Pregnancy is a time of many changes. Your body, your emotions and the life of your family are changing. You may welcome these changes, but they can add new stresses to your life.
Feeling stressed is common during pregnancy. But too much stress can make you uncomfortable. Stress can make you have trouble sleeping, have headaches, lose your appetite or overeat.
High levels of stress that continue for a long time may cause health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease. When you’re pregnant, this type of stress can increase the chances of having a premature baby (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a low-birthweight baby (weighing less than 5½ pounds). Babies born too soon or too small are at increased risk for health problems.
What causes stress during pregnancy?
The causes of stress are different for every woman, but here are some common causes during pregnancy:
- You may be dealing with the discomforts of pregnancy, like nausea, constipation, being tired or having a backache.
- Your hormones are changing, which can cause your mood to change. Mood swings can make it harder to handle stress.
- You may be worried about what to expect during labor and birth or how to take care of your baby.
- If you work, you may have to manage job responsibilities and prepare your employer for time away from your job.
- Life is busy and it sometimes takes unexpected turns. That doesn’t stop just because you’re pregnant.
What types of stress can cause pregnancy problems?
Stress is not all bad. When you handle it right, a little stress can help you take on new challenges. Regular stress during pregnancy, such as work deadlines and sitting in traffic, probably don’t add to pregnancy problems.
However, serious types of stress during pregnancy may increase your chances of certain problems, like premature birth. Most women who have serious stress during pregnancy can have healthy babies. But be careful if you experience serious kinds of stress, like:
- Negative life events. These are things like divorce, serious illness or death in the family, or losing a job or home.
- Catastrophic events. These are things like earthquakes, hurricanes or terrorist attacks.
- Long-lasting stress. This type of stress can be caused by having financial problems, being abused, having serious health problems or being depressed. Depression is medical condition where strong feelings of sadness last for long periods of time and prevent a person from leading a normal life.
- Racism. Some women may face stress from racism during their lives. This may help explain why African-American women in the United States are more likely to have premature and low-birthweight babies than women from other racial or ethnic groups.
- Pregnancy-related stress. Some women may feel serious stress about pregnancy. They may be worried about miscarriage, the health of their baby or about how they’ll cope with labor and birth or becoming a parent. If you feel this way, talk to your health care provider.
Does post-traumatic stress disorder affect pregnancy?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when you have problems after seeing or experiencing a terrible event, such as rape, abuse, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one. People with PTSD may have:
- Serious anxiety
- Flashbacks of the event
- Physical responses (like a racing heartbeat or sweating) when reminded of the event
As many as 8 in 100 women (8 percent) may have PTSD during pregnancy. Women who have PTSD may be more likely than women without it to have a premature or low-birthweight baby. They also are more likely than other women to have risky health behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking street drugs. Doing these things can increase the chances of having pregnancy problems. If you think you may have PTSD, talk to your provider or a mental health professional.
How does stress cause pregnancy problems?
We don’t completely understand the effects of stress on pregnancy. But certain stress-related hormones may play a role in causing certain pregnancy complications. Serious or long-lasting stress may affect your immune system, which protects you from infection. This can increase the chances of getting an infection of the uterus. This type of infection can cause premature birth.
Stress also may affect how you respond to certain situations. Some women deal with stress by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking street drugs, which can lead to pregnancy problems.
Can high levels of stress in pregnancy hurt your baby later in life?
Some studies show that high levels of stress in pregnancy may cause certain problems during childhood, like having trouble paying attention or being afraid. It’s possible that stress may also affect your baby’s brain development or immune system.
How can you reduce stress during pregnancy?
Here are some ways to reduce stress:
- Figure out what’s making you stressed and talk to your partner, a friend or your health care provider about it.
- Know that the discomforts of pregnancy are only temporary. Ask your provider how to handle these discomforts.
- Stay healthy and fit. Eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep and exercise (with your provider’s OK). Exercise can help reduce stress and also helps prevent common pregnancy discomforts.
- Cut back on activities you don’t need to do.
- Have a good support network, including your partner, family and friends. Ask your provider about resources in the community that may be able to help.
- Ask for help from people you trust. Accept help when they offer. For example, you may need help cleaning the house, or you may want someone to go with you to your prenatal visits.
- Try relaxation activities, like prenatal yoga or meditation.
- Take a childbirth education class so you know what to expect during pregnancy and when your baby arrives. Practice the breathing and relaxation techniques you learn in your class.
- If you’re working, plan ahead to help you and your employer get ready for your time away from work.
- If you think you may be depressed, talk to your provider right away. There are many ways to deal with depression. Getting treatment and counseling early may help.
2.Being pregnant at work
Lots of women work during pregnancy, some right up until their due date. Here are some things you can do to help make your pregnancy work at work!
When’s the best time to tell your coworkers and boss that you’re pregnant?
You get to decide when to tell people at work that you’re pregnant. Some women wait until after their first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage is lower. Others can't wait to share the news and tell everyone right away.
Whatever you choose, here are some things to think about when talking to your boss about your pregnancy:
- Make sure he finds out about your pregnancy from you. You don’t want your boss hearing about it from one of your coworkers. Let your boss be the first person at work to know you’re pregnant.
- Tell her about time you may need away from work for prenatal care. This is medical care you get during pregnancy. It’s important to go to all your prenatal care checkups to make sure you and your baby are healthy. In the beginning you have checkups about once a month; you go more often as you get closer to your due date. Talk to your boss about how to make up time you may have to miss from work.
- If you work with strong chemicals or do heavy lifting, ask about changing your job responsibilities during pregnancy. It’s important to stay healthy and safe at work, especially during pregnancy. Standing all day or working with things like pesticides or radiation may be harmful for you and your baby. Talk to your boss about doing different work while you’re pregnant to help keep you and your baby safe.
How do you plan your maternity leave?
Maternity leave is time you take off from work when you have a baby. When thinking about maternity leave, ask yourself these questions:
- When do you plan to start your leave? Do you think you’ll work right up until your due date? Or will you stop working a few days or weeks before your baby’s birth?
- How long do you plan to stay home with your baby after birth? Do you need to go back to work right away? How long can you afford to stay home without working?
You may have ideas about how you want your maternity leave to be, but your needs may change during pregnancy. Pregnancy, labor and birth go smoothly for most women. But you may need to change the timing of your leave if you have pregnancy complications or if things don’t go as planned.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (also called FMLA), employees can take time off without pay for pregnancy- and family-related health issues. You can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. You can keep your health insurance during your leave if you:
- Work at a location where your employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles
- Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours of work over the past 12 months
In addition to the FMLA leave, your employer may have its own maternity leave policies. Talk to your boss or someone from human resources (also called HR). It’s a great idea to do this before you get pregnant, if you can. Ask these questions:
- Does your employer offer paid maternity leave? Some employers offer paid time off for the birth of your baby. Talk with someone from HR to find out if you have paid maternity leave.
- Does your health insurance continue while you’re on maternity leave? Health insurance helps you pay for medical care. If you get your health insurance through your employer, your HR person can tell you about what your insurance plan covers. You may need to change your health plan after your baby’s born to make sure he’s covered, too.
- Does your employer offer flex time or telecommuting for when you’re ready to go back to work? For example, can you work fewer hours each week or work from home at the beginning? And then increase your hours or your time in the office little by little over a few week?
- Are there other programs or services that your employer offers to new moms? If you’re breastfeeding, find out if your employer has a lactation room. This is a private space (not a bathroom) that you can use to pump breast milk. Employers with more than 50 employees must provide this space for breastfeeding moms. Also, find out if your employer has an employee assistance program (also called EAP). An EAP can help connect you with professionals like counselors, child care providers and lactation consultants. A lactation consultant is a person with special training to help women breastfeed, even women who may have special breastfeeding problems.
Talk to your boss about maternity leave well before your due date. Talk about ways to manage your work responsibilities while you're on maternity leave. If you’ve got projects coming up, think about how much you can get done before your baby’s birth. You may want to create a to-do list or a set of instructions so your job tasks are taken care of correctly while you’re out.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act says that employers can’t discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or other related health conditions. So if you’re pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions, your employer has to treat you just like any other employee with a similar condition.