Stress: In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure).
Pregnancy can be a cause for a great mixture of emotions. Whether it is planned or unplanned, doubts may creep in whether your are able to care for a baby be it physically, financially, or emotionally. Fear of lack of support to help you care for the baby. Physical changes that you are not looking forward to. Concerns about your career. Or how will this new person in your life affect your relationship you your partner. Fatigue, morning sickness, headaches, aches body, lack of sleep, and perhaps other physical illnesses during pregnancy can lead to stress.
Physical Affects of Stress
When we are stressed the body creates more blood catecholamines. These are stress hormones. In pregnancy if you have elevated levels, you are at risk of developing trouble sleeping, fatigue, high blood pressure, lowered immune system, anxiety, etc. These hormones can slow labor down. It can decrease circulation to the placenta decreasing baby’s ability to be nourished in utero. The effects of postpartum stressors can be a decrease in oxytocin production which is important in mother baby bonding and is helpful in mothers ability to heal, and increases the risk for postpartum mental health problems. The effects of stress on baby’s health are lower birth weights, premature delivery. There have even been studies down that have correlated low birth weights with high blood pressure in adults.
How to De-stress For a Healthier Pregnancy and Postpartum
First on my list of course is massage therapy! So many studies have been done proving over and over massages ability to soothe and restore the nervous system. It helps the body to know what needs correction and helps it to reach a balanced state. The Touch Research Institute has done some amazing research on the effects of massage therapy and pregnancy. Here is one case study showing the enormous benefits of massage in pregnancy.
“Women who received massage therapy reported decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain. Cortisol levels decreased and, in turn, excessive fetal activity decreased, and the rate of prematurity was lower in the massage group. In a study of labor pain, women who received massage therapy experienced significantly less pain, and their labors were on average 3 h shorter with less need for medication. An underlying mechanism we have been exploring is that these effects are mediated by increased vagal activity.”
Field, T. (2010). Pregnancy and labor massage therapy. Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 5, 177-181.
In essence, massage works! It is well worth it to put massage therapy in your plan of care during pregnancy. You will feel the benefits now and see them well into labor and your baby will too. As for postpartum, I will discuss that another time. What are some other stress reducers you can implement in between you massage appointments?
- Prenatal Pilates or yoga
- Prenatal dance (Dance For Birth®)
- Gentle exercise (I recommend Essentrics ® as an apprentice instructor)
- Daily walks
- Talking with someone such as a trusted friend or a licensed professional
So if you are feeling stressed or anxious, know that it is okay to take some time for yourself. It is okay to ask for help. You are not being selfish but you are caring for the wellbeing of yourself and your unborn baby. If you have other recommendations that helped you to lower your stress during pregnancy, please share in the comments.