The Effects of Stress During Pregnancy: Third of a Series

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Our first article on the effects of stress during pregnancy focused on the complexity and confusion surrounding research in this area. Yesterday, the focus was on a couple of "truths" gleaned from the research. More specifically, the research suggests that intensely stressful events can have a negative impact on pregnancy, while mild to moderate stress is normal, and as such, should not be an extra source of worry. Of course, this current wisdom could change as new studies emerge. Today, we'll focus on stress reduction, as it can be useful regardless of the particular circumstances you find yourself in, or the stress levels you are experiencing. Eight Tips to Help Reduce Stress During Pregnancy.

1. Cognitive restructuring. This is the term psychologists use to describe the effects that thought can have on emotions. Peoples' interpretation of events can vary widely. A mildly stressful event can be turned into a very stressful experience depending on your interpretation of that event. If, for example, your pediatrician has said something that has caused you to worry, don't mind-read. Talk to the physician about your fears and ensure you have gained the proper interpretation of what was said.

2. Deep Breathing, Meditation, Massage. Your body can carry your cognitive and emotional stress. It deserves some attention. Get a professional massage or simply ask your spouse for one. Deep breathing and relaxation exercises help place the body into a relaxed state. Get some assistance so that you are doing it right. Breathing too shallow or quickly can increase your stress.

3. Reduce Exposure to Stressful People and Events. Perhaps prior to becoming pregnant you had plenty of energy along with the ability to absorb the stresses of day to day life. You might put up with a friend or family member that upsets you, or go to events that you were not very happy about attending in order to meet someone's needs. Now is the time to reduce stress by saying no to some of the people or places that have brought you stress, and saying yes to your own needs.

4. Be Open to Learning. Learn about the practical things that will help you deal with the challenges of a new baby, through books, videos and people. Books can be very helpful, although you'll want to stay away from ones that detail all the things that are unlikely to go wrong. Professionals are an important source of unbiased information.  Friends and family who have children can also be helpful, particularly with respect to validating the experiences you'll be going through and helping you feel like you're normal and not alone. However, be careful not to get lured into the idea that there is only one right way to raise a child. Everyone has different needs and ways of doing things. The most important thing you can do for your child is provide a safe and loving atmosphere. This includes setting proper limits for their behaviour.

5; Seek Social Support. This cannot be underestimated. Regardless of the level of stress you are under, support from others can be a powerful buffer and source of healing. You may also want to plan ahead to see if your spouse can take a leave from work. Having two people in the first few weeks or months after the baby's arrival can make a world of difference. For financial reasons, this is not always possible. However, when your spouse is home don't feel that you have to do everything yourself. If this is your first baby, there is no reason why your spouse cannot be learning along with you by taking equal responsibility. Friends and family can also help. Some may offer to babysit. Take time to get to the point where you'll feel comfortable having them stay with the baby for a few hours while you take care of your needs.

6. Set Limits at Work. Being pregnant can take a physical and emotional toll. Co-workers and employers may not be aware of your increased stress levels and can continue to expect too much from you. While prior to becoming pregnant you may have been taking work home with you and not been too concerned with how it was eating into your personal time, this is not likely to be the case now or in the first year or two following the baby's birth.

7. Be Prepared to Adjust to the New. Being pregnant means your body is changing, your identity is changing, your relationship with your spouse may change and even your connections with friends may change. Be prepared to be flexible. You may not be able to engage in the same activities that used to take up so much of your time. However, unlike a grief experience, your loss will not leave you with a void. The baby will likely displace something or someone. For most people, the rewards of a child will outweigh anything you may have lost.

8. Take Time for Yourself. Go to a movie or a concert, go shopping, listen to music, do whatever makes you happy even if is for a shorter time than you are used to. You may even find that you appreciate some of these activities more now that you are not taking them for granted.

We hope this information is helpful. At the same time, we realize that this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps there are tips you would like to share that have worked for you and are not mentioned above. Share your experience. Leave us a comment!

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.