You’ve got a to-do list a mile long and an ever-looming deadline — your due date. No wonder your heart is racing. Not to stress you out more but “reducing anxiety may help you have a healthier pregnancy,” says Lindsey Longerot, MD, ob-gyn at The Women’s Specialists of Houston at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. In fact, some studies have shown that stress reduction techniques may reduce the risk of preterm birth or low birth weight in babies.
Get more sleep
You know intuitively that more sleep equals less stress, but here’s some scientific backup to help you justify the need for sleep. “Sleeping allows your brain to restore neurotransmitters that can become depleted during wake times,” explains Keith Eddleman, MD, director of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Also, he says trying to stay awake when you’re tired — and fighting the urge to nod off — is a drain on the parasympathetic nervous system, which normally helps the body deal with stresses. Yeah, we know sleep is easier said than done, especially in the third trimester when you’re really uncomfortable. But here are a few tricks: Keep your thermostat set to the low 60s, don’t eat anything for two hours before bedtime and try a body pillow, which can easily adjust to help you find a comfy position.
Take a soak
We don’t need a study to back this one up: Baths are the best when it comes to relaxing. Plus, a soak can soothe muscle aches. Baths can help reduce anxiety when you go into labor too. During early labor, they’ve been shown to improve the progress of the labor and help reduce pain, Longerot says.
A few rules: Keep the water warm, not hot—especially during the first trimester when baby is still developing. And skip essential oils that haven’t been cleared by your doctor.
Okay, this is not so much a stress management technique but a stress prevention technique. Ask for help! It’s easy—let's practice. “Can you ________ for me?” See—so simple. Seriously, you may not even consider that you could ask someone to help you with some of these things, but friends and family want to pitch in and it’s really not a big deal.
“Exercise helps release endorphins and gets the blood flowing, and a lot of times it can help take your mind off what’s bothering you,” Longerot says. Obviously, you want to make sure exercising is safe first (unless you have a complication, it is) and then you want to choose an exercise that you truly enjoy doing.
“The best exercise is the type you'll stick with and want to continue coming back to,” says certified fitness instructor and trainer Jessica Smith, creator of JessicaSmithTV. She suggests you try as many options as you can—prenatal yoga, prenatal Pilates, a walking regime—and try to balance out your routine with strength training with a particular focus on the backside. “Your baby adds a lot of weight to the front of your body and postural muscles are often strained,” Smith explains. You’ll also rely on those same muscles once baby is born, from carrying baby to feedings.
Not only can acupuncture be safe during pregnancy, it can be relaxing. Okay, stay with us here. This may seem out-there and new-agey for you, but researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found the practice reduces symptoms of depression in pregnant women compared with women who received “fake” acupuncture (they didn’t target the correct acupuncture points in the body) or even massage. “Acupuncture has been used during pregnancy for other indications and there are no known effects on the developing baby,” Eddleman adds. In other words: It’s probably worth it to give it a go. But look for someone who’s certified through The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and make sure they have experience in working with pregnant women.
Have a massage
Again, find a certified massage therapist who is experienced and comfortable with having pregnant clients. “Positioning is very important during pregnancy. With a usual massage, you would be flat on your back or on your stomach, and obviously neither one of those would be good position for pregnancy,” Longerot says. Your therapist will either have you lie on your side for the massage or will have a special table with a cut-out for your belly allowing you to comfortably lie on your stomach. (That in itself will be amazingly comfortable!) Of course, get the green light from your doctor first, and yes, a shoulder rub from your partner works too.
Read something fun
The Bump is an awesome read (and so are our books!) but if you’re having back pain and you read over and over that back pain is attributed to preterm labor, then you’re not going to be as Zen as you could be. Take a break and flip through a juicy novel for a while. “Being knowledgeable about pregnancy is wonderful, and educating yourself is very important, but information overload can lead to more anxiety,” Longerot says.
Throw on that maternity tankini because swimming can be a major relief, since your body will feel so much lighter in the water. Talk about less stress! Not only that, swimming is a total body workout. You can also try running, power walking or even doing resistance training in the pool to stay fit.
Open up to your boss
We know you want to be the star employee while you’re pregnant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an honest talk with your boss about what’s going on with you and your pregnancy. If commuting is stressful, you may ask if it’s possible for you to work from home a day or two a week. Your doctor should also be aware of any job requirements that are stressing you out, for example if you’re on your feet all day or you’re working extremely long hours.
Get things done
Nesting for baby can send even the most organized mom-to-be into a total meltdown. Our best advice? Start at the top of your to-do list and work your way down. Feel good about each task you complete. But have the mentality that if everything doesn’t get done, everything will be okay. “You need to figure out which type of person you are,” Longerot says. She adds that the nesting instinct can have different effects on women. “Some find it stressful and feel they have to clean the whole house, then feel daunted trying to accomplish such a task. That’s one of those times when I’d encourage you to reach out to one of your friends or family members for help.”
Even if you’ve never meditated before or think it’s hokey, it’s worth a shot. Some moms-to-be say meditation helps them connect with baby and even notice an active (read: kicking) baby calming down during this relaxing time.
Here’s a simple meditation from Smith: Sit comfortably (in a chair or on a pillow on the floor) with one hand over your heart and one on your belly. With your eyes closed, inhale deeply through the nose for a count of four, and then exhale fully through a relaxed, open mouth for four counts. Imagine all the love you have for baby pouring out of your palms and into baby. Visualize connecting your heart and baby's energy together. Set a timer for two minutes at first and see if you can continue for the full time period, working up to longer periods of time when you feel ready.
Or just say you’re meditating and take some quiet “me” time. Whatever works.
(Still anxious after trying to reduce your stress? Talk to your doctor.)