Pregnancy is a time of change; depending on how one adapts to change could alter how one experiences being pregnant. Life doesn’t stop because you are pregnant, yet you do feel different because of it! It can be common for women who are pregnant to experience an increased level of stress, however too much stress for a prolonged period can start to make women feel uncomfortable and impact their overall health & wellbeing.
Pregnancy can be nerve-wracking; the uncertainties and changes being pregnant can bring, alongside the physical changes a woman will experience, can impact how someone feels and adapts to the experience. It can be common to be stressed about becoming stressed!
7 Ways Stress Effects Pregnant Women
It is normal when we are stressed for our cortisol levels to increase, our brains naturally secrete hormones in response, however cortisol may affect levels of progesterone that are produced which is one aspect that can impact the uterine growth. Premature birth or baby’s with low birthweights can be possible consequences.
Stress can impact the pregnancy of your unborn child as early as 17 weeks from conception, sometimes sooner as stress can also prevent people conceiving all together.
Like with many aspects of pregnancy, taking care of yourself is essential which includes identifying being stressed and ways to help reduce it. Nutrition and feeding yourself well is a big part of this. Stress can interrupt both physically and emotionally when it comes to ensuring your body is getting the right nutrients for you and the baby. It’s not uncommon for women’s appetites to change because they are pregnant, but it is also a sign of stress. Eating adequate amounts of food and nutrition can help prevent low birth weights and reduces the risk of intrauterine growth restriction (IGR).
Additional stress hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine can cause constricted blood vessels which potentially includes the blood flow through the umbilical cord to the baby. This can prevent the foetus from absorbing enough nutrients from the mother and increases the risk of the of IGR.
The immune system as well as a person’s digestive system can be impacted by prolonged stress. It protects us from infections; however, it is already lowered when you are pregnant so stress impacts this even more. Chronic stress can result in a reduced amount of blood cells that help us fight off bacterial and viral infections, leaving you more exposed to illness yet unable to take anything to help combat it. Again, if this is compromised during a women’s first trimester and/or into long term pregnancy, the risks increase for the foetus/unborn baby.
Stressed whilst pregnant can have significant impact in the now and near future, where you are trying your best through the 9 months in preparation for your bundle of joy to arrive. Some research suggests that chronic stress can affect/result in issues that don’t present themselves until later in their life.
Stress initially triggers a chemical reaction in us that’s known as the fight & flight response. In preparation to deal with these stressors the nervous system releases hormones, the more stressed you get the higher your cortisol levels will rise. There are numerous physical reactions women can experience that need to be taken seriously if you are pregnant such as increased heart rate/heart palpitations, alterations in ones breathing/chest pain, tightening of the muscles/achy muscles, dry mouth, hot/cold sweaty hands & feet, headaches, vision problems, fatigue, stomach problems and dizziness.
It can be easy to discard or mistaken stress for “It’s because I am pregnant” I am feeling this….
Tips on managing stress when pregnant:
- Take time out to rest
- Prioritise the necessities
- Get enough sleep
- Eat regular meals and keep hydrated
- Find helpful relaxation techniques
- Talk to others about your worries or fears, don’t suffer or worry alone
- Prepare for the baby’s arrival
- Gentle exercise can be beneficial to the mind and body
- Good financial management
The more ways in which women can find that reduces stress ultimately will help both her and their baby. Even the most resilient women can be surprised how stressful pregnancy and the preparation for labour to bringing their unborn child into this world can be!
By Psychotherapist Gemma Wood of Noel McDermott Psychotherapy & Consultancy Ltd