For years obstetricians have looked to see whether an increase in stressful events can either cause miscarriage, result in preterm delivery, or in some other way harm a fetus. Up until recently the consensus had been that while excessive physical work can bring on preterm labor, emotional stress did not seem to have negative effects on pregnancy outcomes. This conclusion, however, has recently been challenged. There now is information to indicate that stress can cause the body to produce certain hormones that can perhaps cause miscarriage and that very likely can bring on preterm labor. Additionally, even if doctors have no "smoking gun" linking stress with negative pregnancy outcomes, pregnant women would want to decrease the amount of stress they have to contend with just because of how unpleasant it makes them feel. These emotional consequences of stress can range from a mild sense of being overwhelmed to severe episodes of depression. They can eventually lead to pregnant women feeling withdrawn and being unable to function.
Are there things pregnant women can do to reduce the stress they have and to change how it makes them feel? The answer is yes. Below are listed several techniques that both women and the clinicians who care for them have found useful in helping to relieve the sense that life is getting out of control. I have divided these techniques into two groups: (1) readjusting your lifestyle to reduce stress and (2) specific maneuvers and activities you can do to change how you feel -both physically and emotionally-about the stress you are under.
1. Take a close look at your lifestyle. Make yourself do this on paper. Look at your work activities, home and family responsibilities, other obligations (church, community activities, clubs and organizations to which you belong). Then look to see how "doable" it is. Make sure you include in your calculations time for yourself for such activities as exercise, down time, and socializing Once you have done this, be honest with yourself as you ask the following: Is this schedule achievable? Sustainable? Satisfying? If not, accept the reality that you have to change the schedule.
2. Accept the fact that even if you currently can thrive on your busy and demanding lifestyle, you likely will not be able to sustain it as pregnancy progresses and makes more physical demands on you. Therefore prepare yourself to cut back on what you're doing and to allow yourself more time for rest and relaxation. You will need to sleep more. You will need to change the time you a lot for meals to make sure that you are able to eat a balanced diet. You will feel better if you allow time to engage in a reasonable exercise program. Finally you will need to allow yourself some "mental growth" time. This is time for reading, thinking, and planning for the new, incredibly important role of mother you will soon assume.
3. Be prepared to give up some control over the life-style you have worked so hard to attain. Many things about pregnancy are not in your control. You may experience severe morning sickness. You may have overwhelming fatigue. You may develop a pregnancy complication requiring hospitalization or home bed rest. For many women, especially those who have demanding jobs, the thought that biology might interfere with their responsibilities borders on the intolerable. But it happens. Be prepared to accept this.
4. Make up your mind that you, and not your husband or your mother or your boss or your friends, are going to determine how you feel about your pregnancy and how you cope with it. Other than your medical care providers, you are the best person to determine what your needs are, how hard you should work, how much you should rest, what you should eat, and all other aspects of your behavior during pregnancy. Certainly listen to the advice of both medical professionals and friends and family members that you trust. But don't allow yourself to be made to feel bad by the well-intentioned but often incorrect comments and claims of others.
5. Keep lines of communication open with those you love, especially your spouse. Your spouse, parents, and friends--unless they are currently pregnant themselves--will not know exactly what you are experiencing and cannot anticipate what your wants and needs will be. Let them know. Tell them how you are feeling and how they can help. At the same time you must also be sensitive to the concerns and anxieties your spouse might have, especially if this is your first pregnancy.
6. Do your homework. Learn as much about pregnancy as you can. Read, talk to friends, attend classes, and talk to your doctor or midwife to learn as much as possible not only about the biology of pregnancy but about its emotional implications as well. In this way if you do begin to experience new and disturbing emotions you'll at least not be surprised by them.