By Alice D. Domar, Ph.D.
You have probably heard all too many stories about four-day labors, weeks of sleepless nights with a newborn, and the terrible twos, but the fact is, most expectant moms actually report feeling pretty stressed long before their first contraction.
I remember the first mind/body group I ran for pregnant women. The women in their first trimester were worried about miscarriage, the ones in their second trimester were realizing that their entire lives were about to change, and the third trimester women looked down at their very round bellies and worried how something that big was going to come out.
So if you have experienced stress at any point during your pregnancy, be assured it is completely normal. And as normal as stress is at this time, there are a host of things you can do to feel calmer and more in control.
1. Exercise. Most of us know that exercise is good for our hearts, bones and immune system, but the fact is, exercise is probably the best stress-buster there is. As long as your ob/gyn or midwife gives you the thumbs up, exercising during pregnancy is a must. Walking, swimming or a prenatal aerobics class will calm the mind long after you finish exercising.
2. Rest. Your body is very good about sending you signals when it is time to sit down, put your feet up and watch a good sitcom or listen to your favorite tunes. This is not the time to push yourself.
3. Read. Many new moms report that reading is the thing they miss the most when their little bundle of joy arrives. Revel in the opportunity to catch up on a bestseller or indulge yourself in a trashy novel.
4. Write. Research shows that writing about any difficult thoughts or feelings is more effective than talking about them (and far better than squelching them). Keep a journal, and allow yourself to get any upsetting thoughts down on paper.
5. Say YES. Accept any and all offers of help. If you don’t need any help now, jot down each offer and collect on the IOU when you do. You’ll need help when the baby arrives.
6. Eat according to the 80/20 plan. Being pregnant does not really mean eating for two, but respect and indulge your cravings. As long as 80 percent of what you eat is the good stuff (whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean meats, etc.), the other 20 percent can be what you need to have (onion rings, corn dogs and hot fudge sundaes).
7. Be reasonable. Your partner can’t read your mind. Don’t expect him to know exactly how you are feeling or what you need. Be explicit about your needs, but don’t ask/demand more than your partner is able to give.
8. Breathe. Practice “mini” relaxations. Take slow, deep breathes, count from 1 to 4 as you inhale, and then 4 to 1 as you exhale. Do this for a couple of minutes.
9. Join the club. If you don’t have any friends who are currently pregnant, find some either through networking with friends, family or neighbors, through your ob/gyn or online. Talking with others who know exactly how you feel is very cathartic.
10. Self-Nurture. This is a mandatory skill to master before your baby arrives. Depleting yourself taking care of others will not make you a good mom. Put yourself on your own to-do list.