How Much Stress During Pregnancy is Too Much?
How much stress in pregnancy is too much?
Well, it depends. The question of how stress affects a woman’s pregnancy doesn’t have a simple answer. Long-term stress during pregnancy can eventually surface as postpartum depression and anxiety. But because each woman has her own individual level of tolerance for stress, it is unknown exactly how much stress is a causative factor for postpartum mood disorders.
We know there are different types of stress. There’s chronic stress, trauma from major life events and everyday stress.
Professor Brian M. D'Onofrio of Indiana University and his colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, found that chronic stress (example: poverty) and major negative life events (example: the death of a family member) have a direct adverse effect on the pregnancy and birth process.
Chronic stress, like poverty, affects a woman’s pregnancy both physically and emotionally, as she doesn’t have access to good pre-conception healthcare, consistent prenatal care, good nutrition and social support. Therefore, physically, poverty is a risk factor for prematurity and low birth weight, which can be devastating. Emotionally, poverty is a risk factor for postpartum depression and anxiety.
If a woman experiences a negative life event during pregnancy, particularly during the second trimester, she may experience pregnancy complications such as prematurity and/or low birth weight.
What about the “smaller” stresses? How much daily stress is too much stress during pregnancy? Well, it varies from woman to woman.
Maternal stress has been studied in depth for several decades now. But in general, these studies analyze small groups of pregnant women and aren’t consistent with their methods.
Most studies haven’t found a consistent and definite link between “normal” stress and complications with pregnancy.
But one research team at the University of Los Angeles (UCLA), which focuses specifically on the effects of stress on pregnancy, has found psychosocial stress and daily hassles to be associated with prematurity and low birth weight, particularly in African-American women. In addition, they have found that pregnant women that experience anxiety concerning the impending birth and the health of their children are consistently at risk for preterm birth.
So, then, how much daily stress is too much stress for a pregnant woman? After all, stress is a normal part of life.
Don’t be concerned about occasional doubt and anxiety; this doesn’t harm the mom or unborn baby.
On the other hand, if a woman feels low levels of fear and anxiety about pregnancy and the art of birthing, then it will be hard for her to come to a place of trust and relaxation about the birth, which in severe cases may lead to postpartum depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
There are many ways to practice good emotional prenatal care and exquisite self-care by addressing fears and anxieties during pregnancy!
MindBody & Professional Help
During pregnancy, give yourself the gift of self-care. Antenatal childbirth classes provide factual information and also proven complementary mindbody techniques to improve confidence, address fears and promote relaxation. Just eight weeks of practicing mindful and aware relaxation methods promotes emotional wellness and builds an emotional bank account of tranquility.
If your fears and anxiety interfere with your everyday life, such as a conflict in major areas of your life (relationships at home, friendships at work and in the quality of work), it is a sign that you should obtain professional help.
Another flag that you should seek professional help is if you have significant life stressors, including a current or past history of a mental health diagnosis, if you are introducing a baby into a complex, high-conflict, blended family, or if you have suffered past sexual, physical or emotional abuse issues, which are being triggered by the emotional and physical changes of pregnancy.
Parenting is both joyful and challenging; learning some stress reduction habits during pregnancy is a good way to a lifelong habit of self-care!
About the Guest Author:
Kathy Morelli, LPC, is a licensed marriage and family counselor in Wayne, NJ. Kathy specializes in helping women and their families with the emotions of birth, pregnancy, postpartum and in the adjustment to parenthood. Author and blogger, she is the author of the BirthTouch® series of books on motherhood. An accomplished blogger, she writes her own blog, BirthTouch® and for the Huffington Post. She has co-hosted Postpartum Support International's May 2013 #PSIBLOG Hop, and has served as a Guest Editor for the Lamaze Science & Sensibility blog. Visit her at birthtouch.com and kathymorelli.com.