According to a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, as many as 20% of people experience antenatal depression and anxiety, with the incidence of anxiety rising in pregnancy. (This number, however, is difficult to use as a true guideline as it is suspected that antenatal depression is one of the most under-diagnosed and under-treated conditions.) These feelings can occur as a result of many factors including but not limited to bodily changes, shifts in physical ability, fear of loss, unanticipated complications, financial concerns, and hormonal changes that affect chemical release in the brain. High levels of anxiety are associated with increased likelihood of preterm birth, preeclampsia, and low birth weight as well as stalls in labor and distress during birth. Managing stressors and decreasing feelings of anxiousness may not only benefit one’s own daily life but can quite literally benefit the labor process and the baby too.
- Focus on areas where control is possible. To a large extent, one’s nourishment, hydration, and movement are all within management. For more information about using real food to nourish the body and embrace a healthy pregnancy, check out Taylor Johnson-Gordon and all her resources at Sistah of the Yam.
- Hone in on tools for physical stress relief. Practice deep breathing in response to discomfort (such as slowly inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth if you stub your toe) or slowly creating and releasing a fist when feeling frustration build.
- Spend five minutes every day just sitting in your body. Lie on your side with a pillow between the knees and a pillow under the belly or sit cross-legged with a yoga block or stack of books supporting the bottom and inhale and exhale without the distraction of a phone, laptop, or tablet.
- Eliminate negativity. Practice setting boundaries by building up a community of positive support and actively decreasing time spent with those who increases feelings of tension and are not supportive.
- Surround yourself with support. Seek out and utilize resources that help you feel positive and empowered - books, podcasts, and birth stories that encourage feelings of calm and excitement.
- Use affirmations daily. Repeat positive undeniable truths to yourself. My body is strong. I am capable. Speak them and write them in pregnancy and use them as mantras in labor and birth.
- Educate yourself. Take a birth class that focuses on usable tools and information for a positive birth experience your way. Knowledge can break down the myths that often create a foundation for fear and anxiety.
Pregnancy offers a unique opportunity to explore reactions to the world, to grow as a person, and to impact the long-term health oneself and their child. Recognizing areas in which one can take control and create calm is one of the first steps in embracing an empowered childbearing experience.