Feeling stressed during a high-risk pregnancy is completely understandable. You’re worried for your baby, yourself and your family. Additionally, loss of income due to bed rest (if required), limited physical activity and limited social support, especially of you are confined to a hospital bed, all contribute to increased stress levels. You want to be sure you’re doing everything right to protect your little miracle. You just want everything to be OK.
As a Perinatal Wellness Counselor, I am frequently asked just how bad stress is for the growing and developing baby. As a mom who had a very high-risk pregnancy myself, I remember worrying about that very thing, too.
The reality is that normal daily life stressors will not harm your baby. For example, heightened anxiety before a doctor’s visit, having an argument with your partner or feeling worried about whether you’re feeling enough fetal movement will not impact your pregnancy significantly.
However, when moms are under high levels of stress for weeks on end, as is the case for many women who experience pregnancy complications, the risk of additional pregnancy complications does exist. This is often the case for moms who have a high-risk pregnancy for any number of reasons and as a result constantly feel anxious about their pregnancy and prognosis, as well as the safety of their baby.
Specifically, high anxiety and chronic stress during pregnancy has been linked to preterm delivery, birth defects, early onset preeclampsia and lower birth weight even in babies born full term. So, lowering stress and anxiety during pregnancy as much as possible is not only good for you, but is critical for your baby’s health as well.
Stress is a very personal experience and each one of us has our own unique triggers and stress patterns. In addition, how stress presents itself can be individual to each mom as well. I commonly see stress and anxiety presenting in my patients as any of the following:
*Constant worrying and wondering about “What if….?”
*Being hypervigilant about every unusual sensation in your body.
*Bursting into tears frequently
*Feeling guilty about your pregnancy complications
*Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
*Frequently snapping at others or feeling irritable
*Wondering if you’re depressed
*Increased contractions or belly tightness
*Aches and pains in specific places in the body (back, neck, legs, etc.)
If this sounds like you or if you have other signs of high stress, there are three tools in particular that I love to teach my patients. I used them myself during my pregnancy and research has also shown that these tools can be useful at lowering stress levels and reducing tension that you’re may not even realize you are experiencing.
Practice mindfulness. This is not just deep breathing or meditation. Being mindful is a lifestyle of being consciously aware of your emotions, thoughts and your body in the present moment completely without judgment. Accepting what is, instead of fighting for what you wish “could be’” or “should be” has a tremendous positive impact on lowering stress.
Relaxing imagery. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in a relaxing image. Using all five of your senses, dive into the details of that place that relaxes you. This is also a great tool to use when you are in labor to help with pain management.
Progressive relaxation. Start from the top of your head and taking one body part at a time, flex each muscle for three seconds and breathe out as you let go. Feel your body release the tension. This exercise in particular has been shown to prolong pregnancy even for women who are in the hospital in preterm labor.
Lowering stress during your pregnancy not only helps you feel better, it lowers your risk for depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy, lowers your risk for developing additional pregnancy complications and can help prevent preterm birth. Additionally, less stress means you can feel more hope and have a more positive outlook, which can do wonders for your peace of mind allowing you to enjoy the special milestones that you’re fighting so hard to achieve.