Some anti-anxiety wisdom that expecting mothers cannot hear too often
I often get emails from pregnant women, their partners or family members asking some variation of this question: "Do I need to worry about this?" Sometimes "this" is first trimester discharge, or low abdominal cramping, or second trimester spotting. Or maybe it's a backache, a breech baby, or being past a due date. Sometimes it's an issue more daunting, like a weird result on a prenatal screening or an ultrasound that indicates an anomaly. Sometimes it has to do with relationships—such as a toddler who's not happy about the new baby, or a mother-in-law who is not pro-breastfeeding.
Whatever the issue is, the answer to the question "Do I need to worry about this?" is the same: No, you do not NEED to worry. You probably WILL worry, but worry is almost never necessary or helpful--and in some cases, it can even be harmful. Worry is what our brain does when it can't come up with a rock-solid solution for solving a problem. It's how we take a small situation, add fear, and turn it into a big freakin' deal. It's stressful, crazy-making and can actually boost hormone levels associated with inflammation, cardiac disease and pain.
Why You Don't NEED to Worry:
No matter what is happening, you probably have no real control over it and worrying won't change anything. Will worry stop your first trimester spotting, or change your test results? No it will not. It will, however, dial up the fear factor and make you more frightened than the situation warrants. The alternative: In pregnancy as with parenting, a better approach to dealing with something you're unsure about is to learn, talk, plan, accept and let it go
Worry makes unpleasant things a whole lot worse. Our imaginations are hardwired to consider the worst-case scenario. It's an outmoded survival mechanism rooted in the days when we had to outrun mastodons. While there's value in thinking through difficult situations to their most likely conclusions, and there are benefits to strategizing and brainstorming solutions and plans, worry just tosses bombs into our plans. Having cramps and your due date's still two months off? Worry will make you imagine that instead of having a few cramps, you're having a preterm-delivery, a baby in the neontal intensive care unit, or one of an entire laundry list of problems that probably won't actually happen. In your worried mind, those cramps are a disaster. In your body, you're probably not in trouble at all.
The alternative: Instead of worrying, try resting, drinking more water, calling your midwife, or simply chilling out. If cramps turn into contractions that continue, well then, there are plenty of steps you and your physician can take to keep your baby from being born too soon. Worrying isn't one of those steps.
The odds are always in your favor. Maybe your doctor tells you you're at increased risk for developing a condition, like say, high blood pressure late in pregnancy because you're an "older mom." While it's true that studies indicate a certain percentage of older mothers do develop hypertension, a much, much larger percentage of older moms don't. Those moms (the majority of moms) remain healthy throughout their pregnancies.
The alternative: Instead of worrying about your increased risks (which is a stressful thing to do and may actually drive your blood pressure up), invest in your wellness by taking excellent care of yourself.
I'm a firm believer that where our mind goes, our lives go. In other words, what we think about happens. If you worry about worst-case scenarios, I think you're increasing your chances that those scenarios might come true to some extent. If there's really something wrong, it will make itself known without your active participation. If there isn't, worrying might buy you extra tests and medical scrutiny you really don't need.
What do the experts say?
There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. —Shakespeare
Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will. —Zig Zigler
Let our advance worrying become advanced thinking and planning. —Winston Churchill
Don't worry. Be happy. —Bobby McFerrin
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.