Pregnancy should be a time of happiness as you prepare for the birth of your new baby. However, pregnancy is also a time when there may be many changes occurring in your life. From changes in your body and growing family to environmental and personal stresses, many life changes can be associated with stress. It’s not uncommon to feel stressed when you are pregnant; however, too much stress can have an effect on your health and the health of your baby.
Stress may first show itself by causing difficulty sleeping, headaches, loss of appetite or overeating. When stress persists, your blood pressure and heart can be affected. This can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure in pregnancy, also known as preeclampsia. Stress can increase the chance of having a preterm birth, which is delivering your baby before 37 weeks, and a low birth weight baby. Additionally, stress can affect your immune system, increasing your risk of infection. Some studies suggest that stress in pregnancy may also be associated with certain emotional and psychological problems during your baby’s childhood. These are just a few of the issues stress may cause, but there are ways to help you manage your stress.
Every woman is different, and there are many different reasons why someone experiences stress. Some of these reasons come from the normal day-to-day living, such as the stress of work, managing job responsibilities, traveling to work and waiting in line at the supermarket or bank. Other stressors during your pregnancy include dealing with the normal aches and pains of pregnancy, nausea and vomiting, constipation, fatigue and low back pain. These things will likely not have a huge impact on your pregnancy, and with your physician’s help, you can probably work through them without serious issues.
Serious stressors do exist that may have an impact on your pregnancy. Things like negative life events, such as divorce, serious illness, losing your job or death in the family. Stress from financial difficulties, domestic abuse, racism or depression can severely affect your life and your pregnancy. You may be overly worried about what to expect during labor, or how to take care of your baby due to lack of a good support system at home or with friends. You may also have mood swings, anxiety and depression that can lead to chronic stress.
Chronic stress can be caused by preexisting depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when you have problems after seeing or experiencing a terrible event. It may be associated with serious anxiety, flashbacks of the event, nightmares and physical responses, such as heart racing or sweating when reminded of the event. Women with preexisting psychological issues may be more likely to have a premature or low-birth weight baby.
Your physician will ask a series of questions to discover psychological risk factors, social status, educational levels, race and ethnicity. These questions provide an overall understanding of your personal history to help protect you and your baby. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and taking drugs during pregnancy can increase your risk of problems during pregnancy and can be harmful to your unborn baby.
Most women with stress can have a healthy baby. A physician or a mental health professional can provide education, assistance and counseling, if necessary. Additionally, your physician can help relieve some of the temporary discomforts of pregnancy and can direct you to valuable resources within your community including:
- The federal Medicaid program provides a safety net for pregnant women who have no insurance or financial means to provide for prenatal care.
- Women may not have a stable or secure living environment. Moving from place to place may be related to domestic violence, economic issues or general safety issues. Federal assistance is available through the Medicaid program to help women find appropriate housing. Public housing authorities are available for issues including structural defects, discrimination, or pest infestation.
- Local law enforcement authorities are available for issues concerning public safety, such as illicit drug and gang activities.
- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant women and to infants and children up to age five years of age who are considered at nutritional risk.
- Many safety issues center primarily on housing concerns. Your physician can advise you of available resources such as safe houses. Most victims of domestic violence are often not aware of the risks of harm to themselves or their unborn babies. National domestic violence hotline: (800) 799-7233 or (800) 787-3224 (for deaf and hard of hearing TTY).
- Group prenatal care, or Centering Pregnancy, may be helpful in lowering women’s risks of preterm delivery, pregnancy-specific stress and overall stress. Women in these programs have been shown to have increased self-esteem, decreased stress and decreased social conflicts, which may help to improve pregnancy outcome. Check for group prenatal classes in your community. Sanford Health offers Centering Pregnancy classes.
Make sure you have a good support network, including your partner, family and friends. If you are feeling stressed, please talk to your partner, a close friend or your physician. Just remember there are many ways to help decrease stress including eating healthy foods, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. Continue to relax when you can. Consider childbirth education classes, which can be very helpful because they teach you what to expect during your pregnancy, during labor and after your baby is born. If you are working, make sure to plan your time off with your employer. Attempt to control the stressors in your life that you can to help keep you and your baby stress free. And remember, your family, friends, physician and community are here to support you.