean doing prenatal yoga or listening to a meditation app. Take a series of deep breaths, letting your mind calm with each exhale. Repeat a mantra that centers you. Visually imagine life with your infant. Mindfully enjoy the little things each day. Journal your thoughts. Enjoy guided muscle relaxation.
These are all ways to slow your thoughts — exactly what you need when your mind is racing.
4. Keep healthy
Ah, those good ‘ol staples: rest and exercise. Go to bed earlier than normal or indulge in that nap. Try low-impact exercises like swimming or walking, or do a brief prenatal yoga sequence.
5. Consider your food
Sure, you may have those infamous cravings or need food right this instant. And on top of pregnancy cravings, stress eating is real. But also make sure that your meals are (relatively) balanced and healthy.
Avoid sugar as much as possible (we know it’s not always easy), and drink lots and lots of water. Remember to eat breakfast.
6. Know the facts
Pregnancy — and particularly pregnancy after loss — can bring many fears. Understand that miscarriage becomes less likely with each week that passes, and it’s especially unlikely after 13 weeks.
Know when to step away from your computer (yes, you!). Don’t spiral into hours of research — that’ll only cause more stress.
Talk to your doctor about your worries. They’ll be able to offer you reassurance and help unique to your situation and needs.
7. Listen to music
Listening to as little as 30 minutes of music
8. Feel the feels
Laughter is medicine. Watch the latest romcom or pick up that lighthearted novel. Call your best friend and share a laugh. Or go the other direction and let out tears that have built up. Sometimes there’s no better stress relief than a good cry.
9. Pamper yourself
Soak in a warm (but not hot) bath. Get a prenatal massage or ask your partner to rub your feet. All are quick fixes for the aches of pregnancy — and good stress relievers, too.
10. Slow it down
Give yourself permission to not push so hard. You may want to do it all, but consider taking a task or two off your to-do list or see if someone else can do it instead. Or if you’re having trouble saying “no” to requests, ask your partner to be a gatekeeper and say it for you.
11. Practice and plan
Take any classes (birthing, newborn care) available through your hospital. Tour your hospital’s labor and delivery unit to know what to expect and the resources available.
Write your birth plan — the doctors will know what you’d like and you’ll feel better being able to visualize the big day and beyond.
12. Watch your stress levels
If it all starts feeling like too much, tell your doctor right away. They can help address depression and anxiety with therapy and other treatments.
You’re not alone if you feel stressed during pregnancy — it’s perfectly normal, and those everyday stressors experienced by pregnant women don’t typically impact mom or baby’s health.
It’s chronic stress that you need to watch out for. It not only affects your own health — pregnant or not — but may complicate labor and baby’s development.
The good news is that there are many ways you can keep stress at bay. Take a little extra time for self-care without guilt. Knowing your options for stress relief and incorporating them in your life can help make these days a bit smoother and keep you and your baby healthier.