Your ankles are swollen, you're running to the bathroom every
five minutes, and you can't find a comfortable position in which to sleep. Yep,
you're pregnant, and most likely, you're also feeling, well, just a tad
stressed out. Duh! you say.
The bad news is that stress during pregnancy is more than just
an inconvenience; it's actually unhealthy for you and your baby. The good news
is that there are ways to cope with it.
By Amy Engeler
At 3 a.m., with all the houses dark up and down her winding suburban street in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Jo-Ann Frey, 37, lights a candle so she can see well enough to dust her furniture. Careful not to turn on any lights or make noise that might wake up her family, she drifts from room to room with her candle and cleaning supplies, waiting until she feels sleepy enough to climb back into bed. That feeling doesn't come -- and when she hears the alarm in the bedroom go off...
There are, of course, stresses that are particular to
pregnancy, says David Whitehouse, MD, including:
Physical discomforts such as nausea, fatigue, frequent urination, swelling,
Emotional vulnerability caused by hormonal changes
Fear of delivery, of parenting, and for the health of the baby
Add to those your concerns over a troubled economy, general
instability in the world, ongoing threats of terrorism, and you've got an
entirely new set of stressors. In fact, in a survey commissioned by CIGNA
HealthCare entitled "Troubled Times: How Americans Are Coping In A
Stressful World," findings indicate that 64% of expectant mothers say their
lives are more stressful than they were a year ago. The survey, conducted in
conjunction with CIGNA's support of the 2003 March of Dimes Prematurity
Campaign, also found that 65% of expectant moms say they are concerned about
the impact that stress during pregnancy is having on themselves and the health
of their baby.
"For many women, having a baby is already stressful
enough," says Whitehouse, medical director of CIGNA Behavioral Health in
Bloomfield, Connecticut. "The additional concerns Americans face today
around the war, a troubled economy, and job security may be leading some
expectant mothers to experience stress overload."
According to the March of Dimes, one in eight babies in the
United States is born prematurely. High levels of sustained stress, says
Whitehouse, may be an important factor in causing these premature births.
"That's why finding ways to manage stress is important for expectant
moms," he says.
"It's well established that stress can affect your
health," Whitehouse continues. "But research shows that pregnant women
should pay particular attention to this connection." Some suggestions?
Take good care of yourself. Eat regularly and nutritiously, get
plenty of rest, do moderate exercise, avoid alcohol, cigarette smoking, or
Don't stress out about stress. It's normal to feel stressed,
especially during these turbulent times. But look at what's causing your stress
and take whatever practical steps you can to address those things that you can
Avoid negative responses to stress. Some of the things we do to deal
with stress only compound the problem. Unhealthy ways of coping with stress
include withdrawing from people, sleeping to escape problems, skipping meals or
eating junk food, and using alcohol and tobacco.
Schedule time for yourself. Many women have a difficult time saying
no to everyone else's requests. This is the time to be selfish. Schedule
regular leisure time for yourself to do those things that help you relax.
Exercise, meditation, massage therapy, deep breathing exercises, even reading a
book or listening to soothing music can be relaxing.
Ask for help. Surround yourself with love and support. Expand your
support network of friends and family. Insist on help with regular chores. See
if your employer offers prenatal or employee assistance programs that can
provide information and support. If you have problems with sleep, appetite,
sadness, crying, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, or
excessive feelings of guilt, and these symptoms occur almost every day for more
than two weeks, talk to a professional; you may be suffering from