Tips for Coping with Stress During Pregnancy

How to Regain Control of Your Life

Anxious Black pregnant woman rubbing forehead on sofa
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Everyone experiences stress, including pregnant women. What is not clear, however, is whether stress can have harmful effects on pregnancy.

For years, obstetricians have looked to see whether an increase in stressful events can either cause ​miscarriage, result in ​preterm delivery, or harm a fetus. Up until recently, the consensus has been that while excessive physical work can bring on preterm labor, emotional stress did not seem to have negative effects on pregnancy outcomes.

This conclusion, however, has since been challenged. There now is information to indicate that stress can cause the body to produce certain hormones that can cause miscarriage or bring on preterm labor. And beyond that, the emotional consequences of stress can range from a mild sense of being overwhelmed to severe episodes of depression. 

Below are several techniques both women and the clinicians who care for them have found useful in helping to relieve stress.

Gaining Control of Your Life

1. Take a close look at your lifestyle. Look at your work activities, home and family responsibilities, and other obligations. Include time for yourself for such activities as exercise, down time, and socializing. Is this schedule achievable? Sustainable? Satisfying? If not, accept the reality that you have to change the schedule.

2. Accept the fact that, even if you can handle your busy and demanding lifestyle, you likely will not be able to sustain it as pregnancy progresses and makes more physical demands on you.

Prepare yourself to cut back on what you're doing and to allow yourself more time for rest and relaxation. Sleep more. Eat a balanced diet. Engage in a reasonable exercise program. Allow yourself time for reading, thinking, and planning for the new, incredibly important role of mother you will soon assume.

3. Be prepared to give up some measure of control over the lifestyle you've worked so hard to attain. 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 bed rest. It could happen. Be prepared to accept this.

4. Make up your mind that you, are going to 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 what your needs are, how hard you should work, how much you should rest, what you should eat, and all other aspects of your behavior during pregnancy. Don't allow yourself to be rattled by the well-intentioned but often incorrect advice of others.

5. Keep lines of communication open with those you love, especially your spouse. They will not know exactly what you are experiencing and cannot anticipate what your wants and needs are. Let them know. Tell them how you are feeling and how they can help. 

6. Don't be a hero. This is especially important if your work environment is in a traditionally "macho" field. Discuss with your spouse and your boss what you can and cannot reasonably do and make adjustments accordingly. 

7. Do your homework. Learn as much about pregnancy 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 also about its emotional implications. 

8. Give yourself permission to relax. Take time to do whatever makes you feel good, and don't allow yourself to feel guilty about it.

9. Learn relaxation techniques. Research has shown that doing this can help your heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormone levels, and muscle tension drop.

10. Talk to yourself... and write it down. The process of identifying thoughts and feelings and putting them into written form is an excellent way to come to grips with what you are experiencing.

11. Test the origins of your emotions for validity.

This process is called "cognitive restructuring." We often make negative assumptions about ourselves based upon the feedback of others. But if you can identify these repetitive thoughts and write them down, you can then begin to determine whether or not they are reasonable.

12. Finally, consider obtaining professional help, whether through talk therapy, medication, or a combination thereof.

Life is complex and often hard. There are ways, however, that you can evaluate the stress you're under and make the necessary changes to better manage it. By doing so, you'll have a healthier pregnancy and be a happier person.

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