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Pregnancy can bring on a mix of emotions for many women. And sometimes, excitement about the baby can be overshadowed by the stress of the unknown, physical discomfort, and life changes.
It’s perfectly normal to feel some anxiety about what’s to come, especially because of the hormonal shifts happening in your body. Not to mention, all of the changes and uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic certainly doesn’t help. But managing your stress during pregnancy is important to maintaining your health and taking care of your baby.
The dangers of stress during pregnancy.
Stress causes your body to release hormones that prepare your body to “fight or flight”. When stress is managed, these hormones dissipate and your body returns to a balanced, healthy state. However, severe stress that lasts can negatively affect your growing baby, increasing your risk of preterm labor or delivering a baby with low birth weight.
Severe stress while expecting can increase your risk of preterm labor or delivering a baby with low birth weight. Manage your #PregnancyStress with these 5 tips from an OB/GYN expert: https://bit.ly/2LbCk9L #LiveWellHealthy.
Pregnant women with high stress levels are also more likely to seek pain interventions during delivery because they’re unable to tolerate pain the same way they would in a healthy mental state. This can lead to disappointment and frustration if pain intervention wasn’t part of your original birth plan. And, the combination of both stress and a discouraging delivery experience can increase your risk of postpartum depression and anxiety.
How to manage stress during pregnancy.
If you’re expecting and overwhelmed, don’t let worry about your stress add to your emotional state. Instead, try these tips to relieve stress so that you and baby can stay as healthy as possible.
Know the signs of stress.
It can be hard to recognize when you’re stressed, which is why it’s so important to surround yourself with a support network that can bring it to your attention and help determine why. Remember that maintaining social distance doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself. Instead, use technology to stay connected to family, friends, and healthcare providers who can help you monitor your mental health and stress level.
Everyone reacts differently to being overwhelmed, but chronic stress often results in:
- Tunnel vision
- Pounding heart
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes to eating patterns (e.g. overeating or not eating enough)
Once you’ve identified that you’re stressed, tell those around you so they can help you make changes to minimize the stress or seek help from your doctor. Virtually seeing your doctor face-to-face using video visits can also help to identify stress, as your doctor can see nonverbal cues that may suggest it.
Get answers to any unknown questions.
One of the most common causes of stress during pregnancy is the fear of what you don’t know. Whether you have questions about pregnancy, worry about symptoms, or uncertainty about how your hospital is safely handling labor, delivery, and visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic, seek out the answers you need from reputable sources.
Questions to ask your doctor about pregnancy care during COVID-19:
- Should I wear a face mask?
- What does COVID-19 mean for my scheduled OB check-ups?
- How is the hospital safely handling lab work?
- Can I bring my husband or child to the hospital when I’m in labor?
- What does visitation look like after delivery?
- Where should I direct questions about pregnancy or breastfeeding?
The internet can be a helpful resource for finding accurate information about what to expect during pregnancy, especially reliable sources like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, information overload can add to your stress, so do your best to limit how much you read about others’ pregnancy experiences. Focus on your feelings and pregnancy rather than what could (but probably won’t) happen to you.
Get outdoors and move your body.
Regular exercise and sunshine are some of the best ways to manage stress during pregnancy and any other life change. From meditative yoga and stretching to low-impact aerobic exercise like walking or swimming, physical activity can help lower cortisol levels that cause anxiety. And, getting some fresh air and vitamin D is a natural way to improve your mood, especially while you’re stuck at home during shelter-in-place mandates. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
Try a new hobby.
The physical discomfort associated with pregnancy may prevent you from doing some of the things that used to bring you joy and relieve stress. It’s important to have activities that can take your mind off of your pregnancy stress, so why not take up a new hobby?
There are lots of quarantine-friendly ways you can occupy your hands and mind at home. Here are a few ideas that could help you stay stress-free during pregnancy:
- Painting or drawing
- Learning a new language
- Knitting or crocheting
- Starting a small garden
- Baking something new
Practice meditation or controlled breathing techniques.
Stress can cause you to take shorter, shallower breaths. This can increase your stress because it decreases oxygen in the body. Prenatal yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can be helpful ways to clear your mind and take control of your breathing.
You don’t have to manage your stress alone.
Whether you’re managing your stress during pregnancy well at home or you need some additional help, it’s important to stay in touch with your doctor throughout your pregnancy. And, in most cases, you won’t need to leave your home to talk with or see your doctor.
There are a variety of ways you can stay connected to your doctor from the comfort and safety of your house using telehealth, including:
- Scheduling a video visit with your doctor
- Sending your doctor questions in a secure message via a patient portal
- Calling a nurse hotline
- Using eVisit when you need a doctor outside of office hours
Talk to your doctor about the best way to reach them as you manage your stress during pregnancy and COVID-19.
MedStar Health offers safe and convenient options for staying connected to your healthcare provider during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out how to schedule a virtual appointment with your provider using MedStar Health Video Visits.