As you grapple with the reality of pregnancy, you may find yourself dwelling on every single thing you might have done that could harm your baby: that extra glass (or two) of champagne on New Year's Eve, the X-ray your dentist took, the fumes you inhaled last week when you painted the guest room, that fall you took while skiing. Or you could stumble onto a newspaper article about birth defects that leaves your mouth dry with fear about your own baby's health.
- Don't worry about worrying. The overwhelming majority of babies are born healthy. Paradoxically, the best way to keep your peace of mind is to reassure yourself that some worrying is OK. Relax and let your mind roam into even the darkest corners. List everything that scares you. The fact that you're anxious is actually a good sign, because it can mean that you're growing attached to your baby. The next step is to find ways to prevent these worries from festering in secret and attaining monster proportions.
- Examine your fears. Instead of trying to push the fear away, drag it into a good strong light. Examine your fears and consider the worst-case scenario. In this way you may find that you already know how you'd handle a scary situation. For instance, if genetic testing showed that your child had Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, what would you do, and why? How would you feel?
- Talk to your health care practitioner. Ask about every item on your worry list. Chances are your provider can reassure you. Developing an action plan for each case may also temper your anxiety. If you embrace your fears instead of sweeping them under the rug, they can become your greatest resource, helping you plan for the future as you get to know your own heart and mind.
- Search for distractions. If you're still spending a lot of time feeling anxious, take further steps to distract yourself from dire thoughts. Share your fears with your partner, friends, or a therapist. Researchers have found that people with emotional support deal better with stress.
- Set aside time for yourself too. Research suggests that pregnant women who enjoy leisure activities tend to have fewer premature and low-birthweight babies. Find time to walk, see movies, have picnics, or simply lie in a hammock all afternoon with a good book.
- Finally, try this relaxation technique: Lie down or lean back in a chair with your eyes closed. For 10 minutes, repeat a simple word such as "peace" or "joy" as you take deep breaths to slow your heart rate and lessen muscle tension.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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