Anxiety in Americans has risen, according to a recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association that cites finance, family, and health as top stressors. And for women in high-risk pregnancies, it’s an especially critical concern.
“Stress is such a huge problem,” says Dr. Patrick S. Ramsey, director of maternal transport and outreach at University Health System/UT Health San Antonio. “We know stress plays a major factor in pre-term birth. If we can address stress as a high priority for the high-risk patients, it’s probably the most reachable thing.”
Dr. Ramsey notes that it is normal to worry during a high-risk pregnancy and a stress level of four or less is okay. However, if you are feeling like a 10 on the stress scale, it is important to take action.
Reducing stress is easier said than done, but the following tips and tricks can help high-risk patients increase overall wellness and reduce stress during pregnancy.
Tip No. 1: Listen to your baby’s heartbeat.
At your next appointment, ask your doctor for a recording of your baby’s heartbeat or record it on your smartphone to play at home. The sound of the heartbeat will provide an extra source of comfort and support and can be especially helpful for women with a history of miscarriages.
“Focusing on a recent visit and hearing the heartbeat is reassurance that there is nothing to worry about,” Dr. Ramsey says.
Tip No. 2: Breathe.
Meditation can be a powerful tool for relaxation and peace. The theory behind meditation is that it eases the nervous system, which leads to physical and mental benefits such as:
- Less pain
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved mood and brain function
- Improved immune system functions
In mindful meditation, your focus is on the present — such as the physical awareness of breathing in and out — and expands to other thoughts, sensations and feelings in the moment. Overall, the art of meditation teaches you how to respond — not react — so that when stress occurs, you have more control over your thoughts and feelings.
Here is an easy five-step guide to meditation:
- Set aside 10 to 20 minutes per day.
- Sit in a quiet place with few distractions and noise.
- Focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body.
- Acknowledge thoughts as they pop into your head, take note, and then let them go and refocus on your breathing.
- Allow yourself a minute or two at the end to gradually regain awareness of your surroundings.
Tip No. 3: Be intimate with your partner.
Couples who are intimate are happier, healthier and boast overall decreased stress levels. In addition to a healthy sex life, try simple bonding exercises like relaxing on the couch together and just feeling the baby move.
Tip No. 4: Talk it out.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one in four new mothers say they didn’t even have a phone number of a health care provider to contact about prenatal concerns. Struggling in silence undoubtedly adds tension to a high-risk situation.
“The patient shouldn’t just ignore things they are feeling or concerns they may have,” says Dr. Ramsey. “Talk to a provider or talk to a nurse on a hotline. Just get someone else to affirm or reassure that what’s going on is normal — or a concern.”
The Maternal-Fetal Medicine team at University Hospital provides comprehensive, complex patient care to high-risk patients. For more information, visit universityhealthsystem.com/pregnancy.