Stress and relaxation during pregnancy

Hannah Nicholas
Thursday, May 4, 2006
We all know just how much stress can affect the mind and body. In pregnancy, stress can place a huge toll on an already overworked body, resulting in sleepless nights, loss of appetite or binge eating and emotional highs and lows, all of which can have a detrimental affect on your well-being and in some cases, your baby too. It's a good idea to learn ways to handle or banish stress as early as possible in your pregnancy.

Pregnancy relaxation techniques

Relaxation and breathing
If you practice relaxation techniques regularly, you will find they help your well-being and reduce your stress levels dramatically, both during pregnancy and in those tiring first few months as a new parent. Breathing awareness will also help you to get through the different stages of labour. Most pregnancy books offer simple relaxation routines or speak to your doctor or midwife about what might work for you. Pre-natal yoga classes are also another great place to learn relaxation techniques. Be sure to rest as much as you can throughout your pregnancy and importantly, when your body tells you too.

Treating yourself to a regular, relaxing massage might be just the key to reducing your stress levels during pregnancy. As well as helping with those aches and pains you may be experiencing, it will ease tension and help circulation throughout your body. Always make sure your therapist is fully qualified and familiar with treating pregnant women. Certain essential oils should not be used during pregnancy and massage of the abdomen is not recommended. If you're visiting a day spa, be sure to stay away from saunas and hot tubs, they shouldn't be used in pregnancy either.

Yoga during pregnancy can be fantastic for relaxing your mind and body. It focuses on breathing, relaxation, posture and body awareness and will keep you looking fit and healthy as well as teach you useful breathing techniques to use during labour. Be sure to enrol in a pre-natal yoga class (some yoga techniques are not safe during pregnancy) and let the teacher know of any conditions (such as high-blood pressure or previous injuries) that you may have.

Aromatherapy's a great relaxant but during pregnancy, should be treated with caution. Some essential oils are no-no's and should not be used at all during your pregnancy. Check with a qualified aromatherapist or your midwife before use.

During labour, aromatherapy can be used to relieve pain and stress. Use recommended essential oils for labour in the bath, in an oil burner, during massage or placed on a cold compress. Check with your hospital to see whether burners and oils are permitted in the labour ward.

Other ways to help alleviate stress

Just as in a non-pregnant state, exercise is vital for your well-being, both mentally and physically. Unless your carer has advised otherwise, gentle non-impact exercise such as swimming and walking are great for you. Don't exercise too close to bed-time if you have trouble sleeping though.

A basic stretch routine designed for pregnancy is also important for reducing aches, pains and tension. Many maternity hospitals offer pre-natal exercise classes or may be able to recommended an appropriate course for you.

Unfortunately, as pregnancy progresses, not sleeping well can become an issue for some women and being stressed will only exacerbate the situation. If insomnia's getting you down, try getting some gentle light exercise in the day. Avoid daytime naps — have rest breaks instead and don't eat too close to bedtime. Develop a relaxing night time routine and stick to it (this might include reading or listening to relaxing music before bed, having a bath or doing some yoga or relaxation techniques). Be sure to clear your mind of all thoughts (as best you can) before hitting the pillow.

Eating well can have a huge impact on your well being during pregnancy. While it's okay to splurge and eat the occasional naughty treat, it's best to eat a well-balanced diet daily. Not only will this benefit your growing baby, it will increase the chance of you having a safe, healthy and comfortable pregnancy. Good nutrition can also help to moderate mood swings and stress levels.

Take time out for yourself
Whether it's simply having a rest or going for a quiet walk, enjoy some regular time to yourself. Looking after your own well-being is much more important than things like housework. If you are doing too much, cut back in areas which aren't a high priority. Learn to ask for help or stop being so house-proud and give the housework a miss for a few days.

If you can, try to take some time off for yourself before the arrival of your baby. It may be your last chance to rest well for some time and will give you the opportunity to begin to prepare for the birth and the transition of becoming a mother. Do things like a getting a hair cut, reading a book or taking a long soak in the bathtub while you still can!

Getting prepared
One of the biggest stresses for pregnant women (and partners too) is the unknown — what will the birth and parenthood be like? Nothing can compare to going through the experience yourself but you can prepare by reading as much as possible, taking part in pre-natal parenting classes and talking to friends who've gone through it too. Before the arrival of the baby discuss issues like family finances, child-care choices and responsibilities for household tasks once baby arrives. Sometimes being organised in advance can help to alleviate any anxiety you might be feeling about your baby's impending birth.

Ask for help
If none of these techniques are working for you, don't be afraid to ask for help. Your practitioner will be able to refer you to a specialist who will help to get your situation under control. Talk to friends and family and of course, your partner too. It might help to keep a journal of all your thoughts and feelings. Putting them down on paper may assist in getting them out of your system. Lastly, avoid stressful situations and people where you can.

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