For many mamas-to-be, pregnancy is a roller coaster of emotional, physical and situational changes, and it’s natural for this time of life to challenge even the coolest of cucumbers. But dealing with your personal worries and applying positive solutions can help keep you—and your growing baby—safe during pregnancy and beyond.
You’re not alone
Chances are your pregnancy anxiety inducers are a familiar concern. Expectant women commonly worry about finances, childcare, work deadlines, parenting frustrations and fear of labor. Plus, the impacts of pregnancy on everyday life—from missing work because of morning sickness to skipping out on social events as a result of fatigue—unite moms-to-be in a shared sense of fretfulness.
In addition to the physiological stress of a changing body, wrapping your brain around being pregnant and having a baby can prove overwhelming. It’s normal to feel excited about your growing family one minute, and terrified of parenting the next. With countless transformations happening at once, some expectant mothers are hesitant to surrender control of their surroundings. Amy Estes, a first-time mom in Parsippany, New Jersey, remembers that the stress would gradually build up over time and then explode. “I would have compulsive thoughts about cleaning or organizing a certain thing,” she remembers. “And I would get angry or irritated with anyone who was helping me but not doing it perfectly right for the baby.”
Effects of anxiety
Stress is highly subjective, making it tricky to define and difficult to measure. “The term stress is very broad. It can mean mental stress, physiological stress, environmental stress, and others,” says Katharine D. Wenstrom, MD, PhD, director of the Women & Infants’ Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Brown University.
The exact impact of stress on a pregnancy is tough to pinpoint and has yet to be proven, but most experts agree that sporadic stress doesn’t pose a threat to the growing baby. However, some studies have found that pregnant patients coping with a life-changing, negative experience without sufficient social support are at risk for high blood pressure (which can affect the immune system and trigger preterm labor). If a baby is born too small, he has an increased chance for health problems, lasting disabilities and mortality.
When studying how certain tensions affect a pregnancy, researchers also have to consider the role of other risk factors, such as poor eating habits and drug use. “I don’t think chronic stress alone is enough to cause obstetric complications,” Wenstrom says. “Because stress can alter eating patterns, increase smoking or cause alcohol or drug use, stress can indirectly lead to low birth weight. But it’s the inadequate diet, cigarettes and alcohol or drugs that cause low birth weight, not stress alone.”
Stressed-out mamas, take heart. While you can’t always control what you’re going through, you do have the power to deal with your situation in a way that keeps yourself and your budding babe healthy.
Every woman experiences and reacts to stress in her own way. Simple lifestyle adjustments can not only help ease physical discomforts common during pregnancy (such as backache), but also clear the mind to cope with any nerve-racking situations that may come your way.
Moms-to-be who eat well, exercise, hydrate and get enough sleep are better equipped to deal with stress. If you’re already exercising, keep it up during pregnancy, as long as the activity is not affected by poor balance or weight gain. Good fitness options include walking and prenatal yoga. “Swimming really helped me sleep better at night, which made me more calm, energetic and mobile during that last trying trimester,” says Estes of her first-time pregnancy experience. “It enabled me to accomplish all the things I wanted to get done.”
Some moms find that an emotional release can improve stressful situations. Estes shares, “Crying really helped … Another huge encouragement was talking to my husband.” Reducing over-the-top expectations and just taking things day-by-day can also help you live in the moment and enjoy your pregnancy.
Childbirth classes frequently have a multilevel benefit, offering a support group (addressing the need for human connection), building patient education (minimizing labor anxiety), and reducing overall pregnancy and parenting worries. If you’re concerned about money matters, meet with a financial planner to discuss the costs of child-rearing and investigate ways to save on cash.
Pregnancy is a life-changing experience, and sometimes it can be difficult to silence the uncertainties and process the pressures that come your way. If you find yourself riddled with anxiety, talk to your doctor about your feelings and reach out to friends, family and other mamas-to-be before occasional stress snowballs into something more serious.
Will an irregular spat with your spouse or a bad day at the office impact your growing baby? It’s unlikely. But evaluating your own needs and limits and employing smart solutions to tame your troubles will both help you through pregnancy and prepare you for parenthood.