The gift of life begins with pregnancy. As magical as it sounds, the responsibility of bringing a new being into existence arrives with a common but heavy baggage: stress.
Pregnancy is a period of change. Your body physically adjusts, your emotions constantly shift, and the lives of your loved ones are greatly affected. While the changes may be something you welcome, all these factors eventually build up and manifest as a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching and one-of-a-kind type of stress.
It may begin as early as suspecting that you have finally conceived. Your body begins to experience different changes and that alone could be the root, the trigger and the exclamation point of the mental stresses you might feel. From missed periods and spotting, to the uneasy and uncomfortable feeling from morning sickness, those early signs of pregnancy may cause you to look at pregnancy anxiety straight in its eyes.
Now, if you do start to feel your body changing and you catch yourself asking “What are the most obvious early pregnancy signs, exactly?” you need to take a deep breath, think of happy thoughts and be more mindful of your actions and reactions. Keep in mind however, that pregnancy is different for every woman. Some may manifest all or a combination of the symptoms, others may experience two or nothing at all.
You are pregnant. You are about to face a huge challenge for the next few months of your life. Get ready as you are on your way to a whole lot of stress, both inside and out.
What can be stressful for a pregnant woman?
Asking questions like “am I eating the right food?”, “am I allowed to exercise?” and “am I even ready to become a parent?” are common during pregnancy. The constant worrying is normal, but once you become too stressed, it gradually becomes uncomfortable. Suddenly, you have a hard time getting proper sleep, headaches become more frequent and your eating habits are altered.
Moreover, stress prompts the body to activate its “fight or flight mode,” which signals the release of cortisol along with other stress hormones. When you are in danger, these same hormones are triggered. They stimulate your muscles and make you heart pump blood a lot faster to prime you for escape.
Less likely but not at all uncommon, when a pregnant women has a hard time coping with the stress of carrying a child in her womb, she may turn to drinking alcohol, smoking and taking recreational drugs. While this may temporarily alleviate the stress, it may manifest more serious complications during pregnancy and most importantly, after childbirth.
If the stress continues at an elevated level for long periods of time, this could alter the body’s stress management systems and cause health problems – such as a sudden increase in blood pressure, acute heart conditions and organ inflammation. These conditions and bodily responses have been linked to a more labored pregnancy and infant developmental problems. It increases the chance of delivering prematurely or having a baby with low birth weight.
Infants born under poor conditions are more prone to health complications that have lasting effect. Behavioral problems, weak immune system and difficulty in paying attention are more prevalent in babies as they grow up as well.
What are the causes of these stresses?
There are practically limitless reasons how and why stress is triggered for a pregnant woman. However, the bottom line is that stress levels rise due to discomforts that comes along with pregnancy, such as fatigue, nausea, headache, back pain and constipation. Constantly changing hormones throw women into mood swings which also make it more difficult to handle stress.
While the physical discomfort brought about by pregnancy may cause stress levels to rise, it is the mental burden that really affects a woman during pregnancy. Worrying about a safe and successful pregnancy, labor and delivery expectations, as well as the prospect of parenthood (for new moms) add up to an overwhelming amount of mental stress. For a working soon-to-be mom, the responsibility of turning over important tasks and preparing her co-workers or boss for time off can be mentally and physically exhausting as well. There is also an added pressure due to time constraints.
Then again, stress is not entirely negative. If managed properly, stress enables you to become more resilient and insightful in your decisions.
Also, experiencing high levels of stress during pregnancy does not guarantee problems with the unborn child. Others experience overwhelming stress but are able to deliver healthy babies. However, there are certain types of stress that women should be aware of that make it definitely more difficult to cope while being pregnant:
Negative life events – such as serious illness, divorce, death in the family, losing a job or home
Catastrophic events – like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons or terrorist attacks
Long-lasting stress – being abused, having financial problems, coping with serious health problems or being depressed
How can a pregnant woman deal with it?
Having someone to share your feelings with can always help lighten the burden of pregnancy anxiety. Seek support from your partner, family, friend or health care provider to help figure out which aspect of the pregnancy is making you more uncomfortable than normal. Rest assured that any discomforts you are feeling during pregnancy are temporary. Consult your doctor on how you can better manage the discomfort.
It is also important to stay healthy and physically fit. Eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of rest and exercise can help reduce stress and ease common pregnancy discomforts. Remember to restrain yourself from doing unnecessary activities. It can be simple tasks like cleaning or accompanying you to the doctor for check-ups.
Ask for help from people you trust when you need it. Don’t be afraid to accept help either. A good support network can do wonders in reducing stress and anxiety brought about by pregnancy.
If you have friends who have young children or who are pregnant as well, spend time with them to share the excitement of giving birth or exchange tips on how to deal with pregnancy concerns. Not only can it establish support, but it can also make you feel that you are not alone through the whole process. With the support of people who are going through or have gone through the same state as you are in, you can come to realize that you’re not the only one who experiences the worries of pregnancy and that it’s okay to learn as you go along.
As advised by a great number of physicians, you can also consider having childbirth education classes to give you knowledge on what to expect during pregnancy and after the baby arrives. You can learn helpful breathing and relaxation techniques. Try taking it a little bit further and engage in relaxation activities like meditation, talk therapy or prenatal yoga.
Another great tool to help you out is music. It has been proven to help regulate cortisol levels in the body, especially now that your body may be full of it. Listening to music or singing songs can definitely help you relax. At this point, It doesn’t even matter if you can sing or not. As long as you are in the zone for music, just do it and let your anxieties fly away.
If all else fails, you can find comfort in doing little calming activities like taking a warm bath, having a glass of your favorite juice or gorging on that book you’ve been dying to read. Treat yourself to the movies or go on dates with friends. After all, once the baby is born, you’ll have barely enough time to spoil yourself again.