Reduce Anxiety and Promote Relaxation
How to alleviate stress and anxiety in pregnancy
Rest assured that if you are stressed you will most likely go on to have a healthy baby. It’s normal to be a bit stressed about the changes that are happening in your life and to your body.
But if you’re stressed and anxious day in, day out, ask your midwife or doctor for help. Continuous, high levels of anxiety may affect your baby. That’s because the stress hormone cortisol can cross the placenta and can influence the building blocks of your baby’s emotional development (Lereya and Wolke 2012).
Of course, many complex factors will shape your baby’s eventual ability to learn and relate to the world. But it makes sense, for your sake and your baby’s, to tackle stress now.
How can I reduce stress during pregnancy? Here are 10 positive steps you can take:
1. Rest and focus on your baby
It’s good for you and your baby if you can relax, so don’t feel guilty about it. Take time out to focus on your bump. Chat and sing to your unborn baby. From about 23 weeks, he can hear you! This will also help you to bond with your baby when he’s born.
Listen to your body. If you’re feeling exhausted, go to bed early. Your body is working hard to nourish your growing baby and you need all the sleep you can get.
If you’re a mum you’ll already know that it can be hard to get a break. But you do deserve time to yourself. Ask your partner, a friend or grandparents to look after your child or children for an afternoon.
2. Talk about it
If you have worries about your baby’s wellbeing, or a personal matter, you can always turn to your midwife for reassurance. Don’t be frightened to admit how you are truly feeling. If you are honest, you are more likely to get the support you need.
Talk to your partner too. You may discover that you share similar worries, or that your partner has concerns you didn’t know about. Talking things through can make you both feel better.
Seek out other mums-to-be at the same stage of pregnancy as you, perhaps at an antenatal class or an exercise class. It’s likely that at least some of them will be having the same feelings as you.
3. Eat well
Eating well is good for your mind as well as your body. A healthy diet of omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, can lift your mood (FHF 2008, Geary 2008, BDA 2009).
The omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish may help to reduce depression (BDA 2009, Vaz 2013). Try to have two portions of oily fish, such as sardines, pilchards and trout, a week.
It’s thought that the essential amino acid tryptophan can boost your mood (BDA 2009). Tryptophan helps to raise levels of the brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin and serotonin help you to sleep well and boost your feelings of well-being (BDA 2009).
Your body can’t make tryptophan, so the only way to get it is from what you eat. Tryptophan is found in nuts and seeds, which are easy to snack on, as well as fresh turkey and chicken, fish, eggs, yoghurt and cheese.
Keep an eye on how much water you’re drinking, as dehydration may affect your mood (BDA 2009). Dehydration can also make you more prone to headaches. Aim for six to eight glasses (about 1.5 litres) of fluid a day.
4. Take exercise
Exercise can improve your mood (Mead et al 2009). It’s perfectly safe to exercise during pregnancy. If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, now might be a good time to start. Make it gentle exercise, though.
Swimming is ideal, as it keeps you toned, without being too hard on your joints. Find out if there’s an aquanatal class running at your local pool. If you can’t get to a pool, see if you can fit in a daily walk that lasts at least 20 minutes.
Pregnancy yoga not only tones and stretches your body, but teaches you breathing, relaxation and meditation techniques. These techniques are good for helping you to control your anxieties.
Try to build exercise into your daily life. At work, get up and walk around as often as you can, especially if you are desk-bound. Pop out at lunchtime for some fresh air, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
5. Prepare for birth
Learn more about what happens during labour by signing up for antenatal classes.
If you’re having a planned caesarean, talk to your midwife or obstetrician
about what will happen on the day. Drawing up a caesarean birth plan can help you feel more confident and in control.
If you are having your baby in hospital or at a birth center, you may be able to visit the delivery suite beforehand. If a real tour is not an option, an online tour should be available. Knowing what to expect from the place where you will have your baby can set your mind at rest. It will also help you to draw up your birth plan.
If your fear of birth is so overwhelming that you would rather have a caesarean than a vaginal birth, talk to your midwife or doctor. The right support may help you to overcome your doubts (NCCWCH 2004:37-8).
6. Prepare for family life
Rest assured that parenting is something you learn along the way. If you have any friends with young babies, you could spend time with them to pick up useful tips.
Perhaps you’re stressed about your finances, job, relationship or housing? Find out what financial support you may be entitled to and which organisations and support groups you can contact for advice.
7. Coping with commuting
Commuting can be a major source of stress, and it gets worse the more heavily pregnant you are.
Ask your employer if you can avoid rush hours, perhaps starting and finishing earlier than usual. This can be done as part of the risk assessment that your employer has a legal duty to carry out and review throughout your pregnancy.
Make sure you always sit down on public transport. If you are not offered a seat, ask for one. Some train operators offer first-class seats to pregnant season-ticket holders, if standard-class carriages are full.
In London, pregnant women who use the underground are entitled to priority seats and can wear a baby-on-board badge to let other passengers know they need a seat. Don’t feel embarrassed. Most people are more than willing to give up their seats, they just need reminding!
8. Money matters
If you are worried about how you are going to pay for baby clothes and equipment, make a list of the items you think you need. Decide which items you could borrow from friends or family.
You probably won’t have to buy everything on your list. Some things, such as a Moses basket, are only usable for two months or three months. You can also buy many baby items second-hand
Speak to your midwife or get in touch with your local children’s centre. They can apply for grants to buy equipment on your behalf. They may also know of charities that will give you good-quality used items, such as cots and prams.
Make sure you get your full entitlement of maternity leave and pay. Find out about any benefits that you are entitled to, such as the Sure Start maternity grant.
If you’re working, find out what support your employer offers by talking to your human resources manager.
9. Try complementary therapies
Massage is a fantastic way to de-stress.
Meditation and positive visualisation techniques are free, and you can do them anywhere. These are ways of relaxing by concentrating your mind on one thing, and they’re often used in yoga.
Another therapy you may find useful is reflexology, which uses pressure points in your feet to treat you.
10. Treat yourself
Laughter is one of the body’s best ways of relaxing. So meet up with friends, watch a funny film or series with someone, or go to the cinema.
Pregnancy is also the perfect time to treat yourself to all those beauty treatments you never normally splash out on. If your bump gets too big for you to paint your toenails, have a pedicure. If you’re saving money, create your own mini spa at home. Be nice to yourself. You deserve it.
What if I still feel stressed?
If your stress levels have risen to the point where you feel overwhelmed, talk to your midwife or GP. If you already have depression, it can be particularly hard to cope with the extra worries of pregnancy (Woods et al 2010).
If you’re taking medication for depression, it’s important not to stop suddenly. Speak to your GP if you’re worried about whether it’s affecting your baby.
Your GP may be able to refer you to a support group, counsellor or psychotherapist. She may be able to arrange for you to have cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), although this isn’t available everywhere in the country. CBT can teach you everyday coping strategies for tackling anxiety.
Getting help now will mean that your support networks and coping strategies are in place for when your baby is born.
Last reviewed: July 2014
Approved by the BabyCentre Medical Advisory Board
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19th May 2016