Being pregnant is one of the most monumental and maternal times of a woman’s life and yet everyone says, “relax.” Preparing for a baby on top of regular day-to-day stressors can make stress management even more of a challenge. Finding ways to handle various levels of stress comes easier for some than others, but it’s important to actively focus on ways to cope with prenatal stress.
Every stressor you take on, the fetus feels as well. When you’re stressed, cortisol is released into the body and can affect your baby’s development and long-term functioning. Research from Obstetric Medicine confirms that prenatal stress can lead to an increased risk of:
- Asthma and allergies
- Attachment difficulties
- Affective disorders
- Difficult temperament
- Poor immune function
Being pregnant can feel overwhelming at times, especially if it’s your first baby and you are unsure of what to expect. The goal is to maintain good health, including a balanced diet, exercise, plenty of water, and fitful sleep. When too many stress hormones enter the picture, they disrupt physical and emotional health factors and have additional negative effects on you and the fetus. Considering the effects of stress on pregnancy is a serious matter that requires immediate time and attention.
An Unhealthy Diet Leads to Poor Nutrition for the Baby
Eating habits can change drastically if you’re under stress. When life gets busy, you may be used to skipping breakfast or forgetting to eat lunch. By not having balanced meals, you’re depriving your baby of nutrients needed for its body and brain to develop in a healthy way. Drinking several cups of coffee as a way to keep you going through the day may be part of your routine, but it’s not a viable option for pregnant women.
A baby needs all the vitamins and minerals found in a balanced diet filled with plenty of vegetables and proteins. Taking time to eat a proper meal allows you to slow down (even for a short period of time) and give your body the nutrition it needs. On the other hand, poor stress management can sway people the other way and cause them to binge fast food or snacks throughout the day.
You may technically be eating regularly, but what if the quality of food you’re eating doesn’t provide the nutritional value necessary for you or your baby? A decline in nutrition is one of the top effects of stress on pregnancy because it can be difficult to break unhealthy habits. Be mindful of the food you eat and plan out your day to take meal breaks when needed. It may not be the same time every day, but skipping meals should never be an option as it can put your baby's development at risk.
Increased Fatigue Worsens Physical and Mental Health
When life gets hectic, the stress hormone cortisol can easily drag you down. It may de-motivate you to hit the gym or stay active because it may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Your body’s stress response can lead to muscle tension or cramps, high blood pressure, and mood swings. With the changes your body is going through, you may also feel like you simply don’t have enough energy.
Speak with your doctor about an exercise routine that’s safe for the baby and will work for your schedule. That may involve a less intense workout like yoga or swimming versus high-volume cardio or weightlifting. However, if you’re used to spending time in the gym, alter your movements to what’s safe for the baby while still maintaining the same frequency. It may sound counterintuitive to exercise if you’re feeling lethargic, but regular activity helps to boost energy and promotes heart health. Even taking a brisk walk outside to get a breath of fresh air can be a solution to how to calm anxiety while pregnant. It's important to take into consideration the presence of psychological stress so that you can prevent adverse outcomes from manifesting.
If you’re feeling worn out, you may need a mental boost to increase your energy levels. It’s normal to feel emotional stress during pregnancy. You may experience intense feelings of anxiety, which can put added strain on your body and cause pregnancy complications.
Search for ways you can de-stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. A few ideas include meditation, a walk in the park, or journaling. Also, don’t feel like you have to experience it alone. Reach out to your support system for help or a listening ear when you start to sense an overwhelming feeling of anxiety or depression.
Dehydration May Cause Birth Defects
Dehydration is one of the most serious effects of stress on pregnancy. It can cause a number of problems for both pregnant women and their babies. It results in headaches, lethargy, and digestion problems. Also, since water is used to form the placenta, lack of it can lead to complications, such as low amniotic fluid, neural tube defects, and birth defects.
It’s likely you’re not drinking as much water as you should. The effects of morning sickness can also play a significant part in dehydration. Carry a refillable water bottle with you wherever you go to remind yourself to stay hydrated. If you’re not used to drinking water on a regular basis, squeeze in lemon or lime to give your water an added boost.
Sleep Deprivation May Increase Pregnancy Risk Factors
When you have thoughts racing through your mind, it’s difficult to sleep. Add on the discomfort of pregnancy and you’re lucky to get a few hours of fitful sleep a night. Sleep deprivation is common for those who experience high levels of stress. However, the results can be detrimental. There is medical evidence that shows sleep deprivation is associated with premature birth and postpartum depression.
Sleep allows our bodies to recharge and stay healthy, while maintaining cortisol levels. When you don’t get enough rest, it causes added stress on the body and vice-versa. Make changes to your sleep schedule and create a comfortable space where you can relax and get the rest your body needs from working overtime. Calm your mind by practicing prenatal meditation (Pregnancy Meditation Benefits & Techniques) creating a nighttime routine, or partaking in quieter activities before bed. Sleep is one of the most important parts of normal body functioning, but it’s often one we prioritize the least. Though your cognition may be fully formed as an adult, when in the womb, your baby's body is constantly undergoing physical changes and is enduring different phases of brain development. Not sleeping enough can pose an increased risk for your baby’s cognitive development.
How to Alleviate Stress
You may reach a point where you are stressed about being stressed. It’s more common than you might think. Regular life doesn’t stop once you become pregnant, although it’d be nice if the universe gave you a pass. The key is to be intentional about bringing your stress levels down. Start slowly and create new habits that will bring you and your baby more joy and calmness.
A good starting point is to speak with other women about their pregnancies and get tips from them on how they de-stress as a way of ensuring proper prenatal care. It’s nice to connect with others who have been where you are. Other stress-relieving habits include activities that connect the mind and body.
If meditation isn’t for you, go for a nature walk and enjoy the quiet. Read a book outside and breathe in the fresh air. Getting a prenatal massage or facial may also be the pampering me-time you need to feel more relaxed. Anything that lessens the chaos around you can begin to ease the stress of your day.
Also, consider how you can change your day-to-day schedule to alleviate stress. If you have a rough commute, ask your boss if you can come in later or schedule a few days a week to work from home. If your work entails standing on your feet for hours at a time, don’t skip breaks or time to sit down and relax for a few minutes. Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives, however the last thing you want is to begin experiencing chronic stress, so pay attention to your body.
An on-the-go lifestyle is normal for most women and many don’t realize the stress they’re putting on their bodies until physical symptoms start to appear. Prevent this from happening by staying mindful of the key factors to your health and what it takes to lower cortisol levels.
Giving Your Baby the Care They Need
The level of stress and anxiety you feel when pregnant may outweigh anything you’ve ever experienced before. This may occur from preparing for your baby’s arrival, navigating hormone changes, and worrying about the unknown. Before they ever get here, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to the health of your baby. And that includes care for yourself. Now is the time to be proactive in giving yourself the tools and space to work through your stress and find solutions. By allowing the main fundamentals of proper health and well-being slip away, it can cause problems for you and your baby. Stay consistent with proper nutrition, regular exercise, plenty of water, and as much sleep as you can get. This all will help you keep you in vital health and your baby’s development on a positive track.
You may feel the need to handle stress on your own, but it can sneak up on you in a major way when you least expect it. A heightened stress level isn’t uncommon, though you may want to speak with a counselor or a trusted person to talk through your stressors and how to mitigate them. The more help you have in creating a comfortable and relaxing environment, the better it is for you and your baby.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of life without stopping to test our stress levels. Check in with yourself often to see how you feel physically and mentally. While nothing is meant to be smooth sailing all the time, there are ways to minimize stress and create healthier habits to continue throughout your pregnancy and beyond.