Babies & Families: Find ways to manage prenatal stress
It’s true, getting and being pregnant may be one of the most inherently stressful processes we go through.
Starting with the choice to try to conceive, questions about how fit you are to be a parent and realizations of how much you don’t know come flooding in. You might suddenly ask yourself why you didn’t pay more attention during sex ed, or ask yourself why you never knew all of these facts that suddenly are ruling your reality.
For example, many women (and men) don’t know that much about fertility (or lack thereof) until they start trying to get pregnant. Back when we first had “the talk” we might have been scared into believing that eggs were just hanging out in a row, waiting for the first sperm to come along and a single instance of unprotected sex meant a baby would be on the way. And of course, that could happen. But it would be very, very lucky.
Instead, for most couples, timing needs to be perfectly coordinated and luck on your side. Most fertility doctors don’t get concerned about infertility until after a year of unsuccessful efforts to get pregnant.
Most people also don’t recognize how common it is to miscarry, especially in the first trimester. National statistics show that one in five pregnancies results in miscarriage, 80 percent of those occurring within the first 12 weeks.
So, yeah, that’s stressful.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Once pregnant, hormonal shifts can easily escalate moodiness, anxiety and feelings of uncertainty. Unsolicited (or solicited) advice from friends, family, co-workers or even perfect strangers can easily catch you off guard as they try to help by sharing the latest trending studies about what foods to avoid or what parenting practice is sure to be the key to rearing a genius.
Practical stresses have their place, too. The process of having a baby is a financial burden for many women. According to a USDA report, the average middle-income family will spend roughly $12,000 on child-related expenses in their baby’s first year of life. By age two, parents are up to more than $12,500 per year.
All parents want the best for their children, so they don’t want to skimp on the money they spend. But for many that amount that goes toward their children is 25-30 percent of their annual incomes.
Scheduling time off work as well as childcare are additional causes of anxiety and require planning and a lot of hard decision-making. Many childcare facilities do not accept infants and waiting lists can be so long that couples who put their names on a list the day they have a positive pregnancy test still can’t get in when their child is ready.
Never mind the endless curiosity about how your baby is developing, whether everything is fine and normal, what’s happening within your body and who is the baby growing within you.
So it’s no wonder that stress is commonplace among new parents and parents-to-be.
Moderate amounts of stress are nothing to be concerned about, and, considering the number of new experiences and emotions you’re facing, to be expected. But health experts warn that extreme levels of stress can be harmful to pregnancy. Some studies suggest that high stress during pregnancy can result in premature birth or low birth weight.
LIGHT EXERCISE & LOTS OF SLEEP
Coping mechanisms for stress vary widely based on the individuals involved, but the basic idea is the same for all: give yourself a break.
Cut back on the number of commitments you make and take time to relax and slow down. While it can feel like there aren’t possibly enough hours or days or months left before your due date to get all the preparations done, it’s important to prioritize your own sanity and let it go.
Healthcare providers also suggest maintaining an exercise routine throughout pregnancy, even if it’s a very low-impact, light activity like swimming, walking, stretching or yoga. Exercise helps stimulate the mind and body in productive and healthy ways, as well as encourages deep breathing, which is good for the fetus.
Get plenty of sleep. Shift your bedtime earlier and give yourself plenty of time in bed to balance the extra work your body is doing to help your baby grow.
Limit the amount of unverified information you take in. Resist the urge to troll the internet, reading about all of the worst-case scenarios and making yourself more afraid of messing up.
Seeking information, reading books and talking to friends, family and health providers can be extremely helpful in planning to welcome a new baby to your family, but reading about all of the rare and unfortunate conditions that you likely aren’t at risk for probably won’t help.
Find support people that you can talk to so you’re not keeping all of your worries to yourself. Many times talking through what you’re anxious about will help alleviate the concern. Make sure you talk openly with your partner; chances are he or she feels many of the same stresses and you can help each other get through them. Support groups of other parents who are experiencing the same phases of parenting can be a great resource and can help articulate some of the emotions you are feeling.
At the end of the day, recognize that childbirth is perhaps the most common miracle we know. Regardless of how hard you try or how much you know, most babies turn out just fine and most parents get the hang of it without any catastrophic failures. Just let nature do its thing.
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