Stress Bumps: Managing Fear and Worry During Pregnancy

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

If so, I envy you. As a natural-born worrywart, I took that trait right into all of my pregnancies and fretted the entire time I was expecting. Turns out, I’m far from alone.

“I do think today’s pregnant woman is more stressed than previously. We have far more information available, some of it accurate and much of it not,” said Dr. Ali Domar, the founder and executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF and author of the new book Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom. “I see a lot of pregnant women in my clinical practice, most of whom wanted to be pregnant more than anything in the world. Yet they find pregnancy to be surprisingly difficult. Which made me realize that most women must have the same experience, but people don’t really talk about the downside of pregnancy.”

Common concerns for soon-to-be moms include worries about eating right, if they are doing something that will harm their fetus, and if something will go wrong during delivery, said Hong-Thao N. Thieu, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Tufts Medical Center, director of the hospital’s OB/GYN Residency Program, and assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.

“Women mostly need reassurance that their lifestyle and work are not having a major negative impact on their pregnancy,” she said. “They need validation that their nutritional and activity choices are healthy enough. Especially for new moms, they need help navigating and filtering through the enormous amount of information and misinformation out there.”

But even women who have been through a pregnancy already often stress, according to Megan Brown, a birth doula based in Hamilton.

“If I’m hired by a mother who has had a baby before, typically she is afraid of how things went with her previous birth experience,” Brown said. “She may have had some trauma, or an unpleasant experience, and would like my help to create an experience that is better and more positive than the past.”

So what’s a stressed mom-to-be to do? Check out all of the birth and pregnancy information available online? These days, there is no end to information. Where do you start? Start by stepping away from the laptop, Brown advised.

“I believe that most of the information on the Internet is more of a ‘curse’ when it comes to alleviating stress and worry,” she noted.  

Dr. Domar agrees that much of what is available to read online can exacerbate worry.

“I think it is both a blessing and a curse,” she said. “It is wonderful to be able to follow the development of your unborn baby, if you want. But it is hard for most people to differentiate between their true risks. The fact is the vast majority of pregnant women deliver a healthy baby. It is hard to remember that sometimes. Bad stuff is more post-able.”

If online sources aren’t always the best place for a stressed pregnant woman to turn, how about tried-and-true resources, such as the classic book What to Expect When You’re Expecting? For Kelly Landini, a mom from Shrewsbury, that also led to worries.

“I found the book to be very doom and gloom,” Landini said. “Way too focused on what could go wrong during pregnancy.”

Landini turned to a comical book, The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy, instead, and enjoyed it a lot more. Unlike many of us, she said her pregnancy was not filled with months of concern: “I think the joy of my pregnancy outweighed any stress.”

For those who aren’t so fortunate, there are actions to take beyond reading oneself into a frenzy. Dr. Thieu recommends simply taking care of yourself, to start with. Get plenty of good quality sleep when you can, exercise at any level you are comfortable, and meditate.

Brown agrees: “I always recommend yoga. The philosophy behind yoga is to steady the mind, or quiet the mind. I recommend various forms of meditation, breathing exercises, and sound therapies. I also believe that language is tremendously important. If you hear yourself saying, ‘I’m afraid of this’ and ‘I’m afraid of that’ and ‘I’m worried,’ you are hypnotizing yourself to believe these thoughts and fears, and you’re helping them to grow stronger. But if you say, ‘I am strong, I am capable, I will be OK,’ you hear yourself say these positive words and affirm that indeed you are capable and strong.”

Tips for handling stress during your pregnancy

  Dr. Domar offers these suggestions for pregnant women who need help managing stress:

• Be careful with whom you share information. If you share, they may well feel entitled to give their opinion.

• Listen to your obstetrician/nurse/midwife. They truly know more about you and your pregnancy and your baby than anyone else.

• Don’t pressure yourself to feel happy and glowing. Pregnancy is hard — really hard for many. Don’t feel guilty about complaining. If you are feeling sad, talk to your health care team.

• This is your and your partner’s baby. No one else gets to weigh in on anything.

• Ask for help when you need it. Rest when you are tired. Nurture yourself. Accept offers of assistance. Your body is growing another human being. That takes a lot of hard work.

• Eat sensibly. But don’t go crazy about weight gain. Being pregnant does not entitle one to eat ice cream daily.