Too much stress is never a good thing, but high stress levels are even more worrisome during pregnancy. Not only does high stress during pregnancy affect your health and experience, but it also affects the health of your baby. Here's a look at a few of the negative effects of high stress levels during pregnancy, along with some suggestions to help keep your stress levels low.
The Negative Effects of Stress During Pregnancy
Excess weight gain.
It is healthy to gain some weight during pregnancy (most women should gain 25 - 35 pounds). However, excessive weight gain can cause symptoms like achy joints, hemorrhoids, and back aches during pregnancy, as well as an increased risk of gestational diabetes. When you are stressed, you body releases a hormone called cortisol, which causes your body to pack on the pounds. Thus, keeping your stress levels low is an important step towards keeping your pregnancy weight gain in check.
Many women who have high levels of stress throughout their pregnancy end up delivering their babies earlier. While delivering a week or so early is not generally a cause for concern, a more premature birth puts your baby at a higher risk of breathing problems, heart problems, and temperature control issues. Premature babies are also more likely to suffer from vision problems, hearing problems, and dental health issues later in life.
Behavioral and inflammatory issues as your baby grows.
Some studies also suggest that when women are under high levels of stress throughout their pregnancies, their babies show differences in brain development. These differences may be related to behavioral problems as your baby grows up. Babies whose moms were under stress during pregnancy may also have an over-active inflammatory response, which may make them more likely to develop conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease -- diseases that are associated with inflammation.
Ways to Reduce Stress Levels During Pregnancy
Work with a midwife who you can trust and depend on.
For many women, one of the biggest sources of stress during pregnancy is worrying about the pregnancy and upcoming birth. You may find yourself constantly wondering if what you're experiencing is normal or if it indicates that something is going wrong. You may worry that you'll be in pain during labor, or that you'll have to undergo a C-section or other emergency procedure.
The best way to reduce or eliminate this source of stress is to find a knowledgeable midwife who is willing to discuss any and all of your pregnancy and birth-related concerns at length. Look for someone who seems to want to get to know you as a person and who addresses your concerns rather than brushing them off. Visit several midwives if you have to -- you'll know when you find the right one. Then, use that person as a resource throughout your pregnancy. If you're not sure if something is normal, ask rather than worrying about it. If you fear a certain pain or occurrence during birth, ask your midwife what you can do to minimize the risk of it happening.
Look at local sites like http://www.whallc.com if you're trying to decide on a midwife.
Take time out for yourself to participate in non baby-related activities.
When you're pregnant, you'll have a lot that you need to do in order to prepare for your baby's arrival. Always focusing on the upcoming birth, baby showers, setting up the nursery, and other baby-related activities can leave you feeling stressed out as your own personal interests may end up being neglected.
To help combat stress, set aside a little time (even just an hour a week or a half hour a day) to participate in activity that is completely unrelated to your pregnancy. Maybe this is jogging, painting, or looking for new music. Whatever you choose, make sure it is completely non baby-related. This will help you feel more like yourself, which will help you feel more focused and less overwhelmed as you tackle baby-centered tasks throughout the rest of the week.
If you're pregnant and feeling stressed, remember that you're not alone. Many people experience stress during this busy, life-changing time. Talk to your midwife about the stress you're experiencing. She may be able to offer additional, personalized advice to help fight your stress and avoid the negative effects it can have on you and your child.