A Jefferson Health midwife explains the impacts of stress on pregnancy and simple techniques you can use to make your days stress-free.
Pregnancy can bring about a hoard of unique stressors.
Is my baby okay? Is my pregnancy progressing normally? Am I doing everything right?
These, among other financial, occupational, and social concerns, are commonly faced by expectant mothers, says midwife Victoria Asturrizaga, MSN, CNM. Combined with the holiday season and an ongoing pandemic, it may feel like you have a “triple-whammy” of hurdles to overcome, while maintaining both your own and your baby’s health.
Some stress is okay and necessary for your body, says Asturrizaga. “However, not all stress is created equally. It’s when stress starts to become chronic – or you suffer a traumatic life event – that you have to learn to cope and mitigate it.”
How Stress Influences Pregnancy
The good news is that most stress won’t have an impact on pregnancy. Common complications that can occur in more severe cases of stress, or unmanaged mood disorders, are pre-term labor and low birthweight (and other growth restrictions), explains Asturrizaga.
Aside from pregnancy, long-term unmanaged stress, in general, can impact anyone physically, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and more.
How can you tell if stress is taking a toll during your pregnancy? Listen to your body, urges Asturrizaga. “Some clear warning signs of high stress may include a rapid or increased heart rate, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and headaches. But even if you don’t experience these, any kind of pain or cramping; change in fetal movement patterns; loss of appetite; or anything else that feels ‘off’ can be an indicator and should be brought to your provider’s attention.”
The Importance of Self-Care
As a midwife, Asturrizaga sees firsthand how prominent stress is during pregnancy and knows how important it is to manage it. Her top advice? Practice Self-care.
When pregnant, you’re often hyper-focused on your baby and what others ask of you, says Asturrizaga. “When you aren’t focused on every aspect of your well-being, including your sleep, nutrition, and emotional health, your anxiety level is likely to increase. Both you and your baby can suffer as a result.”
Self-care isn’t about pampering. It’s about staying in tune with your body and giving yourself time to rest and do things you enjoy, adds Asturrizaga, whether it’s having your nails done, getting a massage, or reading a book.
Other Stress-Reduction Techniques
There are countless ways you can reduce stress each day; it’s all about finding what works for you. Asturrizaga recommends the following:
- Stay active. Exercise is incredibly beneficial for most pregnant women. Walking, swimming, low-impact aerobics, and yoga are all great places to start. It’s important to talk to your provider about what kind of movement is safe for you.
- Take time for yourself. This goes hand-in-hand with self-care. Always take time out of your day to decompress, even if you have to schedule it.
- Allow yourself to have a support system. Don’t try to handle everything yourself. It’s okay to ask for help or simply for someone to lend an ear so that you can verbalize your stressors (and get them off your chest). You can lean on your family, friends, and healthcare team whenever you have a problem.
- Be present and mindful. Remember, pregnancy doesn’t last forever. Don’t rush it or wish it away. Instead, enjoy the process. Take note of how your body can do wonderful things. Focusing on that can make a world of difference.
How to Alter Your Holiday Plans
“So many of us try to handle way too much during the holiday season, including those who are pregnant,” says Asturrizaga. “It’s important to realize that you can say ‘NO.’ You can pick and choose what you want to do.”
Navigating the holidays doesn’t have to look much different than approaching everyday life; you should still implement the coping and stress reduction tips mentioned above to stay on track with your health.
Taking a step back, continues Asturrizaga, can help us to look at the bigger picture. “What do you truly enjoy doing during the holidays? What do they mean to you? Reflecting this way can both aid in stress reduction and promote an overall positive mindset.”