Stress During Pregnancy
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For many women, falling pregnant is a much longed-for event. However, after the initial jubilation fades, it can be difficult to cope with these new emotions. It is natural to assume you will float around for your entire pregnancy bathed in a glow of maternal anticipation. In reality, many mums-to-be find that nine month period one of the most stressful times in their life.
Worries and fears
Regardless of how much you want a baby, it is normal to feel some trepidation about how your life will change. Practical considerations such as 'will we have enough room?' and 'when should we decorate the nursery?' nestle alongside fears about how your relationship will be affected and whether you will be a good mum.
Of course, money is inevitably a factor. As your pregnancy progresses you might be working less (not doing overtime, for example). Perhaps you are doing the opposite and working all the hours under the sun to try to squirrel money away. How you will cope on a reduced income after the birth and whether you will go back to work are inevitable questions, with no easy answers.
For some women, going back to work is a financial necessity and this can be the source of much stress. If you would rather spend the early years at home with your child, knowing you will soon have to hand over your baby to a family member or a child minder can break your heart, even before the little one arrives.
Conversely, other women fear how they will cope without the daily social interaction of other adults, worrying they will be driven crazy by a world of nothing but baby talk. However you feel, knowing your life will undergo such huge changes can make you feel unsettled and anxious about what the future holds.
Some women also worry constantly about either hurting their unborn baby or something dreadful happening. Having another life inside you is a big responsibility and being aware that the choices you make directly affects them can seem overwhelming. There's so much advice about what you can and can't eat and what you should and shouldn't do that it's easy to become a bag of nerves while pregnant.
The physical delights of pregnancy
As well as the emotional stress pregnancy brings, you also have the physical effects of carrying a baby to cope with. Feeling your unborn baby kick you is undoubtedly a joy, but when the baby decides on a game of football at 3am every night, it's less of a thrill. There's also the heartburn, back pain, varicose veins and constipation to worry about, not to mention the sheer difficulty in getting comfortable in bed when you have the equivalent of a beach ball under your pyjamas. If sleep deprivation wasn't enough, the energy your body uses in creating a new life as well as providing enough nutrients for the baby means you will be feeling very fatigued.
As well as the above, there are also the effects of your hormones. The most level-headed of women can turn into banshees at the drop of a hat when they are pregnant. Your body is filled to the brim with hormones and this can make you an emotional wreck. You cry at the puppies on Animal Hospital and bite your partner's head off because they are unable to telepathically anticipate your every whim. This is the roller-coaster world of pregnancy hormones.
Taking all of this into account, is it any wonder that the most exciting time in your life is also one of the most stressful? You shouldn't feel guilty for experiencing negative feelings; it can be scary to know that you are going to lose some of your freedom and start a new life which will never be the same again. However, it's important to try to relax and not become too stressed during your pregnancy.
The effects of stress
Firstly, if the feelings of stress aren't dealt with, they can become overwhelming and you could end up with depression. If this is the case it's important to get treatment as early as possible. Doctors have a range of options, including some medications and counselling that will help you to feel better.
Secondly, there are the physical effects of stress. Prolonged periods of stress can lead to problems such as high blood pressure. In pregnant women this increases the possibility of a premature or low birth-weight baby. No one is really sure what the direct effects of stress are on the unborn baby.
Some studies have suggested that exposure to increased amounts of the stress hormone during pregnancy can lead to an anxious and tearful baby, whilst other studies have found that it can also affect their immune system.
There has been no conclusive proof to definitively show what too much stress does during pregnancy, but it is in the interests of both you and your unborn baby to try to relax as much as possible. Every woman feels stressed now and again, so there's no need to obsess about the need to be in a perfect Zen-like state of bliss 100% of the time. However, taking the time to relax, getting plenty of rest and even talking to someone if you feel like your worries are eating away at you will help to ensure you are in the best possible frame of mind for when your baby finally arrives.