When you’re pregnant, a little stress goes with the territory. You’re worried about your stretch marks and whether you’ll ever get your body back. Or you’re frazzled because you have to take pee breaks during important meetings at work.
These concerns won’t do any real harm, but chronic stress during pregnancy is linked to lifelong risks for children, including anxiety, aggression and learning disabilities. The good news is that you can safely get a handle on it.
Here, experts offer their best advice on dealing with four major sources of stress during pregnancy.
1. Your Relationship: When the honeymoon is really over.
Pregnancy is a time of major emotional (and physical) change when all expectant couples face stressful moments. But what if you’re facing an extreme situation, such as a husband who says he no longer wants a baby? Even this kind of severe stress can be alleviated with good communication and a cool head, says Debra Cucci, M.A., M.F.T., a marriage and family therapist in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Here are her strategies:
Don’t Lash Out Immediately. Rather than reacting rashly, Cucci advises asking your partner for an appointment to talk later, when both of you may be calmer and better able to listen to one another.
Have An Expectations Talk. “Many men freak out during this time, as they become worried about changes to their job, friends, sex life, freedom and so on,” Cucci says. “A roadmap-expectations talk can help.” Address all areas of concern, including sleep deprivation, division of chores and parenting duties. “It’s especially good for a couple to address the lack of spontaneity they will soon experience,” Cucci says. “Perhaps you can decide to have grandma come stay with the baby when he’s 5 months old. Even if all you do is go to a hotel and sleep all weekend, it provides you with something fun to think about doing alone together.”
Enroll In Parenting Classes. You’ll meet other couples with similar due dates (and help your partner meet other expectant dads). Getting other people’s perspective can be eye-opening and constructive.
Sign Up For Marriage Counseling. This can be especially helpful for couples who can’t communicate compassionately, or who blame one another or escalate arguments. Cucci says it can help couples find the tools needed to communicate under stress, which will only get harder after the baby arrives and you’re both short on sleep and time. For couples dealing with financial challenges, there are usually low-fee resources for marital therapy in most communities.
Show Appreciation “Most men who come to marriage counseling seem to share one common complaint: they don’t feel appreciated by their partners,” says Cucci. Dig deep and see if there are times when you focus more on what is wrong than on what is right.
Be Careful Who You Confide In Telling family members about your partner’s freak-out moments can potentially exacerbate issues or cause him to feel isolated or shunned later at family events. Instead, confide in a therapist, your OB or midwife, or a trusted friend.
2. Your Job: Can it survive your having a baby?
Are you terrified to tell colleagues or your boss that you are pregnant? Stressed out every time you have to leave work for an OB appointment? Panicked that you’ll miss out on projects and promotions after taking maternity leave? If you fear pregnancy discrimination on the job, arm yourself with as much information as possible, says Sarah Crawford, director of workplace fairness for the Washington, D.C.-based National Partnership for Women & Families. Crawford recommends doing the following:
Familiarize Yourself With The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It allows for 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave with your position (or an equivalent one) intact upon return. Also, read the Americans with Disabilities Act; it permits pregnant workers to be treated like other workers with disabilities who may have lifting restrictions, for instance.
Contact Human Resources (HR) At Your Company. Request information regarding maternity leave and related policies.