Pregnant women tend to worry quite often; it’s common to experience periods of stress during pregnancy.
You’re busy organizing every detail for the newest member of your family, while also dealing with a level of exhaustion you previously didn’t know existed.
It’s natural to feel worried about your baby, and a certain level of stress during pregnancy seems almost inevitable.
Emotional stress during pregnancy
Let’s face it, there’s plenty to feel worried about during pregnancy.
There might be all sorts of worries about weight gain, diet, money, relationship issues or impending childbirth.
Many women are worried about all the work that has to be done before maternity leave begins.
Others worry about bonding with their baby, choosing a name, breastfeeding, or whether they’ll be able to soothe their crying newborn.
It’s enough to give anyone high blood pressure.
If we’re honest, it would be more worrying if you weren’t worried at all. It’s normal to experience a little pregnancy worry.
Relationship stress during pregnancy
For most women, discovering they’re expecting a baby is a joyful occasion.
It’s also ok not to feel joyous and excited all of the time – even if you’re looking forward to it.
Pregnancy and birth are major life events and can bring with them a whole host of feelings that you mightn’t have expected.
Discovering you’re pregnant can suddenly shine a light on unresolved issues, or highlight differing opinions between you and your partner.
Maybe this baby wasn’t planned, or perhaps you’re wondering how you and your partner will cope financially.
Maybe you’re concerned either you or your partner just isn’t ready for a baby yet.
Can arguing during pregnancy harm the baby?
Many couples experience arguments during pregnancy.
Worries about the future, coupled with the usual onslaught of early pregnancy symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, and mood swings, can add a whole new set of pressures and difficulties to your relationship.
For the most part, though, short-term or low-level stresses and anxieties are unlikely to cause health problems for your baby.
Minor arguments or bickering might feel stressful and emotional at the time but they are often resolved relatively quickly.
Once they have passed, the adrenaline will melt away, making space for all those positive feel-good hormones to flow once more.
Effects of stress during pregnancy
If they are stressed, pregnant women often worry whether stress will be bad for the baby.
You might like to read How Can You Tell If Your Baby Is Stressed In The Womb? for more information.
As if you needed anything else to worry about!
Unfortunately, experts believe high prenatal stress and extreme anxiety levels can lead to complications. They can also affect the immune system, and have a negative impact on the health of the baby.
There are clear links between the effects of maternal stress, and premature labor, stillbirth, low birthweight and early brain development.
Stress in pregnancy can also take its toll on your body, too.
How does stress affect an unborn baby?
Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are normally released when we feel frightened or in danger. They cause a number of physical changes in the body, such as a racing heart rate and rapid breathing.
This is a process known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Once the perceived danger has gone, the body and hormone levels return to normal.
During pregnancy, if the mother’s anxiety or stress levels are continuously high, the body is exposed to high adrenaline and cortisol levels.
These hormones circulate in the mother’s bloodstream for long periods of time. The baby is also exposed to hormones, which can lead to health problems.
Research shows this can have an adverse effect on both a mother’s health and the health and development of her baby. It can affect babies into infancy, as well as into adulthood.
Can extreme stress cause early labor?
The cause of premature labor has always remained a bit of a mystery. Nobody has really determined why some women go into labor much earlier than others.
Exciting new scientific research, however, reveals there might be ways to predict which mothers have the highest risk factors.
Corticotrophin Releasing Hormone (CRH) is thought to play a key role in the process of childbirth. It’s released in the brain and also produced in increasing amounts by the fetus and placenta throughout pregnancy.
CRH suppresses appetite, increases risks of anxiety and depression, and can lead to poor, disrupted sleep. An increase in CRH also leads to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
CRH circulates in the mother’s blood in early pregnancy and it’s thought women with high levels of CRH in early pregnancy are most at risk of premature labor and birth.
Premature labor is usually classed as labor that begins before 37 weeks pregnant.
This research suggests the timing of labor could be determined by events that occur earlier in pregnancy, rather than around the time of the start of labor.
If you’ve been told you might be at risk of having your baby early, stay informed about what to look out for, by reading our article Premature Labor – Signs, Symptoms and Management.
Can extreme stress during pregnancy cause behavioral problems?
Evidence and research suggest high levels of stress and anxiety in pregnancy might leave a child less equipped to handle stressful situations in later life.
This can make it difficult for them to regulate their own emotions and predisposes them to mental health conditions and behavioral problems.
Scientists now believe there’s a link between stress, autism, and ADHD thought to be linked to a specific stress-sensitive gene.
What kinds of stress are harmful?
Sadly, just because we’re pregnant doesn’t mean life around us stops. It would be impossible to eradicate all stressors, and chances are you’re bound to feel a touch of pregnancy anxiety at a few points. That is normal.
‘Everyday’ stress, or short-term stressful situations – such as forgetting your keys, burning the dinner or the panic that you feel when your car won’t start – don’t appear to have a negative impact on fetal development.
What’s of more concern is the ‘excessive’ stress you might experience due to significant events, such as the death of a loved one, a personal attack or a natural disaster.
Toxic levels of stress, and chronic stress, experienced as a result of poverty, homelessness, racism or discrimination, lead to a number of potential complications.
Low birth weight and preterm birth have both been linked with prolonged bouts of stress during pregnancy.
How to reduce stress in pregnancy
Although certain stresses might be unavoidable, there are steps you can take and ways you can reduce your stress levels throughout pregnancy.
Here are 9 top tips to help reduce your stress levels.
Pregnancy stress tip #1: Get five minutes of peace
You’re so busy getting everything organized, it’s easy to forget to take some time for yourself.
Growing a new life is a tiring business, so make sure you take a little time to relax.
An Epsom salt bath at the end of the day is a great way to unwind.
See Epsom Salt Bath During Pregnancy – 4 Great Benefits for more tips.
The magnesium in the Epsom salts will help soothe away the backache and other discomforts you’re no doubt experiencing.
Try adding a few drops of essential oils, such as lavender, and your favorite music playlist to help you feel calm. Bliss!
Pregnancy stress tip #2: Get a massage
When we’re stressed we often carry tension in the upper body and back – especially the shoulders; this can lead to headaches.
Massage is the perfect form of stress relief, and it also eases physical discomfort.
Afterwards, you should be left feeling relaxed and stress-free.
Most masseurs offer prenatal massages specially tailored to the needs of pregnant women.
When you book, it’s important to tell the masseur you are pregnant.
Pregnancy stress tip #3: Get some light exercise
Light exercise will help you to feel less stressed. Taking a walk, going for a swim, or taking a yoga class will help you to unwind, clear your head and lift your mood after a busy week.
The breathing techniques taught during a yoga class will also help you to combat stress on a daily basis.
If you’re unsure what kind of exercise is safe for pregnancy read Exercise and Pregnancy for some tips.
Pregnancy stress tip #4: Stick some pins in it!
Acupuncture has been proved to reduce stress levels.
Acupuncture encourages the release of endorphins, which help you to feel relaxed and improve blood circulation.
Pregnancy stress tip #5: Breathe… yes, really!
Some women find meditation to be an effective coping mechanism for keeping stress at bay.
Clearing your mind, even for just 15 minutes a day, can help prevent the physical effects of stress.
For some women, keeping a journal to document their thoughts and emotions is a practical way to de-stress.
Some people prefer to meditate first thing in the morning, but others use it as a way to unwind after work.
Once you’ve learned the technique, you can practise it in your everyday life as a sure way to combat stress throughout the day.
Download an app for guided meditation and drift away…
Pregnancy stress tip #6: Talk to someone
Are you okay?
As soon as you announce your pregnancy, the whole world becomes much more interested in how you’re feeling.
It might seem as though the whole nine months is spent reassuring friends and family that you’re feeling well.
If you’re feeling stressed, talk to someone. There’ll be no shortage of people asking, so make the most of it.
Talking about your worries can provide instant relief, and you might even get some offers of help.
If you don’t have someone to confide in, it’s a great idea to seek some professional advice or therapy from someone who specializes in prenatal counselling or psychology.
You’ll feel so much better getting it all out, knowing that someone is listening and giving you support.
Pregnancy stress tip #7: Sharing is caring
Is your to-do list getting longer instead of shorter? Are you starting to feel worried everything might not get done in time?
It’s time to start delegating.
You have soon-to-be grandparents who are desperate for baby-related duties; maybe it’s time to start dishing out the jobs.
Look at your to-do list, and pick the items you’re happy to subcontract, and then find a willing friend or family member to help out.
Why not pass on this article to family and friends: 7 Ways To Help A Pregnant Mama During Her Last Weeks Of Pregnancy?
Pregnancy stress tip #8: Get some zzz’s
It sounds obvious, but sleep is a really important tool in fighting and preventing stress.
Ok, it’s easier said than done – especially when you have a huge bump and a long to-do list – but try your best.
If you feel tired during the day, take a nap. You need to catch up on sleep while you can.
Try using extra pillows to prop yourself up in bed and see if that helps you sleep more easily.
Anemia in pregnancy can also result in fatigue and stress. If you’re dreadfully tired, it might be worth asking your doctor or midwife to check your iron levels; iron is very important during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, speak to your naturopath or acupuncturist, who can help with some gentle, effective solutions.
Pregnancy stress tip #9: Start saying no
It’s three days before you start your maternity leave, and your boss asks if you can write a 40 page report. Just say no!
There are some stresses you can’t control, and others you can.
Knowing your limits is a really important way of preventing stress.
If you don’t have the time – or energy – to organize a friend’s birthday party, redecorate your bedroom, or take on extra work, then you need to be honest.
It’s not long now!
It’s easy to get bogged down in the little details and lose track of the bigger picture.
Remember, soon you’ll meet your baby for the first time, and all of these little worries you had while pregnant will seem unimportant.
Keep your mind on what you’re working towards, and look forward to the end of your pregnancy.
If you’re experiencing anxiety and depression, mental health illness, or symptoms such as weight loss and insomnia, please speak to your healthcare provider for further advice.