3 Ways to Navigate the Emotional Side of Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a beautiful and miraculous time. You’re growing a baby for goodness’ sake. And for many moms-to-be, it’s also a tough time. There are the physical symptoms—marathon-level fatigue, nausea, heartburn, appetite loss—which ensure that you don’t feel like yourself. The days might be limping by, and all you want to do is spend hours on the couch, vegging out.

There also are the emotional symptoms. You might be feeling overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated and sad—all in one day or all in one hour. It can feel like 500 different concerns are running through your mind (and heart). There are just so many unknowns and question marks. And what-ifs. Is my baby OK? Will I be able to carry him or her to term? Are my symptoms normal? What will labor really feel like? What if I can’t handle it? Should I get an epidural? What if I need a C-section? What will I do with work? Daycare?

You also might feel guilty that you aren’t walking around in some blissful haze. You start measuring yourself against sky-high societal expectations, one-sided social media images and the experiences of your friends—and convince yourself that you’re coming up short. Which only deepens your stress levels and sadness.

Pregnancy can be an emotional, vulnerable time. But there are things you can do to cope well and take compassionate care of yourself and your baby.

In the book Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom psychologist Alice D. Domar, Ph.D, (along with writer Sheila Curry Oakes), shares tips and insights on managing the emotional side of pregnancy—the stress, anxiety, mood swings and more. Domar is the founder and executive director of Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and the director of Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF. Below are three tips from her practical, valuable book.

Write out your thoughts, feelings and frustrations.

When you’re sad, mad, frustrated or overwhelmed, write it down. Write about why you’re feeling this way. As Domar notes, our minds tend to race, so slowing down can give us a different perspective. Don’t judge yourself for these thoughts and feelings. Which aren’t wrong or inappropriate. It’s normal to experience a roller-coaster of emotions—which may or may not include pure bliss.

Identify your needs.

Take the time to think about what you need, and how you can respond to each need. According to Domar, “When you are faced with fear, sadness, or any discomfort, ask yourself: ‘What will make me feel …happier? Healthier? More energetic?’” She also suggests considering: “What makes me feel better? What makes me feel worse?”

Sometimes, we can give ourselves what we need. Other times, we need help. We need to ask others (kindly) to meet our needs. This might mean making requests to everyone from your partner to your mom to your best friend.

The key is to be specific and not to blame the person. Domar shares this example involving your partner: Avoid saying, “I know it’s my turn to make dinner, but I’m not doing it. I can’t. I’m pregnant. You need to do it for a change.” Instead say, “I am so tired I can’t cook; can you please take care of dinner tonight?”

This certainly isn’t easy when you’re stressed out. But the more you practice, the more automatic it becomes. And everyone slips up, so do your best when you can.

Walk mindfully.

Walking is a wonderful way to move your body during pregnancy (it’s great for reducing anxiety and boosting our mood and energy). It’s also a wonderful way to refocus your mind from the worrisome thoughts banging around in your head. To walk mindfully, Domar suggests focusing on:

  • What you hear: this might be anything from honking cars to chirping birds.
  • What you feel: it might be the warmth of the sun on your skin or the crunch of snow beneath your feet.
  • What you smell: it might be freshly cut grass or flowers or your neighbor cooking.
  • What you see: pay attention to details you’ve never noticed before—whether it’s on buildings, cars or trees. “How would you describe to someone else, in greater detail, what you can see?”

(If walking or any kind of movement is out of the question because you’ve been put on bed rest, these tips can help.)

Ultimately, try to be gentle and patient with yourself. Remember that everyone’s pregnancies are different. In fact, one mom will typically experience different pregnancies. Whatever you’re feeling—like miserable—is valid and OK. If you need extra support, make an appointment with a therapist.

Instead of relying on online information—which is totally tempting—take your concerns to your doctor. As Domar writes, “always remember that your own healthcare provider knows you and your body better than any Web site, blog, or chat room.”

Remember, too, that your body is undergoing incredible changes emotionally and physically. You deserve self-compassion, whatever you’re feeling and experiencing.

Unhealthy Diet during Pregnancy Ups Risk of Conduct Problems, ADHD

-Rick Nauert, PhD

New research from the U.K. suggests a high-fat, high-sugar diet during pregnancy may be linked to symptoms of ADHD in children who show conduct problems early in life.

Scientists from King’s College London and the University of Bristol explain that this is the first study to indicate that epigenetic changes evident at birth may explain the link between unhealthy diet, conduct problems and ADHD.

Epigenetic changes refer to environmental and other factors that may turn “on” or “off” particular genetic traits thereby influencing behavior or other characteristics.

The study appears in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The finding is important as early onset conduct problems (e.g. lying, fighting) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are the leading causes of child mental health referrals.

These two disorders tend to occur together (more than 40 percent of children with a diagnosis of conduct disorder also have a diagnosis of ADHD) and can also be traced back to very similar prenatal experiences such as maternal distress or poor nutrition.

In this new study of participants from the Bristol-based
“Children of the 90s” cohort, 83 children with early-onset conduct problems were compared with 81 children who had low levels of conduct problems.

The researchers assessed how the mothers’ nutrition affected epigenetic changes (or DNA methylation) of IGF2, a gene involved in fetal development and the brain development of areas implicated in ADHD — the cerebellum and hippocampus.

Notably, DNA methylation of IGF2 had previously been found in children of mothers who were exposed to famine in the Netherlands during World War II.

Researchers found that poor prenatal nutrition, comprising high fat and sugar diets of processed food and confectionary, was associated with higher IGF2 methylation in children with early onset conduct problems and those with low conduct problems.

Higher IGF2 methylation was also associated with higher ADHD symptoms between the ages of seven and 13, but only for children who showed an early onset of conduct problems.

Dr Edward Barker from King’s College London said, “Our finding that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy.

“These results suggest that promoting a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems in children. This is encouraging given that nutritional and epigenetic risk factors can be altered.”

Dr Barker added, “We now need to examine more specific types of nutrition. For example, the types of fats such as omega 3 fatty acids, from fish, walnuts, and chicken are extremely important for neural development.

“We already know that nutritional supplements for children can lead to lower ADHD and conduct problems, so it will be important for future research to examine the role of epigenetic changes in this process.”

Source: Kings College London