We all experience stress from time to time but studies have proven too much stress can lead to a number of health issues. This is no different during pregnancy. Not only will a consistently high level of stress negatively affect you, it can also put the health of your baby at risk.
Your body has a chemical reaction to stress and responds by producing a hormone called cortisol. This then signals the liver to ramp up its production of glucose creating an inflammatory environment within the body. These inflammatory conditions can compromise your immune system increasing your susceptibility to various infections. The excess glucose can also be particularly troublesome for those already at risk for diabetes.
In addition to complications arising from infections or diabetes, consistently high levels of cortisol during pregnancy have been linked to miscarriage, delayed fetal growth, preeclampsia, premature delivery, low birth weight and potential developmental delays for your child later in life. While further research is still needed, recent studies also suggest that maternal stress during pregnancy can result in babies with higher instances of asthma, allergies and chronic health problems in adulthood.
Pregnancy prompts most of us to adopt a healthier lifestyle, yet this encompasses much more than dietary changes. Our mental health is closely linked with the health of our bodies and your plan for a healthy pregnancy should take this in to consideration. Because stress is often unavoidable, the key to protecting your baby from its effects is to find ways to reduce it and healthy ways to handle it. We’ve listed five stress-busting solutions below:
Exercise and Diet – Providing you’ve received the all-clear from your doctor or midwife, moderate exercise during pregnancy can combat the negative effects of stress in more ways than one. Similar to its response to stress, there is also a chemical reaction to exercise. The body releases endorphins during exercise which are natural mood stimulators known to produce feelings of euphoria which help to combat stress and anxiety. The hormones released during exercise can reduce the body’s levels of cortisol and boost your immune system in the process. Research also shows diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids can give your mood a boost. Taking a DHA Omega-3 during pregnancy and breastfeeding is recommended.
Sleep – Between a growing belly, heartburn, and frequent late night trips to the bathroom, sleeping during pregnancy isn’t always easy, but it is a must. Sleep and mood are very closely connected. Without adequate sleep, you are more prone to anxiety and depression, and twice as likely to feel stressed than if you were well rested. Limiting your fluid intake in the evening can result in fewer bathroom visits, and staying upright and awake within an hour of eating can minimize heartburn. If you find you are still unable to sleep for long stretches, it’s important to remember that every bit counts. If you are able to, take a nap. If napping isn’t an option, simply lying / sitting down undisturbed with your eyes closed in a quiet environment can help you feel more rested.
Prayer or Meditation – Spending time in prayer or mindful meditation can reverse your body’s response to stress by stabilizing the blood pressure, slowing your heart rate and regulating the release of stress hormones. There is a growing body of evidence which shows that people with a strong faith background or spiritual community have improved immune function, suffer less depression and are better able to cope with stress.
Social Supports – Examine your social circle and ditch the negative Nellies! Strong and healthy relationships uplift us which contributes to feelings of well-being. Perhaps more importantly though, these relationships also provide support during difficult times. If you are dealing with a significant amount of stress, reach out to your support system and allow your loved ones to help you through it.
Slow Down – We women can be our own worst enemies often setting unreasonable expectations for ourselves. We tend to take on too much which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and susceptible to stress as a result. The solution here is to slow down and take a breather. Limit your “To Do” list to mandatory tasks, and learn to say no to commitments that will over-extend you. It is impossible to relax when you are constantly on the go. You’ll be surprised to discover how much you can reduce your stress level simply by minimizing the number of things you are trying to accomplish.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can influence your mood making it more difficult to deal with stress, but the tips above should help to ward it off. If you find that you are unable to control your stress or feel that it is contributing to feelings of extreme depression, please speak to your healthcare provider. Seeking help before you deliver will reduce your odds of succumbing to post-partum depression once baby arrives. Your mental health impacts your physical health and tending to both will provide the best start for your growing baby.