5 ways to manage stress during pregnancy

Between juggling the overload of prenatal appointments, planning parental leave, making sure you’re eating nutritious, pregnancy-friendly food, and trying unsuccessfully to suppress all thoughts of giving birth – there’s plenty of opportunities to stress during pregnancy. 

If you’ve heard myths about stress and pregnancy, like that it causes miscarriage (it doesn’t) – then you might even be more stressed about being stressed than the things you’re actually stressing about!

Woah there. 

Take a deep breath, make yourself a cuppa, and find a comfy place to sit and read. We’re here to uncover the facts about how stress might affect you and your baby. And we’ll offer some ways to protect your mental health during pregnancy too! Read on.

Is stress bad for pregnancy?

Occasional stress (like when you burn your toast, or forget to put the bins out) probably won’t do much harm to you or your baby. But periods of significant stress, or experiencing highly stressful or traumatic events during pregnancy, could contribute to certain pregnancy complications.

Doctors can’t yet reliably answer the question of ‘how does stress affect pregnancy?’. But in any scenario, it’s well known that chronic stress can raise your blood pressure (a key factor in conditions like preeclampsia), and affect your body’s immune system, making you more susceptible to infection.

I suppose to summarise, stress isn’t great for pregnancy – but it’s also not great outside of pregnancy. Stress just isn’t good. For anyone. Ever.

But let’s talk about why it’s so easy to succumb to stress during pregnancy.

Things that can cause stress during pregnancy

  • Normal, everyday stress – Like what to eat, what to wear, what’s happening on Bridgerton, etc.

  • Hormonal fluctuations – You may feel unexplainable emotions throughout pregnancy, which catch you off guard.

  • Financial worries – You might worry about how you’ll manage financially when your baby arrives, especially if you’re expecting to live off one wage for a while. (Tip: Create a baby budget.)

  • Juggling work and pregnancy Work stress during pregnancy can be compounded by needing to attend lots of appointments and prepare for your leave.

  • Fear of birth – Whether because you’ve had a traumatic birth in the past, or you just don’t know what to expect.

Can stress during pregnancy actually affect your baby?

So we get that stress isn’t wonderful, and it’s comin’ at us from all directions when we’re pregnant. But what does it mean for the little bean?

Here are the facts:

  • Stress during pregnancy has been associated with premature birth and babies of low birthweight.

  • Babies born to stressed mums also appear to be at greater risk of developing asthma and allergies in childhood, and being hospitalised for conditions like respiratory illness or gastro.

  • There’s even reason to believe that it can contribute to behavioural issues (like anxiety and ADHD), and reduced cognitive abilities later in life.

How do mums’ mental health and pregnancy outcomes relate?

The idea that a mother’s mental health during pregnancy can affect the physical and neurological makeup of her child may seem a bit far-fetched. I hear ya. An article by registered psychologist and Early Career Fellow Monique Robinson explains the connection really well.

To summarise:

When you’re stressed during pregnancy, your body creates more of the hormone cortisol. Increased cortisol levels in your body could pass through the placenta, changing the hormonal makeup and altering the development of your baby. Essentially your high levels of stress hormones program them to survive in a highly stressful environment. (Hence, potentially developing anxiety or ADHD.)

Aside from this, there’s the chance that stress during pregnancy may alter your ability to make good decisions about how you take care of yourself. Some pregnant women who are stressed to the max find themselves neglecting their health, bingeing on sugary foods, or turning to smoking or alcohol to deal with stress, for example. 

So, all of this is to say: finding ways to reduce stress is a good call!

5 ways to handle stress during pregnancy

1. Proritise self care

Practically, this may look like getting a good amount of nutrition into you (your nutrient needs go up as your pregnancy progresses), staying hydrated, and fitting some daily movement into your routine.

In their book Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle, sister authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski talk about how vital exercise is for combatting stress and burnout. They also talk about how, as ‘Human Givers’, women often feel that it’s ‘selfish’ to take care of ourselves. But mama, things like sleep, nutrition, and movement are Basic. Human. Rights.

And if it helps, you can always tell yourself it’s ‘for the baby’.

2. Practice mindfulness

Pregnancy can be stressful AF – but many women find it a magical and ‘spiritual’ experience too. Don’t be afraid to get ‘woo woo’ about it by tapping into the power of affirmations, visualisations and meditation practices. Mindfulness and meditation can go a long way towards relieving stress during pregnancy.

Try a meditation app like Headspace – or go one step further and consider purchasing the acclaimed book, The Headspace Guide To a Mindful Pregnancy. (It’s very good.)

3. Try stress-relieving treatments

Get a pregnancy massage to ease your back pain, or book an acupuncture appointment to assist with your headaches or other ailments. Alternative therapies like these may help reduce stress and encourage you to chillax – even if it’s just by addressing some of the physical discomfort you experience during pregnancy.

4. Combat any fears around giving birth

If it’s the thought of giving birth (and subsequently PARENTING!) that has your heart pounding and your mind unable to switch off at night, it might be time to do something about your fear of giving birth. Don’t worry – there’s nothing wrong with you. Fear of birth is way more common than you might think, and is up there with the most significant causes of stress during pregnancy.

Here are some resources to help you chill out about it:

  • Take a birth education class. You’ll learn all about how amazing and clever your body is, plus get insight into potential intervention practices.

Birth is freaky (but cool) and doesn’t always (ever) go exactly to plan, but it’s also wildly common, and natural, and normal. Not something you need to stress about all pregnancy long.

5. Get support

In our humble opinion, this whole ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ concept begins before the child is even born. So arm yourself with support during pregnancy to relieve some of that stress.

Here are some ways you can get support to deal with stress during pregnancy:

  • Talk to your boss – Planning your leave and return to work is often fraught with anxiety, but it helps to have open and honest conversations. Work stress during pregnancy can even be resolved by discussing a change to your hours or working conditions so you’re more comfortable.

  • Talk to a counsellor – Pregnancy counselling is wildly underrated, and can help you cope with pregnancy stress.

  • Line up your postpartum support crew – Asking for help as a new parent is vital. Start thinking of ways your friends and family can step in to help you as you recover and adjust to life as a mama, so it’s one less thing to stress over.

What if it’s more than just ‘stress’?

While stress during pregnancy is pretty normal, it can usually be managed effectively with some of the tips mentioned above. If these don’t help you, or you’re experiencing a serious mood/personality shift during your pregnancy, it could be a sign of anxiety or depression. There are people that can help you with this! 

First of all, talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. They can discuss ways to help you feel better, whether it’s seeing a psychologist or trying medication.

You can always call the free PANDA hotline throughout pregnancy too. This amazing service allows you to chat to someone about your emotional needs, and get strategies on how to avoid stress and depression during pregnancy. 

Check out our collection of Mindfulness tools we love on Mumli app.

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