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Coping with a stressful pregnancy
I wish I could ensure a stress-free pregnancy for every woman, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. A worrisome amniocentesis report, a history of miscarriage or a preexisting health problem can cause tremendous anxiety about your health and your baby's well-being. In addition, if medical conditions develop during pregnancy, you'll suddenly find your pregnancy categorized as high-risk. This means you'll need extra monitoring and, in some cases, bed rest, hospitalization or an early delivery.

Your obstetrician or high-risk pregnancy specialist will tell you what you can do to improve the odds that all will be well. You might be asked to monitor your blood pressure at home, take a two-hour nap every day or take prescription medicine. Doing your part is crucial, but in many cases, the outcome is not in your control. This uncertainty can cause fear to take hold.

It's common for women with stressful pregnancies to tell me they feel isolated. While other pregnant women are furnishing their nurseries, a woman with medical issues may spend a great deal of time worrying if her baby will survive. Guilt is another common theme, with many women feeling that they've caused the medical complication.

These worries are exhausting. Here are some suggestions for how to cope during this stressful time.

Get the facts. It can be empowering to gather information about your condition. Question your doctor about your diagnosis and treatment options. It's hard to absorb difficult information, so take notes or ask your partner or a friend to come with you.

Don't scare yourself. Talking to or e-mailing other pregnant women with the same condition can break the isolation, but if the conversations are increasing your worries, take a break. Also, limit Internet research if it's too disturbing. Dwelling on the worst- case scenario won't help.

Feed your mind positive thoughts. Be proud of your efforts to take good care of yourself and your growing baby. Focus on the parts of your pregnancy that are going well and seek out optimistic people. If worrying is turning into depression, talk to your doctor, a therapist or a spiritual advisor. If you aren't able to travel to a therapy appointment, arrange to speak to a counselor on the phone.

Practice relaxation. Many pregnant women find comfort in prayer, meditation or a sense of being held by a loving being. Take deep breaths and let your muscles relax. Put your hands on your belly and send protection and love to your baby.

Distract yourself. Worrying won't give you the control you crave. In fact, nothing will. So let yourself think of other matters. Watch funny movies, read an absorbing novel or start a knitting project. Do your best to be interested in what's going on with your friends and others. If your attention span is limited, even flipping through catalogues or magazines can provide relief.

If at all possible, choose doctors and healthcare providers who make you feel comfortable and cared for. Most importantly, acknowledge your efforts to support your own health and the growth of your baby.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist