Define it as you like—external forces impinging on the individual or physical, mental or emotional strain—stress affects all of us. Even pregnant women, though impending motherhood is ‘supposed’ to be the happiest period in a woman’s life. And for the most part, it is. But inherently, it is also stressful as it challenges a woman in many ways. Add external stressors to the changing biorhythms and hormonal havoc, and you could affect not just the mother, but also the growing foetus adversely. Here’s what mothers-to-be can do to minimise the effects of stress during those nine months.
Adjust to changes
Every system in the female body re-adjusts itself for the growing foetus in the womb.
- The heart starts beating faster to pump enough blood to the baby, thereby straining itself.
- The growing foetus stops the lungs from expanding fully and taking in enough oxygen, causing tiredness.
- The enlarged womb prevents the blood from retuning to the heart properly, causing the legs to swell.
- The womb strains the spine leading to backache.
- The abdominal wall gets pushed causing stretch marks.
- The calcium from bones is dissolved and given to the baby. This may weaken the bones.
- The immune system gets suppressed.
- The body’s iron needs increase causing anaemia.
- The sugar levels dip as the glucose you consume is pumped into the baby.
- The pregnancy hormones cause constipation.
Is it really that bad? Of course, not. Knowing the changes your body will undergo, you can take care of yourself better to prevent permanent damage.
Deal with physical stress
- Eat foods rich in iron like vegetables especially leafy vegetables and fruits like apples, mangoes, bananas. Also have dates, whole beans, whole wheat, red meat, eggs with their yolk, liver and nuts.
- Consume foods rich in calcium like milk, nuts, beans, whole grains and also adequate protein and fibre. Above all, drink plenty of water.
- Take iron, vitamin and mineral supplements your doctor prescribes regularly and diligently. Keep sugars, salt and spice for occasional treats.
- Wear comfortable footwear to avoid straining your legs. Place your foot on a footstool or table while sitting to avoid varicose veins.
- Wear clothes in natural fibres that ‘breathe’ and keep you ventilated.
- Use creams and gentle massages to avoid or reduce stretch marks.
- Do not bend but sit down to pick things up from the ground. Avoid lifting heavy weights.
- Sleep well—two hours in the day and eight hours at night.
- Practice breathing techniques to improve oxygenation.
- Avoid crowded places or visiting a sick friend or relative. Also avoid seeing a scary movie or reading thrillers.
Exposure to dangerous chemicals during the first four months—when the baby’s organs are being formed—should be strictly avoided as they are also stressful for the baby.
Excessive exposure to radiation from a computer screen or X-ray machine has also been found to be dangerous. So, use good screen shields. Expectant radiologists are advised to stay away from X-rays.
Long hours of sitting can hurt your joints or cause veins to clot. Maintain a good posture and move around from time to time. Stretching also helps.
Tackle emotional stress
Pregnancy poses many emotional challenges to the mother-to-be. She worries if her enlarged body will get normal again, about her baby’s health and sex, about finances, career, delivery. the list goes on. Remember that the weight gain is temporary and a lot of it will go with the birth and breast-feeding. Spend some time and efforts to look and feel good even with a big belly.
Sort out finances before embarking on a pregnancy. Borrowing baby cots and clothes saves money, since babies grow out of these in no time, anyway.
Pregnancy is only a temporary setback in your career. Women do bounce back once babies are old enough. Being a mother does not end your career. Get help from family or hire a maid if you can’t cope.
Leave the worrying to your doctor and just try to follow instructions. Listening to soothing music, practicing relaxation techniques, taking warm baths and a glass of warm milk at bedtime might help relax and induce sleep.
Let stress go
All types of stress can cause your baby to be smaller by affecting its blood supply. It may also lead to miscarriages and premature births. According to research by Bristol University, babies born to mothers who were stressed during pregnancy are at higher risk of developing asthma.However, stress in small amounts improves the blood supply to the heart. Some studies showed that children of slightly stressed mothers have better IQs because stress steroids stimulate brain cell and nerve growth. Stress steroids also mature the baby’s lungs and help it to breathe even if premature.
Be a good girl
Smoking, drinking, taking sedative drugs, binge eating, following fad diets, and over-exercising may harm you and your baby. Swimming can be dangerous with heavily chlorinated and/or infected pool water. Strenuous travel, fasting, long religious functions all strain an already-loaded system.Traditionally, a woman takes care of everyone in the family. It is high time she starts taking good care of herself. Finally, it is you who can make a difference to your own body, mind and the baby. Knowing helps, getting organised improves, and acting on it secures your future. So, be sensible and enjoy your pregnancy.
Passing it on
Professor Vivette Glover at Imperial College, London conducted a study in which he studied over 100 babies and toddlers whose mothers had experienced unusually high stress while they were carrying. He found that all the children had an IQ around 10 points below average. Many even displayed over-average levels of anxiety and attention deficit problems. Children of stressed mothers develop other behavioural problems too. The University of Rochester Medical School study confirms this theory. It found that such infants and toddlers were at greater risk of developing sleep problems in the early years of their life and behavioural and mental health problems later in life like emotional regulation problems. Such children cry more and are generally ‘fussy’ children. They are also at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life.
— Team CW