How to Handle Stress While Pregnant

woman holding her pregnant belly

Most of us experience stress here and there. It’s normal. In fact, in the United States, 77% of people frequently experience physical symptoms of stress, while 73% routinely experience stress-causing psychological symptoms.

And in your case, you’re growing a baby inside of you—who wouldn’t be a little stressed? Every emotion is heightened when pregnant (thanks, hormones), so stress is common when pregnant, especially since there’s a lot you can stress over: money problems, unplanned pregnancy, complicated pregnancy, being a single parent, weight gain, what diaper bag really is the best, wondering if you’re ready for parenthood, etc. A little stress won’t hurt you or your baby, but you want to avoid high levels of stress while expecting, no matter what happens.

What does stress do to your body while pregnant?

woman holding baby in Ergobaby carrier while shopping at the market with young family

Some stress symptoms during pregnancy look like your typical pregnancy discomforts, like headaches, body aches, trouble sleeping, and a weakened immune system. But pregnancy stress can cause even more serious issues for you and your baby:

  • High blood pressure. This puts you at greater risk for having preeclampsia, preterm birth (delivering before 37 weeks), and a baby with low birthweight (5.5 lbs or less).
  • Eating problems. Overeating can result in too much weight gain and gestational diabetes, while not eating enough is harmful to your health and prevents your baby from getting all the nutrition her growing body needs. You’re also at risk for a premature delivery when you’re too underweight or overweight.
  • Depression. Between 10-20% of pregnant women experience signs of depression. Especially if you’ve had depression before, pregnancy-related stress can lead to the return of your depression symptoms or cause symptoms to worsen.
  • Health and developmental problems for the baby. Your exposure to stress can have health and development consequences for your child’s cognitive and motor development, temperament, attention regulation, as well as lead to behavior and emotional problems.
  • Baby sleep issues. Stress may not only keep you from sleeping while pregnant, but it can also trigger your baby to have sleep problems. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can cross into the placenta, and then affect how your baby’s brain regulates his sleep-wake cycles.

Stress can also make you constantly worry about things and prevent you from enjoying your pregnancy.

What can pregnant women do to reduce stress?

Every woman experiences stress differently. Likewise, things that reduce stress for one mom-to-be may not work for others. But in general, here’s how to relieve stress during pregnancy:

Know your stress triggers.

First off, pay attention to what’s causing you stress. It may help to keep a pregnancy journal to jot down your triggers and how you feel before, during, and after a stress episode. Once you realize what’s causing your pregnancy stress, talk with someone about it, like maybe your partner or doctor, and then eliminate any stress triggers you have control over.

Get plenty of sleep.

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Growing a baby is a 24/7 job. You’re constantly nourishing her while still doing your normal, daily tasks. So go to bed early and take naps when you can. If you find it hard to nap, at least lie down and let your body rest.

Eat a well-balanced diet.

Eating healthy is good for your brain, body, and baby. It gives you the physical and mental energy you need to handle nine months of pregnancy while providing your baby the nutrition he needs to properly grow and develop. Here are some foods to focus on during each trimester.

Do some moderate exercises.

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This may not be how you relieve stress during early pregnancy. Most women don’t have the energy to exercise during their first trimester. But usually, you get your energy back during the second trimester. So whenever you feel like it, try some moderate workouts. Even if you don’t, make yourself a few times a week. Go on a walk. Swim a few laps in a pool. Bike around your neighborhood. Exercising releases endorphins. Endorphins not only reduce your perception of pain, but they also produce positive or “feel good” feelings.

Communicate your emotions.

Pregnancy is a rollercoaster of emotions. One day you’re elated about becoming a mom, and the next you’re freaking out about pushing a small watermelon out of your body. Hormones and a changing body are to blame. But no matter what you feel, talk about it. Talk to your partner, parents, friends, moms who are also pregnant, doctor, therapist, or whoever you feel comfortable talking to. Start to build your “mom tribe,” a group that understands what you are going through. Share your fears, concerns, and excitement. Find someone who will listen, give advice, or put things into perspective for you at this time in your life.

Get prenatal massages.

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Find an amazing and certified prenatal massage therapist and let him or her give you a nice lower back, foot, or full-body prenatal massage. The benefits of prenatal massages are more than relaxing muscles and rubbing away pregnant aches and pains. Getting a massage while pregnant can also reduce stress, improve blood flow, alleviate insomnia, and relieve sinus congestion.

Soak in the tub.

We don’t need science to tell us that taking a hot bath is relaxing. We all have probably taken a bubble bath after a long day before. And why do most of us do it? Because it helps relieve body aches, tension, and anxiety. But while you’re pregnant, skip the bubbles and use warm rather than hot water.

Meditate.

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A great relaxation technique to learn while pregnant is meditation. Simply sitting down somewhere comfortable and quiet, closing your eyes, and inhaling and exhaling deep breaths can help clear your mind and soothe your body. And it only takes a few minutes to focus, breathe, and relax to relieve feelings of overwhelm or stress.

You could also try prenatal yoga. The bending and stretching are good for your body, while the breathing and meditation techniques you learn help your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Know what to expect with labor and birth.

Nervous, scared, anxious, overwhelmed—these are all normal feelings pregnant women feel. Knowing what happens during labor and delivery, though, like what you should expect with your body and the baby as well as your before and after care options, can help you feel more confident and at ease as you prepare to give birth. So read articles and books about labor and delivery. Attend birthing and parenting classes.  Journal about your intuition to better trust your instincts once baby comes. Ask your OB or midwife questions. Write out a birth plan. Take a tour of the hospital or birth center you’ll be giving birth in.

Make time for self-care.

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woman using Ergobaby Nursing pillow with baby

The phrase “treat yourself” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re pregnant. Need to get out of the house? Go have brunch with your girls. Can’t reach your toenails? Get a pedicure. Can’t button your pants? Buy some bump-friendly clothes. Haven’t read that book you got for Christmas? Let the laundry wait until tomorrow and read a few chapters. Trouble sleeping? Buy yourself a quality pillow. Your body is working overtime. Take time to take care of yourself. (And don’t forget about self-care once baby arrives too!)

Ask for and accept help.

Wanting to know how to stay stress-free during early pregnancy, or really any stage of pregnancy? Ask for help; help with dinner, dishes, errands, or whatever. And don’t feel bad asking. Your loved ones want to help you, but some may not know how to ask or what to help with. So if someone does offer their help, don’t tell them no.

Get organized.

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woman carrying baby on her back with Ergobaby carrier

Clutter can cause anxiety and stress. So if your house is a mess, get it organized. Take it day by day or room by room. If you can’t do it alone, have someone help you. You can also get organized by planning out the nursery and everything you want to get before baby arrives, like a car seat, reversible stroller, ergonomic baby carrier, swaddles, noise machine, and booger sucker. Just remember to have the mindset that it’s OK if everything doesn’t get done on your to-do list.

Kirsten Metcalf

Kirsten Metcalf is a writer, editor and mother to a hilarious but very strong-willed toddler and a beautiful baby girl. She started writing short stories in elementary school and years later became a sports reporter and editor. Now, she mainly writes marketing, religious and parenting-related blog posts. Even before she knew she wanted to be a writer, Kirsten knew she wanted to be a mom. She knows being a mom is one of the most rewarding but hardest jobs out there, which is why she loves being able to share parenting knowledge and support to other moms through her writing. When she actually wins negotiations with her toddler, Kirsten likes to reward herself by watching KU basketball, eating cheesecake, or going on a Target run by herself.

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