Q&A with author, professor and psychologist Dr. Alice Domar about her new book, Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom, to figure out how to not stress out for nine months straight.
Pregnancy can be a roller coaster of emotions, from feeling oh-so-excited to make your own maternity Halloween costume or show off your bump in a stylish maternity dress to being nervous about how to tell your boss you’re pregnant. It’s easy to feel like it’s the best of times and the worst of times — within a span of two minutes. We chatted with author, professor and psychologist Dr. Alice Domar about her new book, Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom, to figure out how to not stress out for nine months straight. She shares nine (the magic number!) expert tips that’ll help you feel completely zen while you’re preggers.
1. Overcome the common struggle to sleep
So many people will tell you to “Get your sleep now (before you’re up all night with a crying infant),” but often, no matter how exhausted you feel, pregnant women struggle to sleep at night. Alice suggests figuring out what’s causing you to sleep less. If you’re constantly running to the bathroom, try to drink more during the day and less at night. If muscle cramps or back pain (or any pain) is keeping you up, get creative with pillows and ask your partner for a much-needed massage. Look into acupuncture with a licensed practitioner to help relieve nausea, back pain, insomnia and anxiety. You can also try drinking morning sickness tea for nausea relief and to help relax your body and mind. If your brain is on overdrive — worrying about everything and anything — Alice recommends keeping a journal and pen on your nightstand to write down what’s bothering you and vow to tackle it in the morning — after you get a good night’s sleep.
2. Take some time to be mindful
You don’t need to be a meditation master to practice mindful behavior to alleviate stress. “Mindfulness means focusing on the moment,” says Alice. Try concentrating on the sensation of chewing and flavors in each bite of your lunch. Or take a walk and pay close attention to what you see and hear. Download meditation podcasts for your commute or relax at home by doing a stress-reducing prenatal guided meditation. Try one from Mindful Parenting, a YouTube channel with 5 to 10-minute meditation videos.
3. Give yourself mini-relaxation moments
The easiest thing you can do is breathe. Alice recommends this breathing technique to get you from “GRR!” to “Aaahh” in minutes. Take a few deep breaths. Let your abdomen rise slightly as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Close your eyes. Count down slowly from 10 to one by saying each number out loud to yourself. When you reach the number one, slowly open your eyes. Repeat several times as needed throughout the day. Sounds like an amazing half-minute break that you can do anywhere.
4. Talk with your OB
Postpartum depression is common and totally normal, but most pregnant women don’t know that you can also be depressed during pregnancy. The symptoms for pregnancy — fatigue, appetite changes and lethargy — are very similar to signs of depression. “Look more closely at your moods, rather than physical symptoms. One of the hallmarks of depression is not enjoying things you used to. If you’re wondering if you’re depressed, the best bet is to check in with your obstetrician,” says Alice.
5. Seek out your squad
“Social support is a must,” says Alice. Find friends who are also pregnant to go out to lunch with and talk about what you’re both going through. Text your partner with your pregnancy complaints and ask him or her to simply text back, “That sucks. I love you!” Reach out to supportive friends and family who can be your cheerleaders through the next several months.
6. Keep a few lists
“Mommy brain” — that foggy haze that was formerly your memory — hits during the third trimester and can be frustrating for many women. Alice recommends keeping a few lists for yourself. “Write stuff down as it occurs to you,” says Alice. “Set timers on your phone as reminders.” Nap as much as possible. Make a list for your partner of all the things that make you happy. When you’re super cranky, your trusty S.O. can work their way through that list to cheer you up or relax you.
7. Work out your stress
Exercise during pregnancy can help relieve stress, sharpen your mind and combat depression. You don’t have to train for a marathon. Simple pregnancy workouts, like walking, yoga and swimming, can help you stay sane. Just be sure to check in with your OB first to make sure you don’t overdo it.
8. Memorize some comeback lines
As a walking baby bump, you’ll often get lots of unsolicited advice from strangers, other moms and family members (as well as people touching your baby bump without asking). Instead of getting frustrated every single time you encounter a well-meaning person with a nosy question, memorize some replies to the most-asked Qs. “I’m a huge believer in thinking about which things people say to you that really tick you off, and then having a few responses prepared,” says Alice.
9. Emphasize self-care above all else
It’s super easy to dismiss self-care as selfish when you’re busy prepping for baby’s arrival, but make sure to take time for yourself during pregnancy. Whether it’s spending a few extra minutes in the morning or at night to put on your belly oil for pregnancy, or having your partner massage pregnancy lotion to soothe your swelling ankles, taking time to mentally relax is so important. If you know an expecting mom who you want to treat to some extra self-care, you can even send her a pregnancy gift basket filled with pregnancy essentials to brighten her day.
Self care looks different for different people. “Self-care means napping when you’re exhausted rather than dragging your fatigued body around. It means eating when your body tells you to eat rather than at set meal times. Or running out of the house when someone is cooking chicken rather than sitting with company and then vomiting because of the smell. It simply means taking good care of yourself,” says Alice. Don’t think you should be able to do more or do it better. Being kind to yourself will help you stress less, and your baby will thank you for that too.