Reducing stress during pregnancy isn’t just good for your mental health. It can also benefit your baby.
Although many millennial couples are waiting longer to start a family — if they ever do — countless women still dream of motherhood. Unfortunately, the road to motherhood isn’t always smooth, particularly if you’ve experienced fertility issues. What’s more, you might think that once you’re finally expecting, you only have to worry about the physical symptoms of pregnancy.
This should be one of the happiest times of your life, right?
Not always. Stress and anxiety can easily take hold during this period of uncertainty and brand new experiences. And it’s not hard to see why. If you’ve ever experienced stress or mood swings during PMS, a condition that afflicts millions of women, then imagine how your body and mind will react to the hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy. Even under the best circumstances imaginable, stress is inevitable during this time.
Whether you’re pregnant for the first time or adopting your fifth child, parenthood and stress go together like milk and cookies. You’ll likely experience your fair amount of stress during pregnancy — and it turns out that how you manage that stress matters a lot.
How does stress affect babies?
According to a recent study, you pass on more than genes to your children. What you feel can also change how your child develops.
Research published in The British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that the children of women who experience severe stress during their pregnancy are nearly 10 times more likely to develop a personality disorder by the time they turn 30. The children of women who suffer from moderate stress levels during pregnancy are roughly three times more likely to develop a personality disorder by that age.
Of course, the development of personality disorders (a set of conditions that include everything from paranoid personality disorder and borderline personality disorder to OCD and antisocial personality disorder) can be tied to a number of other factors, such as traumatic events. But considering that one out of every seven American children aged two to eight has been diagnosed with some type of mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder, it’s only natural that expectant moms want to do everything they can to ensure their kiddos are healthy as can be.
It’s not realistic to believe that we can completely escape stress — especially when it comes to our children. But that doesn’t mean you have no other choice but to walk around in a constant state of anxiety, though. Reducing stress during pregnancy can be life-changing for both you and your baby.
Reducing stress during pregnancy
Some basic lifestyle factors can reduce your stress right off the bat. Following a nutritious (and doctor-recommended) diet, getting enough sleep, and moving your body can help keep stress at bay. Meditation and therapy can also be highly beneficial, as can paying attention to your specific stress triggers. These are excellent tips for anyone, whether pregnancy is a factor or not. Massages, baths, and even acupuncture can work for expectant moms and women who aren’t pregnant, as well.
Self-care is important, but you can’t do everything yourself. You should also rely on your partner, friends, and family during this time. Connecting with other moms-to-be can help you to prioritize your needs and gain reassurance that you aren’t alone. And while there are some medications you can take to lower stress during pregnancy, learning how to do so naturally will be of great benefit throughout your life.
There are also legal protections for pregnant women. There’s the Family Medical Leave Act, which gives moms 12 weeks of job-protected leave for the birth of a child. This law also covers adoptive and foster parents. Don’t be afraid to take every last minute of your maternity leave.
Plus, there are additional protections both before and during pregnancy. While we would never consider infertility a “disability,” The Americans with Disability Act does provide protections for women struggling with infertility. If you are pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, your employer is probably legally required to provide reasonable accommodations for you. That could include flexible hours, additional break time, or remote work. Don’t suffer in silence if aspects of your pregnancy journey are causing stress to your body or mind.
You don’t want to feel like a bundle of nerves throughout the nine months of your pregnancy. There’s sure to be a lot of joy and excitement during this time, as well. But remember: it’s completely normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed sometimes. Doing what you can to alleviate those feelings will be the best thing for yourself and for your child.