On the subject of pregnancy, everyone likes to talk about the tangible side effects—be it stretch marks, nausea or mood shifts. But few people like to talk about one of the most all-encompassing side effects: stress.
Even in smooth-sailing pregnancies, moms-to-be run through a whole range of stresses. Some of them may be practical stresses (what child care should we choose?), financial stresses (diapers cost how much?!), or even crazy stresses (why are there no pickles in the pantry!). But above all, the one stress that looms over most pregnancies is the worry that everything is going to be OK.
The good news is that it seems women’s brains are wired to be able to handle stress and anxiety while expecting. Two hormones—progesterone and estrogen—go into overdrive during pregnancy. Progesterone provides a sort of tranquilizing effect, while estrogen helps elevate your mood.
That said, pregnancy can be difficult mentally, and being equipped to handle the tension and anxiety that comes with the nine-month countdown is one of the essential skills moms can develop—not just to help you cope with the stresses of pregnancy, but of parenthood, as well. Some of our favorite ways to help keep your mind at ease:
Embrace knowledge—in moderation
If you’re stressed about your baby’s health, the most important thing you can do is to learn about it. Keep in mind that many health issues are genetically driven—meaning that you can’t beat yourself up if you feel like you made a mistake in your diet (make that a triple scoop of chocolate, please) or some other so-called pregnancy blunder. Your job is to optimize the fetal environment, so learning how to do that—without nitpicking over every step you take—can help ease some of your tension. But be careful about information overload. Spending too much time surfing the web for “genetic defects” never helped anyone. If you’re concerned about something you stumbled upon online, talk to your doc to gain some perspective on how it will affect you and your baby.
Related: Follow @FitPregnancy on Twitter for the latest pregnancy news!
Move and snooze
Regular exercise and quality sleep (as well as regular and quality sex, if you’re so inclined) can serve double duty: they all provide vehicles for stress relief, but they also contribute to the health of your baby— because what’s good for your health is also good for the health of the environment you’re creating. Added bonus: Regular activity will help prepare your muscles, heart and mind for the rigors of labor and early motherhood.
Plan ahead and keep up
Pregnancy can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers—so much to prepare for (order the crib), so much to think about (got to get on the pediatrician’s schedule), so many things to get (onesies! onesies! onesies!). While bubble baths and massages are OK in our book, if you really want to manage the stress, you have to, frankly, take care of business. So use strategies the way you would in a job or in any other to-do-type setting. Plan ahead, create lists, and chip away. The way to relieve the burden of the to-do list is to do the stuff on it.
Meet a mom-to-be friend
Everybody always thinks that playdates should start happening when your child is old enough to actually play. We recommend mom-to-be playdates, so you can bond with other women experiencing the same struggles. The worst enemy of stress is flying solo, and the best ally is having a support system. You’ll get more individual strength when you see it in others.
Related: The Sisterhood of Motherhood
Perhaps the best way to alleviate stress is to let it all out. You don’t need to play the hero (you already are one, no doubt) by bottling up your emotions and worries; just the simple act of talking it out to anyone (your partner, your doctor, the barista) will do wonders for your mind— and your body and baby, as well.