If you read my blog from last week, you learned that stress during pregnancy can lead to fussy, difficult to soothe babies. This information comes from a study that looked at maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy, and outcomes involving the length and health of the pregnancy, and the short and long-term effects on the child as the child grows through to adulthood.
This WebMD article explains exactly what happens inside the human body when stress of any kind exists. As this article points out, when the body experiences stress, stress hormones are released. These hormones are the same hormones that are released when your body “thinks” that it is in danger or feels threatened. The same hormones that would be released if you were face to face with a lion are released when you experience work stress, parenting stress or even stressors like watching a scary movie. However, these stress hormones are released at different levels depending on how long the stressor endures.
Over exposure to stress hormones affects the adult body in a variety of ways. However, overexposure to stress hormones during pregnancy seems to create a more lasting and severe effect on the developing baby. Too much exposure to stress hormones can result in abnormalities in brain development, emotional reactions and behavioral responses in infancy and childhood. This is what causes the fussy mood and inability to be soothed. The more stress that the baby is exposed to, the more the brain is rewired to make the child respond in abnormal ways. And if you look at this study again, you’ll see that these issues extend through to adulthood, resulting in severe mental health issues.
So what can you do if you are a stressed out pregnant mom? Well, don’t stress out about it, but you have to figure out ways to calm yourself and minimize the release of stress hormones! I know…the second you find out that you’re pregnant, you start to worry. You wonder if the baby’s heart is beating, if you’ll have everything ready by the time she comes and which of the 3 top names you’ll pick for her.
But, as Elsa instructs us all, you just have to let it go! Try a few of these tips to minimize and manage stress, to provide a safe, comfortable haven for your unborn baby before she enters the world and has her own stress to endure.
Now isn’t the time to take on extra tasks, head up the PTA committee or plan that special event for the non-profit where you volunteer. Take this time to prepare for baby by taking time to complete essential tasks before baby arrives.
Ditch the Drama
Now is a terrible time to get into arguments. You’re already an emotional roller coaster with all of those raging hormones, so getting into an argument with your spouse about the color of the nursery, your sister about the must-have decorations for the baby shower or your co-worker about her inability to do her job just isn’t worth the stress that you’ll cause yourself and your baby (who, ironically, is the main reason why you’re stressing out in the first place!) If you have to, develop a code word with your spouse, friends and family members that basically means, “I’m getting too stressed, this isn’t good for the baby, so this conversation needs to be put on hold.”
In a few months, you’ll have dirty diapers, bags under your eyes and leaking breasts! Now is totally the time to pamper yourself, because you won’t have that luxury when your baby joins your growing family. Take this time to indulge at the spa, listen to relaxing music, or take a nap during the middle of the day just because you want to!
Practice Calming Techniques
Let’s face it. Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean that stress and responsibiity are going to disappear. You will still be faced with stressful events that you can’t avoid, even if you want to. When faced with stress, fear or drama, practice some calming techniques that help decrease the stressor quickly. Find the technique that works right for you. Some options include stretching/yoga, a warm bath (following your doctor’s recommendations, of course), deep breaths, getting a massage, singing or humming, counting to 10, going for a walk/exercise, talking to a friend, snuggling with a pet, etc.
Avoid the Avoidable
Why would you choose to expose your unborn child to stress if you could avoid it? Stay away from situations that you know may cause you stress. If past history indicates that you’ll experience some stress from it, then stay away if you can. Pregnancy isn’t the time to face your fear of heights, spiders or thunder storms. Take a break from watching The Walking Dead, because even though you know its fake, your body still reacts chemically like you are face to face with that zombie!
Before I end this article, I want to provide a special note about grief and trauma during pregnancy. It is my hope that no pregnant woman would have to experience a traumatic loss, like the death of a spouse or parent, or a devastating event like a terrorist attack or earthquake, during her pregnancy. However, these things do occur and they occur randomly, to an unlucky few.
Even though I know the impact that this type of stressor can have on the developing child, I would never try to tell someone who just lost her husband, the father of her unborn child, “Get over it because you’re hurting your baby!” That would be unrealistic to expect that a woman would be able to shut off her grief like that, just to protect her child.
The best advice I have for a woman in this situation is to seek out moral support from friends, family or a mental health professional as soon as possible to manage the grief that comes from this experience and give the baby the most stress-free environment that is possible under the circumstances.