Dr Julie Durnan

Coping with Stress During Pregnancy: A Naturopathic Approach

Stress Pregnancy

One of the most common complaints that I see in my practice everyday is stress.

Stress can be of particular concern for pregnant mamas, as there is often the fear that stress experienced is going to affect the health of the baby.

For you mamas-to-be, the prenatal environment that you supply for your child is extremely important.  Minimizing your response to stress during pregnancy is the goal; however, in reality you won’t be able to avoid stress completely during this time and nor is this necessary.

There are always going to be circumstances that cause your stress hormone (cortisol) levels to rise.  Whether it is a deadline at work or a little spat with your partner, stress is going to affect you.  But as long as stressors are short-lived, they aren’t a problem.

If stress begins to affect you to the point that it affects sleep, energy, appetite, or mood, it needs to be addressed.

If a trauma is experienced prenatally, such as the death of a loved one, a separation from partner, loss of a job, or an accident, stress can be prolonged.  In these cases action needs to be taken to really support mom and to continue to focus on creating a healthy maternal environment for baby.

Physiologically, it’s the adrenal glands that are the key players in our stress response.  These tiny little organs sit on top of our kidneys and they are in charge of secreting our stress hormone, cortisol, in times of stress.  If we are experiencing stress over and over, our body can become less able to cope and our adrenal glands can begin to function less than optimally.

There is very good research on the effects of our stress hormone, cortisol, on the development of baby in utero.  In fact, researchers have found that at birth, baby’s cortisol levels throughout the day will mirror those of mom.  What this means is that if mom’s cortisol has been disrupted longterm, baby will be born with a similar imbalance.

Most of us will not have to endure extreme stress during our pregnancies.  For those smaller everyday stressors that do creep into our daily routines, it is important that we respond to them appropriately.

Herbal medicine can offer so much to women during pregnancy.  There are many herbs that are known to be very safe for you to take prenatally that can support your adrenal glands, reduce your response to stress, and reduce the effect of stress on you and your baby.

The herbs that I turn to for stress relief and prevention, come from two groups called Adaptogens and Nervines.  Adaptogenic herbs literally raise our resistance to stess.  They reduce cortisol levels, improve our metabolism of carbohydrates, they are non-toxic and have relatively few side-effects if any.  Nervines are calming, relaxing, and provide nourishment to our nervous systems.

The wonderful thing about incorporating herbs into your lifestyle on a daily basis is that they don’t always need to be taken in the form of tablets or capsules and they don’t need to be taken after you’ve been affected by stress.  In fact, adaptogenic herbs work best when they are taken preventatively and integrated daily into your life.  You might choose to drink a herb tea containing a few adaptogenic herbs daily, or you might choose to add herbs to your meal.  These herbs can be taken in the form of alcohol tinctures or syrups.

A few herbs of the top adaptogenic herbs that I recommend for stress are Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Licorice,  Rhodiola, and Siberian Ginseng.

Calming herbs are also beneficial to prevent and treat not only stress but also anxiety.  Botanicals like Oats, Chamomile, Hops, and Lemon Balm are incredibly useful.  And like all herbs, if you can incorporate these into your daily routine, they will already be available to your system on a constant basis to relieve your body from stress when it occurs.

A few things you may use on a daily basis to reduce stress is:

  • Eating oats for breakfast – not just quick oats, but real-steel cut oat groats.
  • Astragalus root can be boiled into soups.
  • Have a bath with herbs:  Lavender and Oat Straw.
  • Tea – Lemon balm, Chamomile, Oat Straw, Licorice (watch for high blood pressure), Astragalus, Skullcap, Valerian, Passion Flower.
  • Tincture/Tablets/Capsules of Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, Eleutherococcus.
  • Ensure that your blood sugar is stable.  Women who consume too many foods high insugar and carbohydrates with inadequate intake of protein, fat and fibre at mealtime,  or who go too long without eating, may suffer from hypoglycemia.  Hypoglycemia can cause an internal stress on the body and is easily rectified by eating every 2-3 hours, including plenty of protein, fat and fibre, and avoiding refined/processed carbohydrates and sugar.
  • Extra magnesium can be helpful to support relaxation and provide nourishment to the adrenal glands.  A Calcium magnesium liquid is helpful at bedtime to relax.

Please Note:  Please discuss taking any herbs or supplements with your primary care physician.

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