Getting the proper amount of rest, being able to manage stress and make use of relaxation techniques are as important to a healthy pregnancy as good nutrition and exercise.
A helpful resource for support and information for managing stress during pregnancy and the post-partum period is the HOPE app.
Tips for managing stress
Your need for rest increases when you are pregnant because of hormonal changes and the physical stress of carrying a baby. But discomforts such as back and joint pain, leg cramps and getting up often in the night to use the bathroom can all interfere with a good night’s sleep.
It can help if you:
- take rest breaks throughout the day, put your feet up
- nap daily, think of it as practicing for when the baby comes
- go to bed before you are over tired
- use as many pillows as it takes to get comfortable in bed
- do a relaxation exercise
In the early months, unpleasant physical symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, worries about the health of the baby or even if the pregnancy will continue, can cause stress that takes away from the initial joy of being pregnant. As the months go by, it is common to worry about your body’s changes, about labour and being a new parent. Other stressors can be work and relationship related. How will this baby affect my career plans? What about my relationship with my partner? My other children? My parents? My friends? Finances?
Tips for reducing stress:
- think about what causes you stress. What can you do about these?
- ask for assistance, delegate tasks
- be realistic in goal setting, for yourself and others
- try not to make major changes during pregnancy
- just say NO, don’t take on too many tasks out of guilt
- take care of yourself by eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep
Relaxation exercises can be done anywhere, and take very little time. You could:
- listen to soothing music
- phone a friend
- take a short walk or other physical activity
- have a massage
- take a bath
- be with people who care about you
- indulge in a hobby
We all find different things relaxing. Some people like to read, others listen to music, go for walks, take a nice bath or shower. It is an important and healthy life skill to be able to relax and release tension in your body.
In pregnancy, relaxation exercises help to: decrease stress, ease you to sleep, decrease physical discomforts, and tune you into what is going on with your body. Relaxation is an important skill for coping with labour and new parenthood. Practicing relaxation in pregnancy can prepare you to use it as a coping strategy during labour.
Progressive Relaxation is one of the most common ways to learn to relax. It helps you to be aware of what your body feels like when it is tense and when it is relaxed. It also teaches you to relax individual parts of your body that are tense. In this way you can find the tense areas of your body when you are stressed or in labour and focus on relaxing them. Releasing tension in your body during labour helps to reduce your pain.
To practice this, you need a place that is comfortable (warm, peaceful, safe and free from distractions). You may want some music, or you may prefer quiet. Guided relaxation exercises can also be found online.
Using visualization in your relaxation practice can be helpful. You can paint a picture in your mind of a place that you feel safe, comfortable and relaxed. You can take a “trip” to this place anytime you need a break. Use all of your senses – the sounds, the scents, the taste and the physical sensations. An example could be lying on a tropical beach. Your visualization may include the following steps:
- Close your eyes as you breathe evenly and comfortably.
- Imagine that you feel the soft towel under your back, the warm sand on your feet, the warm sun rays on your body with a soft breeze cooling you so you don’t get too hot.
- You smell the tropical flowers, the scent of sun screen and tropical fruity drinks.
- You hear the rush of the ocean waves, the call of shore birds and the breeze rustling in the palm trees.
- You taste the sweetness of tropical fruits.
- Think about how you feel as you explore this setting.
Visualization can also be use to rehearse an activity with your mind. This is often used by athletes who visualize themselves competing in an event and succeeding. For a race they will visualize every turn and possible obstacle until they cross the finish line. Some people find it beneficial to see themselves successfully cope with labour and then give birth.
Breathing exercise for relaxation
There many different ways to use breathing to relax and become aware of our bodies. Yoga and mediation techniques all use various forms of breathing exercise.
Here is one example of a breathing exercise. Begin by settling yourself in a comfortable position.
- Breathe in a normal manner.
- As you breathe notice the rhythm of your breathing.
- Notice how when you breathe out you relax a little.
- Once you are bit more relaxed start to concentrate on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Keep your mouth relaxed and listen to the air as you breathe out, you should hear a soft sigh.
- As you breathe in this manner listen to your surroundings. If you hear something, identify it and then let it go as you breathe out. The sound is there, but it is not a distraction.
- Continue breathing in through your nose out through your mouth.
- Concentrate on the rhythm and sound, letting your body relax in its’ position.
- Carry on in this manner until you feel that your mind has become stilled and your body is relaxed. Enjoy these sensations.
When you are ready to end this exercise, begin to focus on your surroundings, first by what you hear and next by opening your eyes and tuning in.