"During pregnancy, an occasional stressful episode isn't a problem", says healthcare professional Jan Roberts, "but constant, unresolved stress is a definite no-no".
Jan is the author of Healthy Parents, Healthy Baby, a simple and straightforward guide to equip readers with the tools to assist conception and enjoy a healthy pregnancy. Jan has spent more than 40 years in the healthcare industry–30 of those working in the area of women's reproductive health. In an extract from her new book, Jan talks about the importance of monitoring pregnancy stress levels.
Your unborn baby responds in profound and readily measurable ways to stress. Unresolved stress in pregnancy has also been linked to preterm birth, lower birth weight, reduced language skills, and attention and behavioural problems and these effects do not resolve after birth.
So what about your pregnancy stress levels? Reckon you need to bring them down a notch? Even the fact that you are pregnant is a stress–no matter how delighted you are and how much you're enjoying it. That stress is compounded when the expectations around having a bright, healthy baby are so high, not to mention the anxiety that you might feel as the impending birth approaches.
How will you cope with the pain? Will your plans for a natural active birth crumble? Will you need medical intervention? You might also be worrying about a normal healthy activity like breastfeeding, wondering if you'll have enough milk, how you'll know if your baby is getting enough, questioning how you'll manage his feeds when you want to leave him with your partner for a few hours, not to mention if you're thinking of going back to work.
Don't worry, every woman has doubts and uncertainties–you wouldn't be human if you didn't, and it's often those wakeful periods at night that bring up the dark thoughts and doubts. Now is the time for those positive support networks–get talking to your cheer squad. Even thinking about the stress that some less fortunate pregnant women are exposed to day after day, month after month, might help put your own worries about relatively inconsequential things into perspective.
But don't let stress drag you down into a vicious spiral, because there's one certainty–the more stressed you become, the less able you are to deal with stress. What's more, most of the things that you turn to in stressful situations–such as cigarettes, coffee or sweet sugary snacks, are all to be avoided now, but they also exacerbate the problem. Avoiding stress and worry is the greatest gift you can give your unborn baby. Get cracking on whatever stress-reduction methods you can muster.
Here are some ideas for reducing those stress levels–they're good practice as stress-busting activities to do after your child is born or with older children as well. The earlier you can teach a child how to stay calm, the better!
Try to make one special time-out period for yourself every single day. Your eating and exercise habits, regular sex, and plenty of restful sleep are fundamental to reducing stress.
Healthy Parents, Healthy Baby: A guide to conception and pregnancy by Jan Roberts is published by Doubleday Australia. Distributed by Random House Australia, RRP $29.95.