Early pregnancy can be a super stressful time--here's how to let go of unnecessary fears.
The first several weeks of a pregnancy can be tough on your psyche. Not only are soaring pregnancy hormones like estrogen and progesterone possibly making you edgier or weepier than normal, there are some very real anxieties to face such as the possibility of pregnancy complications, financial hurdles, and plans for childcare. The first thing to do is to take a deep breath and remember that most of these things aren't an emergency. "Take a deep breath and remind yourself that whatever you are experiencing, it is temporary," says Juli Fraga, Psy.D., a psychologist in San Francisco who co-facilitates a postpartum support group for the University of California San Francisco. "Early pregnancy is a good time to adopt the life-skills of stress-reduction techniques, such as yoga or mindfulness. These practices help ease the mind and heart during the early days and months of pregnancy and are tools that extend well into parenting." And remember, you'll have plenty of time over the next nine months to nail down help, figure out money, and paint the nursery, so no need to burden yourself with that stuff just yet! In the meantime, try these strategies to help soothe your skittish early-pregnancy nerves.
Take a class
"One of the best ways to soothe early pregnancy worries is to get educated," says Deena Blumenfeld, Lamaze-certified childbirth educator in Pittsburgh, PA. "Most doctors and midwives won't schedule the first prenatal visit until between 8 to 12 weeks, and that can be a long time to wait to ask questions of an expert." Early pregnancy classes can even be taken before you get pregnant as a way to get prepared. "Having that time with an experienced instructor can allow a mother to ask the questions that weigh on her mind and help alleviate her fears and concerns." You can also sign up for a free newsletter that'll give you the dirt on what to expect.
Read up on what's normal and what's not
If you're a first-time mom, pregnancy symptoms can be especially disorienting, because you don't know what to expect. Natalie Wahl, a mom and health coach in North Las Vegas, says the book she loved best was Your Pregnancy Week by Week, a step-by-step and in-depth guide to the changes that are taking place in your body, and the baby's. She also sought the help of a doula, a professional pregnancy and labor support person. "A doula can can help you know what is normal throughout pregnancy, their fees are usually minimal, and they are a lot more available than your doctor. Whether you have a natural birth or not, a doula is a valuable source of information and an advocate." Find out more about doulas at dona.org.
Get the facts on scary symptoms
You may think that bleeding or cramping automatically means miscarriage, but thankfully, it doesn't. Bleeding and cramping is not uncommon early in the first trimester, says Freya E. Marshall, M.D., an ob/gyn at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California. "Bleeding is relatively common, up to 25 percent of women experience it in early pregnancy." While some unexplained spotting or bleeding is harmless, it can be the first sign of miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, so Dr. Marshall says you should call your obstetrician if you have any spotting or bleeding. Your doctor may want to do an ultrasound to check on the baby's growth, or a blood test to check that your levels of pregnancy hormone are on track, especially if the blood is bright red and you also have bad cramps.
Clean out your fridge
Dr. Marshal says that wondering what's safe to eat is one of her pregnant patients' top worries during early pregnancy. Mostly, you want to avoid coming into contact with food-borne bacteria or parasites that can make you--or, in some cases, the developing baby--sick. So when it comes to meats and fish, think well-done and piping hot (so, no bloody burger for you!), and for things like dairy and cheese, think fully pasteurized and sanitized for your protection (no raw cheeses). Some other foods carry special risks--such as soft cheese which can harbor the miscarriage-causing bacteria Listeria or fish like shark and swordfish that are high in mercury. For a full list, see FoodSafety.gov.
Talk to your doc if you can't shake your nerves
Moodiness and anxiety is absolutely normal during early pregnancy, but some women do suffer from clinical perinatal anxiety or depression they can't shake. "These women feel overwhelmed to the point that it affects day-to-day functioning," says Dr. Fraga. "If you feel plagued with worry, or if you can't sleep despite feeling very fatigued, these are signs that you should get some additional help. Crying excessively or having thoughts about hurting yourself or the baby are also cause for concern. Perinatal mood concerns are the number one complication of childbirth yet so little information is available to help women detect when something is wrong. Your doctor can look at the severity and duration of symptoms and get you help if you need it."
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