Stress in Motherhood: The Honest Truth

Author: Shannon Miller Lifestyle

Stress and the pregnant woman

Mothers, are you feeling the pressure? Do you just want to crawl under the covers and never come back out?

You are not alone.  Common complaints are:

  • There are not enough hours in the day to accomplish what I am expected to accomplish.
  • There are not enough resources to complete my tasks at hand.
  • There are no extra adult hands in my household to help me with my responsibilities.
  • Scheduling simple things, like eating, showering, and sleeping, are some days not possible.

A 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows the following signs of stress particular to mothers in one month’s time:

  • Headaches (41%)
  • Upset stomach (32%)
  • “stress” (33%)

Mothers are also less likely to accurately report what they are actually consuming, calorically, in a day. (Source: American Psychological Association).

Some amount of stress in life is good. As humans, we react well to certain amounts of stress and were created with an ability to use fight or flight mechanisms to make us stronger and more adaptable. However, too much stress over a course of time imbalances the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline gives us the feel-good excitement of stress, like riding a roller coaster or jumping from an airplane. Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure, immunity, and anti-inflammatory processes. (Source: Better Health Channel). Over the course of time, as cortisol increases too much, the positive effects of cortisol are negated. In other words, blood pressure and immunity can then be compromised. A compromise in immunity cause an increase in illnesses such as cold and flu. Another side effect of excessive cortisol is the body’s maintenance of fat stores. The reason is that the enzyme that converts cortisol is held in fat tissue. If the body knows it will continue making and using cortisol, it will maintain fat stays (Source: Maglione-Garves, Kravitz, Schneider for University of New Mexico, “Cortisol Connection”).

 How can adrenaline get out of control?

Adrenaline is a feel-good hormone for a very short period of time. If the body produces adrenaline for too long, the body becomes terribly over-stressed, and no longer feels positive excitement. Instead, at this point, adrenaline leads to adrenal fatigue and tremendous pressure on the heart. The result can be high blood pressure and weight gain. This kind of stress can cause mothers to grab quick foods to keep energy up, but usually foods that keep her going with sugar rather than through nutrients. The cortisol in the system wants to store the food as fat. Here begins a cycle of stress, stress-eating, weight gain, and subsequent added stress.

What are the effects of this kind of stress on a mother who wants more children?

If a woman already is a mother and is feeling incredible stress from her duties as a mother, the effects on subsequent pregnancies is also rather marked. Susan Lowery of C.H.I.R.O Health Center in Turnwater, WA, says that the improper balance of these hormones affect conception, ability to hold a pregnancy, risk in delivery, and milk production (decrease).

 What can I do about it?

A person who is dealing with the effects of stress, which could be any side effect from headaches to anxiety to food or alcohol over consumption, should look in to some stress management through exercise, meditation, yoga, or tai chi. (Source: Mayo Clinic, “Stress Symptoms”). Looking back at the original statements about mothers, a response could be “WHEN?” It is important to recognize that one person should not be doing everything alone. Many times, women are afraid to ask for help due to societal views of women’s roles. Finding a support system through family and friends is very important in any person’s life. An expectation of running a family without back-up may appear to be the heroic choice, but a woman who can not take care of herself has little left for anyone else. Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin of the Mayo Clinic says that trouble coping with stress in life can cause clinical depression. The following are symptoms of depression:

  • sleep disorder
  • difficulty in concentration
  • overwhelming feeling of hopelessness
  • overwhelming and controlling negative thoughts
  • appetite disorder
  • over aggressiveness
  • thoughts of suicide


SML TIP:  Please ASK for help, and talk to others about so people know what you’re going through and can get you help where you need it!

  • The more vocal you are about needing and asking for help, the more likely you are to get it.
  • Always consult with your doctor if you are feeling symptoms of depression or feel that you don’t feel like your normal self.
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