Tools for Managing Stress in Pregnancy

Babies and Bumps

March 17, 2024

Pregnancy is filled with profound transformations, and not just physical ones. Your mental health is always important, but pregnancy can send you some curve balls, so it deserves the same level of care and attention as your physical wellbeing, including during your postpartum recovery.

Stress, in particular, is something that can creep up on us. I’ve experienced extreme stress – and subsequently, anxiety – in different periods of my life. It’s always happened gradually, and then something happens that makes me realize (or causes a loved one to point out) how far off I am from my “normal.” I’ve been fortunate enough to recognize this when it’s happened and to have had the tools, time, and resources available to me to address it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that – even when I’m feeling great and like myself – stress management should never be on the back burner. After all, out of sight, out of mind.

So, going into pregnancy, when we know our hormones will be changing dramatically, stress management should be top of mind. And with a baby on board, it’s not just about feeling better, it’s about fostering a healthy environment for your baby to grow. High stress levels can affect your baby’s development and lead to complications like premature birth or low birth weight, and these can lead to health and developmental challenges in life. Prenatal stress can also make your baby more vulnerable to mental health and cardiovascular illnesses later in life. Read on for ideas to manage your stress proactively and get it in check if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Feeling All the Things: The Spectrum of Perinatal Emotions

During pregnancy, you’ll experience so many emotions – from the expected ones, like joy and excitement, to the not-so-obvious (and unwelcome) ones like worry, guilt, and isolation. While they’re all typical, it’s crucial to keep checking in with yourself to make sure they don’t escalate into more severe mental health issues, and that they don’t affect your pregnancy.

It’s important to note that every pregnancy is unique, too! So, even if this isn’t your first rodeo, you should go into it knowing that your mind and body may respond differently this time than it has in the past.

It’s also important to remember that you’re not alone – anything you experience has been felt by countless moms before you, and there are a lot of resources available to help you through it.

Here are some of the emotions you could experience during pregnancy:

  • Anxiety and Worry: Concerns about your baby’s health, childbirth, and your ability to be a good parent are common. This can be particularly true for parents who are pregnant after a previous loss or following fertility treatments.
  • Mood Swings: Hormonal changes can send your emotions on a rollercoaster ride, leading to everything from euphoria to sudden tears to anger.
  • Fatigue and Fogginess: “Baby brain” really is a thing. Between the changes happening in your body, the physical effort of carrying extra weight, and the extra effort required to prepare for baby, you may feel unusually forgetful, foggy, and fatigued.
  • Guilt or Inadequacy: Some moms-to-be feel guilty for not being more excited about their pregnancy, especially if they’ve struggled with fertility or if the pregnancy was unplanned.
  • Isolation: Even when surrounded by supportive loved ones, the unique experience of pregnancy can sometimes feel isolating.
  • Depression: Prolonged feelings of sadness and depression can be particularly hard to cope with or share, because pregnancy is a time when some moms-to-be think they should be glowing, giddy, and grateful.
  • Grief: You might grieve the loss of your pre-pregnancy lifestyle or independence. During the 2nd and 3rd trimesters as you gain more weight, you may struggle with your body image or self-esteem.

You’ve Got This: Stress Management Tools for Pregnancy

Whether you’re being proactive about managing your stress or you’re feeling like your emotions are going beyond typical / manageable, there are a variety of actions you can take. Here are some ideas for what you can do on your own, with social or support groups, or with a professional that can help you manage stress and feel like yourself.

  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices like yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can significantly reduce stress levels. They help you stay present, connected with your body, and grounded.
  • Physical Activity: Engaging in regular, moderate exercise can boost your mood and energy levels. Activities like walking, prenatal yoga, or swimming are low-impact and can be beneficial. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.
  • Adequate Rest: Your body is working tirelessly to support your growing baby, so rest is crucial. Listen to your body’s needs, and don’t hesitate to nap or relax when you feel tired.
  • Nutrition: A balanced diet can impact your mood and energy levels. Ensure you’re getting enough vitamins, minerals, and hydration to support both your physical and mental health.
  • Bond with Your Baby: Engaging with your baby while they’re in the womb, through talking, reading, or singing, can not only enhance your bond, but also be a soothing practice for you.
  • Support Networks: Stay connected with friends, family, or support groups who can provide emotional support. Sharing your experiences and feelings can be incredibly therapeutic. That doesn’t just mean talking with other people who are currently pregnant (although that can be especially helpful!); anyone who’s gone through pregnancy can likely empathize with what you’re experiencing and help you to process and cope.
  • Professional Help: If your stress or emotions feel overwhelming, seek support from a mental health professional. Therapists or counselors specializing in perinatal mental health can offer valuable strategies and support, and there’s a growing number of them who specialize in pregnancy and motherhood.

Additional Considerations: Postpartum Planning and Family Members

  • Preparing for Postpartum: Your perinatal mental health journey doesn’t end with childbirth! Preparing for the postpartum period, when emotions and stress can also run high, is crucial. Understanding signs of depression, as well as mood and anxiety disorders, and creating a support plan can make a significant difference. And the time to think about this is ahead of time, not while you’re in the thick of it with a new baby and recovering body.
  • Educating Partners and Loved Ones: Educating your partner or close family members about perinatal mental health can enable them to support you effectively. They can be your allies not only by helping you manage stress, but also by recognizing signs of mental health struggles and helping you seek support.

On a Personal Note

No matter what you’re feeling, it’s valid and you’re not alone! I remember when I had my son and so many people told me to “cherish every moment,” when privately, I most certainly wasn’t. Those comments only made it harder for me to cope with my emotions because it made me think I shouldn’t be having them, which made me feel guilty, which contributed to more anxiety… you get the picture. The people who empathized and shared their own experiences normalized what I was going through. I wasn’t weak. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. I wasn’t a bad mother. I just needed some perspective, empathy, grace, and the space to figure out how to find my new normal.

It’s OK to feel like you’re having difficulty coping with your emotions and managing your stress. And it’s courageous to ask for help. It’s a sign of your strength and love for your child. And you both deserve the care, attention, and support you need to thrive.

Founder & President, Babies & Bumps

Monica Infante

Monica founded Babies & Bumps in 2013 to inform and empower new and soon-to-be parents. Over the past decade, B&B’s footprint has grown to include 13 cities – today, she and her team plan, promote, and produce more in-person maternity events than any other series in the U.S. Babies & Bumps also offers digital resources and hosts online events throughout the year to serve parents everywhere. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and two children.

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