How Does Stress Affect My Pregnancy & Baby? What Can I Do About It?
Jeremy Dyen & Dr. Mavi Gupta M.D. share more of their compelling journey on their natural childbirth experiences. They share empowering information on stress, and how it can affect your pregnancy. What was the “catalyst” in their decision to switch from a hospital to a home birth? Read to find out! - Hannah
How Does Stress Affect My Pregnancy and Baby? (and what can I do about it?)
Guest Post by Jeremy Dyen C.Ht & Dr. Mavi Gupta M.D.
If you are stressed about pregnancy and birth, just know that you are not alone. In varying degrees, stress is so common during pregnancy.
Fear of childbirth and childbirth pain are at the heart of stress during pregnancy, though there are many other common stressors. Expectant mothers who are working may feel an enormous amount of pressure, literally carrying the weight. Questions arise about childbirth or becoming a parent. You may have financial worries. You may simply be freaking out about the thought of growing a baby.
All of these questions, plus the fact that your body is going through so many changes, and you’re not sleeping as well (especially in the last trimester) all add up to a mountain of stress.
You have to do something about it, not just because stress is bad for you, but because it can affect your baby’s development.
Some studies suggest that children of women who deal with a lot of stress in the first trimester show signs of depression. Stressful events happening in the first trimester are also critical signals of early labor.
What types of stress can cause pregnancy problems?
The fact is, we all experience varying degrees of stress during pregnancy. Some stress can actually be positive. It motivates us to take action, such as signing up for a childbirth education class or doing prenatal yoga. Most women who have stress during pregnancy will have healthy births and healthy babies. But be careful if you experience serious kinds of stress, like:
- Negative life events. These are things like divorce, inter-personal conflict, serious illness or death in the family, losing a job or home, or catastrophic events like floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.
- Long-lasting stress. This type of stress can be caused by having past abuse, financial problems, long-term physical health problems, or psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
- Pregnancy-related stress. This is so common! Some women may feel serious stress about pregnancy. They may be worried about the health of their baby or about how they’ll cope with labor and birth or becoming a parent.
- Racism. Some women may face stress from racism during their lives. This may help explain why African-American women in the United States are more likely to have premature and low-birth weight babies than women from other racial or ethnic groups.
What Stress Does Hormonally
Stress raises your cortisol levels. High cortisol levels start a cascade of chemical events in your body that result in metabolic overdrive. In reality, your mood is sending your body into a physical state of shock, depending on the intensity and frequency of the stress.
You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response which prepares you to fight or run from different levels of life-threatening situations. When your body is in a constant state of “fight or flight,” it starts breaking down. Those stress hormones pass through the placenta and thus affect your baby.
Stress is documented as increasing the risk of preterm labor and low birth weight.
When a mother is stressed, the fetus is stressed. Stress hormones affect your baby developmentally. They cause biological changes and increase the likelihood of intrauterine infection. Those changes may carry over postpartum in the form of other stress-related pathologies.
One in 10 babies are born preterm. Preterm babies are susceptible later to:
- chronic lung disease
- learning disorders
- developmental delays
- infant mortality
According to surveys and blood tests by a University of California Psychology Professor, excessive stress about birth can lead to early labor.
Dr. Dunkel-Schetter, professor of Psychology at the University of California, has devised a survey and blood test to determine who is at highest risk. What she found was a differentiation between expectant mothers who experience a stressful event and an expectant mom who is generally anxious or fearful.
Interestingly, those that experience an tragic event, such as a loved one dying, are not as likely to go into early labor. Instead, what is leading to early labor is being a generally anxious person, such as someone who has a lot of fear about pregnancy and birth.
“But she says it's a continuum. ‘Low levels of anxiety we all know and feel -- sometimes more, sometimes less,’ says Dr. Dunkel-Schetter. ‘The highest level is somebody who has panic attacks or is extremely fearful of many things, and it's probably the case that the higher you are on this continuum, the more risk to your physiology in pregnancy.’”#
How Stress Affects Your Immune SystemSerious or long-lasting stress can affect your immune system. When your immune defences are down you are vulnerable to infection. This also makes your growing baby more vulnerable to infection which can affect your baby’s development and even cause premature birth.
Stress Affects Your Behavior
Stress also may affect how you respond to certain situations.
Be aware of how you respond to stressors. Some women deal with stress by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, medicating or taking drugs. Stress might affect what you choose to eat. Stress may trigger you to eat an unhealthy diet of too much sugar and processed junk foods. All of these behaviors present risks for you and your baby.
Reduce Stress and Actually Enjoy Pregnancy
I fondly recall many nights during my wife Mavi’s first pregnancy that we really could enjoy the “nesting.” We could actually focus on this amazing time. We could enjoy the intimacy before our first child arrived. We took time to visualize what our new baby would be like, and talked about what kind of parents we wanted to be.
We took time to find the types of natural baby products we wanted for our baby and ourselves. We consciously read about attachment parenting, the continuum concept, baby wearing, baby-led eating, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, vaccinations and much more.
Yes, there were times of stress. But we approached and experienced much of these things very peacefully.
Here are some ways to reduce stress during pregnancy (many of which we did, though not all of them):
- Hypnosis and hypnobirthing recordings
- Guided imagery
- Talking to your partner and/or health care provider
- Breathing work
- Eat healthy foods
- Taking breaks from stressful activities, such as work. Consider, for example, taking a half day on stressful days.
- Sleep. Take naps, even short ones, if possible, to recharge your mind and body.
- Herbal stress relief or sleep tonics.
- Walking, which is often overlooked for its amazing ability to eliminate stress and tone your body for birthing. This is the ultimate low-impact birth preparation exercise!
- A childbirth education course can also do wonders. Decreasing the unknowns of pregnancy and labor empowers you to make informed decisions about birth. Just knowing more about childbirth reduces stress.
- Plan ahead. A lot of stress is caused by lack of planning and last-minute rushing around. Planning ahead could be as simple as leaving plenty of time to commute to work so you’re not road-raging because you’re late. Or it could be that you purchase all you need for your new baby well in advance, so you are well prepared as birthing day approaches.
Perhaps equally important as these techniques is that you have a support network and that you have enough information about prenatal care and pregnancy. You may find support through friends and family, blogs and social networks online, hospital networks and communities of families branching from midwives. There is also plenty of information available through e-books and blogs such as The Olive Parent.
The biggest breakthrough for Mavi and myself was finding out about hypnosis for childbirth.
To be honest, I was a little skeptical at first.
I am a supportive partner though, so I tucked my skepticism away because I could see Mavi really needed something like that. I could see it was really helping her melt fear away and envision the type of birth she wanted.
So I listened to her hypno-recordings also, and I discovered how relaxing they were.
Ultimately, hypnosis was the catalyst for her to switch from a hospital birth to a home birth--a completely drug-free, natural birth. It opened up a world Mavi had not realized was attainable (especially as a doctor who only knew the hospital birth paradigm).
Seeing her transformation before my very eyes was the second most amazing thing I saw during her birth experience (the most amazing thing was actually watching her birth our daughter!).
Because hypnosis was so transformative for us, we felt compelled to create the Birth Relaxation Kit. We synthesized our experience, our research and our expertise as hypnotherapists into a unique hypnosis program (that would also be very affordable).
We also created a FREE What Is Birth Hypnosis Info Series, to better inform expectant mothers about this as a birth preparation technique. In it we explain:
- How and why hypnosis works (it’s more obvious than you might think)
- Why anxiety about birth has raised C-section rates and what you can do to avoid them
- Why hypnobirthing is NOT just for birth (plus easy techniques to relax, sleep better and empower you during pregnancy)
- What you actually do and feel during a birth hypnosis program (both for live classes and home study)
- Step-by-step instructions on how to self-hypnotize (it’s actually pretty easy, and really relaxing)
- The misconceptions about hypnosis and what hypnobirthing really is
If you want to learn more about hypnobirthing just click that link above to get all of the content in our Info Series for free.
This sponsored post was written exclusively for TheOliveParent.com