Big milestones can be exciting and they can also bring a certain level of stress with them. Becoming a parent is no exception. But while experiencing a certain level of stress during pregnancy is normal, there’s a difference between good, anticipatory stress (“Yay, I’m going to be a parent, but I’m nervous!”) and the type of stress that can negatively affect you and your baby’s health.
That’s why practicing self-care and finding mental health resources is an important part of having a healthy pregnancy! Advocating for better births starts with taking care of ourselves: physically and mentally.
In “Overdue,” our maternal health series made in partnership with Un-ruly and Gerber, registered nurse and doula Ebony Harvey explains several ways you can get the support you need during your pregnancy.
To learn more about methods to manage stress during pregnancy, keep reading! You can also navigate to the section you want using the table of contents. (We also have a list of therapy platforms you won’t want to miss at the end!)
Table of contents
The Importance of Reducing Stress During Pregnancy
Inflammation is one of the root causes for a number of diseases and chronic health issues, and there’s few things more inflammatory to our body than stress. This is especially important for us to be aware of: As Black people, we’re exposed to a lot more stress due to chronic exposures to racism, according to reporting from NPR.
What we may take for granted is how that lifetime of biological stress can lead to poorer outcomes when we’re ready to become moms and parents.
Chronic diseases spurred on by stress like high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease can become pregnancy-complicating issues like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and peripartum cardiomyopathy, or heart failure during pregnancy. It can also lead to poor birth outcomes like preterm labor or low birth weight. And this can all negatively affect your baby’s longterm health, predisposing them to having chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes when they’re older.
Your mental and physical health are directly correlated to how much stress you’re exposed to and how supported you feel.
A 2018 study that looked at more than 2 million Black women across multiple years ‘found a direct relationship between increases in area racism … and increases in preterm birth and low-birthweight infants.
“While most women in their 20s and early 30s are considered low-risk [for pregnancy complications], Black women may be weathered and biologically older than their chronological age [because of racism’s effects on health],” a 2019 Harvard Public Health report stated, “which makes them more subject to health complications at younger ages.”
Your mental and physical health are directly correlated to how much stress you’re exposed to and how supported you feel. So any effort you can take to reduce your stress during pregnancy is worth doing.
One way to reduce stress is to surround yourself with those in your community who make you feel joyful, safe, and heard. Studies focused on women have linked social support with better reported mental health from mom and healthier babies.
In a 1996 study published in Social Science & Medicine, Black moms who were identified as not having enough support during their pregnancy were randomly placed in two groups: one focused on intervention through social support in the form of phone calls and visits, the other a control group. When those in the intervention group had their babies, only 9.1% had babies with low birth weights compared to 22.4% in the control group.
People need people, always, but even more so in pregnancy. So think about who you want to have in your corner during your pregnancy, and how you can bring more joy and less stress into your life.
How to Manage Your Stress During Pregnancy
So we all know that stress is a natural part of life. But you want to know what isn’t natural? An overabundance of tension and anxiety.
Thankfully there are methods and tools available to help you manage stress during pregnancy. These are just a few tips to help keep you from veering too far into chronic and harmful stress.
Mapping your life
Being stressed out can sometimes make us feel like we have no control over what’s happening in our lives. And as stress accumulates, it becomes hard to untangle ourselves from our stressors.
Mapping out your stressors is a great way to manage your stress during pregnancy. (This tool is something you can return to postpartum, too.)
Take a piece of paper (or open the Notes app on your phone) and take a fine tooth comb to your life. Where is the stress coming from? Sometimes it’ll be very obvious. Other times you may be surprised by what you notice once you take the time to really examine your life.
Once you have your list, start creating a plan for how you’ll manage that stress during pregnancy.
You may find that you have too much on your plate. Trying to be every woman is a quick way to burnout, friend, so take off that cape.
Sometimes you’ll find that you have to unlearn some things to reduce stress during pregnancy. It’s not “lazy” to leave work at 6 and not let your workload follow you home. You don’t have to raise your hand to take on projects or help everyone out to feel valued.
This is a great time to lean on your community and the power of delegation. Add the names of people and/or services you can outsource some of the items on your list that are causing you stress. Learning what resources are available to you, who you can trust, and how to delegate now will set you up for handling stress once the baby is here.
Sometimes you may find the solution is “I’m putting this on the back burner.” Other times you may realize, what you thought was incredibly stressful is actually pretty manageable. And even still you may realize what stresses you out is actually not your problem at all.
Once you’ve identified the sources of your stress, as well as potential solutions and support, start executing. Take note of what’s working and what’s not, so you can do more of the former and rethink the latter.
Whenever you’re feeling stressed, know that you have so many ways to alleviate that stress available to you. This is the time to lean into all the things that make you feel good. You’ll know what that will look like for you, but here are a few ideas to get you started.
Journaling: Whether it’s for five minutes or an hour, journaling is great for your mental health. Taking your thoughts to paper (or your phone through voice or video recordings) helps you get your feelings out. Consistent journaling can help you identify triggers and patterns, which helps you get better at spotting them before they get out of hand. It’s also a great way to practice gratitude and memorialize this special time in your life.
Saying affirmations: Are you prone to negative self-talk? Getting in the habit of saying positive affirmations as part of your daily routine can help you start to see and honor all of your amazing qualities. Look in the mirror and use “I am” statements to call out all the good things that make you you. It may feel a little silly at first, but it’s a great way to love on yourself. Here are a couple affirmations to get you started.
Having a grounding practice: Having a way to center yourself when you’re feeling stress during pregnancy is key, says registered nurse and doula Ebony Harvey. “It’s really good to have a space that you can go back to, something that helps you ground yourself or feel safe,” she says.
Depending on your background, this could be through religious worship and prayer, spiritual practices like meditation, or reconnecting to yourself by going to your happy place—mentally or physically.
Avoiding the news: We know there’s a lot of wild stuff going on in the world. Every day it seems like news headlines are getting more shocking and upsetting. And unfortunately, racial violence is still a very real concern in—and threat to—our community.
We can know all of this without having to seek out reminders. Choosing to opt out of the news cycle has a very real and positive effect on your mental health and your pregnancy. A 2018 study that looked at more than 2 million Black women across multiple years “found a direct relationship between increases in area racism (as measured by the proportion of internet searches of the ‘N-word’) and increases in preterm birth and low-birthweight infants.”
Delete your news app, unsubscribe from newsletters, mute certain accounts… whatever opting out looks like for you, if you need to do it, do it.
By developing practices that support your mental health, you’re setting yourself up to bring more ease into your pregnancy.
Couples Therapy or Mediation
When you were stress mapping, did your relationship appear on your list? Whether you’re coupled or separated, now is the time to communicate what you need from your (former or current) partner to reduce your stress during pregnancy.
For partnered folks, talk to your person about how you’re feeling regularly. Are you overwhelmed? What can they do to help you feel better? Getting emotional support from your partner during pregnancy can lead to better postpartum health for you and your baby, according to a 2012 Journal of Family Psychology study.
When you talk to your partner, it should be a conversation. That means try to be open to what they share with you. Becoming a parent may be bringing up some things for them that you didn’t even realize. Partners can also develop perinatal or postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) and need support so they can be present for you, too.
Knowing that you have each other’s back will strengthen your bond as you prepare to bring your baby into the world to two healthy parents.
Maybe there are issues in your relationship that are hard to navigate between just the two of you. When that happens, going to couples therapy is a way to get objective advice and guidance from a trained professional. (You can jump to this section to find a couples therapist near you.)
Even if things are going well in your relationship, having some pre-baby counseling doesn’t hurt. These sessions can be a great way to have a third party guide (and mediate if necessary) important conversations around topics like division of labor and parenting philosophies.
If you’re pregnant and not partnered with your child’s other parent, you may want to look into working with a mediator to develop a co-parenting agreement with your ex.
A co-parenting agreement outlines decisions around your baby’s well-being and care. It’s a living document and can change whenever it’s needed.
If it’s too stressful to have these conversations with your ex, you can put this on the back burner and work with an individual therapist to process those feelings and concerns until you’re ready to address them. (And if you’re concerned about cost or your ability to come to an agreement, see if your town’s family court offers free mediation services.)
The main thing we want you to take away is that you shouldn’t go through pregnancy alone. We’ve shared a few ways you can get support from your community, but sometimes, you may find it’s helpful to get support from an outside party like a therapist.
A therapist can help you work through any stressors you’re experiencing—or triggers that your pregnancy is bringing up for you. By working with a therapist during your pregnancy, you’re establishing a valuable relationship that can also support you after you give birth.
The following list is a by-no-means exhaustive roundup of online resources to help you find an affordable and culturally competent professional. Even if you don’t think you’re going to need one, save this list. That way, if something changes at some point in your pregnancy or postpartum, you’ll know where to go.
Do you or someone you know need help? Call 1-800-985-5990 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or text HOME to 741-741 for free support from the Crisis Text Line.
Black Men Heal
Black Men Heal is on a mission to get Black men into therapy. The nonprofit offers up to eight free online counseling sessions for Black men who apply and get on their waiting list. (Note: They currently only offer telehealth services in Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York City, Philadelphia, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.)
Get connected to a licensed therapist via BetterHelp, an online and app-based form of counseling. The platform allows for telehealth appointments, and you can text or leave audio messages for your therapist between sessions. They also offer couples therapy. (Get a free one-week trial using this offer code.)
Black Virtual Wellness Directory
True to its name, the Black Virtual Wellness Directory lists virtual therapists across the country. The directory also includes doulas, mediators, and yoga teachers if you’re in need of those services.
Registering for therapy with Hurdle means access to providers who are trained to be culturally competent and sensitive.
“Our therapists place your culture and life experiences at the center of your therapy,” the site states. “With our therapists, you can be assured that your narrative will not only be heard and acknowledged, but also put in perspective to understand your experiences.”
“All people with all abilities in all bodies deserve equal access to identity affirming, culturally responsive care.”
We couldn’t agree more with Inclusive Therapists’ mission statement. Their website has a directory of culturally competent, LGBTQ+ affirming therapists in Canada and America. They also offer a service that matches you with a therapist.
InnoPsych allows you to search their database of providers of color by their location, services, and ethnicity.
Low Cost Help
The focus of Low Cost Help is as straightforward as its name and design. The site soley lists affordable, sliding scale counseling services. Because, as they put it, “access to affordable mental health care should never be limited by your ability to pay.”
Melanin and Mental Health
Finding a Black therapist has never been easier thanks to platforms like Melanin and Mental Health. The online directory lets you search for life coaches, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and treatment centers in your neck of the woods.
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN)
There’s truly nothing like being seen and not having to explain your identity to a therapist. For queer and trans folks of color in need of therapy, there’s the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. NQTTCN connects prospective patients with queer and trans therapists of color.
Just pop in your zip code on Open Counseling’s website and they’ll help you find free and affordable therapy in your area. The site also boasts a wealth of content, covering topics like debunking therapy myths and navigating Medicaid’s mental health benefits.
Open Path Collective
Open Path Collective is truly doing amazing work. Made up of “[a] collective of mental health clinicians practicing privately,” the nonprofit offers therapy to people who can’t afford it for a lifetime fee of $59.
Postpartum Support International
Postpartum Support International was created in 1987 to “increase awareness among public and professional communities about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum.” Since then, the organization has become a go-to resource for anyone experiencing perinatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. They have a help hotline you can call or text (1-800-944-4773) and online support groups. (They even have ones specifically for Black moms and for queer and trans parents.)
Many may know of Psychology Today for its articles, but our favorite resource on the platform is its very robust directory.
You can filter online and in-person therapists by what insurance they take, the provider’s gender and mode of therapy, the issues you’d like to address (there’s one called “pregnancy, prenatal, and postpartum”), and the age of the potential client if you’re looking for support for your kids. The site also has directories for psychiatrists, treatment centers, and group therapy.
Raising Resilience is a perinatal, maternal, and women’s mental health practice based in Charlotte, North Carolina. They offer individual therapy, support groups, co-parenting mediation, and other important services in-person and via telehealth.
As prepared as Jade Kearney felt for her pregnancy and delivery, she was completely blindsided when she was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety [link to blog 10] after giving birth to her daughter in 2017. The lack of support and guidance she experienced led her to co-found She Matters, a community and digital health platform that connects Black moms to culturally competent health care providers. (She Matters is also solving the lack of culturally competent care by providing training to professionals.)
Sondermind promises to connect you with “affordable and effective mental healthcare from licensed professionals” within 48 hours for an in-person or virtual session.
An OG in the online therapy startup world, Talkspace is a text-forward therapy service. Fill out an assessment to be matched with a provider within 48 hours. You can connect with your therapist via audio or video, though the latter comes at an additional cost. Talkspace also offers psychiatry services.
Therapy for Black Girls
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford and her platform Therapy for Black Girls have been an important part of removing the stigma and shame around therapy for, well, Black girls and women. That includes having a directory of Black therapists. Just enter your location, et voila! The directory will pull up registered providers in your area.
Therapy for Black Men
Users can find a growing list of close to 400 therapists and more than 40 life coaches over at Therapy for Black Men.
ZocDoc is like Yelp for health providers. Typically known for finding doctors and dentists, the service also has listings of therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. So you could use it to find your therapist, your OB-GYN, and your baby’s pediatrician all in one setting!