Pregnancy is a time of many changes. Your body, your emotions and the life of your family are changing. You may welcome these changes, but they can add new stresses to your life.
Feeling stressed is common during pregnancy. But too much stress can make you uncomfortable. Stress can make you have trouble sleeping, have headaches, lose your appetite or overeat. High levels of stress that continue for a long time may cause health problems like high blood pressure. When you’re pregnant, this type of stress can increase the chances of having a premature baby (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a low birth weight baby(weighing less than 5½ pounds). Babies born too soon or too small are at increased risk for health problems.
What causes stress during pregnancy?
The causes of stress are different for every woman, but here are some common causes during pregnancy:
You may be dealing with the discomforts of pregnancy, like nausea, constipation, being tired or having a aches (such as back aches),
Your hormones are changing, which can cause your mood to change. Mood swings can make it harder to handle stress.
You may be worried about what to expect during labor and delivery or how to take care of your baby. If you work, you may have to manage job responsibilities and prepare your employer for time away from your job. Life is busy and it sometimes takes unexpected turns; life doesn’t stop just because you’re pregnant.
What types of stress can cause pregnancy problems?
Stress is not all bad. When you handle it right, a little stress can help you take on new chal lenges. Regular stress during pregnancy, such as work deadlines and sitting in traffic, probably don’t add to pregnancy problems. However, serious types of stress during pregnancy are not good for you or your baby. Most women who have serious stress during pregnancy can have healthy babies. But if you experience serious kinds of stress, like:
- Negative life events.These are things like divorce, serious illness or death in the family, or losing a job or home.
- Long-lasting stress.This type of stress can be caused by having financial problems,being abused, having serious health problems or being depressed. Depression is a medical condition where strong feelings of sadness last for long periods of time and prevent a person from leading a normal life.
- Pregnancy-related stress.Some women may feel serious stress about pregnancy. They may be worried about the risk of miscarriage, the health of their baby or about how they’ll cope with labor and birth or becoming a parent. If you feel this way, talk to your obstetrician or health care provider. Or if you feel that you are having trouble coping with stress, it is important to talk to your physician or health care provider.
How does stress cause pregnancy problems?
We don’t completely understand the effects of stress on pregnancy. But certain stress-related hormones may play a role in causing certain pregnancy complications. Serious or long-lasting stress may affect your immune system, which protects you from infection. This can increase the chances of getting an infection of the uterus. This type of infection can cause premature birth. Stress also may affect how you respond to certain situations. Some women deal with stress by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or abusing prescribed medications of even taking street drugs, which can lead to pregnancy problems.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when you have problems after seeing or experiencing a terrible event, such as rape, abuse, a natural disaster or the death of a loved one. People with PTSD may have:
- Serious anxiety
- Flashbacks of the event
- Physical responses (like a racing heartbeat or sweating) when reminded of the event
As many as 8 in 100 women (8 percent) may have PTSD during pregnancy. Women who have PTSD may be more likely than women without it to have a premature or low-birth-weight baby. Some studies show that high levels of stress in pregnancy may cause certain problems during childhood. It’s possible that stress may also affect your baby’s brain development or immune system.
There are ways to reduce stress:
- Figure out what’s making you stressed and talk to your partner, a friend or your health care provider about it.
- Know that the discomforts of pregnancy are only temporary. Ask your provider how to handle these discomforts.
- Eat healthy foods, get enough of sleep (at least 8 hours) and regular exercise such as swimming or walking (with your provider’s OK). Exercise can help reduce stress and also helps prevent common pregnancy discomforts.
- Go to bed early. Your body is working overtime to nourish your growing baby and needs all the sleep it can get.
- Cut back on activities you don’t need to do. Practice saying “no.” Cut back on chores and use that time to put your feet up, nap, or read a book. Now’s as good a time as any to get rid of the notion that you can do it all. Make slowing down a priority.
- If possible develop a good support network, including your partner, family and friends. Ask your provider about resources in the community that may be able to help.
- Ask for help from people you trust. Accept help when they offer. For example, you may need help cleaning the house, or you may want someone to go with you to your prenatal visits.
- Try relaxation activities, such as prenatal yoga, meditation or massage therapy. Practice the meditation deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
- Take a childbirth education class, get books or videos from the library on childbirth so you know what to expect during pregnancy and when your baby arrives. Limit “information overload.” Reading pregnancy books, surfing pregnancy Web sites, and listening to your friends’ pregnancy stories are fine, but don’t delve into all the scary things that might (but probably won’t) happen during your pregnancy. Focus instead on how you’re feeling and what’s happening to you now.
- If you’re working, plan ahead to help you and your employer get ready for your time away from work. Talk to your boss about reducing stress at work; get up and walk around if you find you are sitting for long period of time; don’t life heavy objects, stay away from coworkers who are sick and use your breaks to put your feet up and rest. Take advantage of sick days or vacation whenever possible. Spending a day — or even an afternoon — resting at home will help you get through a tough week.
- If you think you may be depressed, talk to your provider right away. There are many ways to deal with depression. If you’re under unusual stress or feel like you’re at your breaking point, you may need to meet with a therapist who can better assess how strong your anxiety has become and what you may need to do to feel better. Getting help during pregnancy will protect you and your baby from unnecessary risks and reduce your chances of postpartum anxiety and depression.
- Join a support group. If you’re coping with a difficult situation, spending time with others in the same boat can ease your burden.