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  • Wendy O'Neill, R Nutr

How to overcome stress and anxiety in pregnancy


Pregnancy is a time of great excitement and happiness for parents-to-be, but for some it can also be a time of heightened emotions and concern about doing what’s right for you and baby.

This is particularly true now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. As people seek information and reassurance, knowing what sources to trust can be difficult, as online ‘facts’ often turn out to be half truths and speculation.

Our job is to cut through all that and provide you with science-based information to protect the mental and physical wellbeing of mums-to-be in these uncertain times.

Reducing stress and anxiety is important, as when you feel this way it increases the release of cortisol – the body’s primary stress hormone – and these elevated levels influence many of your bodily functions, all of which are important for the creation of a healthy baby and ensuring that you have a strong immune system.

We need cortisol, but too much over a sustained period of time can have negative effects. Here’s how our body uses cortisol:

· It controls blood sugar levels – too much can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes

· It influences how the body uses protein, carbohydrates and fats

· It can raise your blood pressure if you are stressed or anxious

· It helps to regulate healthy sleeping patterns

· It controls inflammation – but too much over a period of time can exacerbate it

Chronic inflammation can happen when people are under a lot of stress and can lead to the development of various diseases – so reducing and managing stress levels is important for long-term health.

To lower your cortisol levels, try the following proven methods:

· Eat a balanced, healthy diet (see tips below)

· Exercise daily according to what’s appropriate for your stage of pregnancy

· Make daily meditation and relaxation techniques part of your routine

· Prioritise sleep – it helps to boost your immune system – and try to get to bed earlier if you feel more tired

· Establish and maintain a good daily routine with mealtimes, exercise and relaxation time as structure is good for body and mind

Your mental and physical health are inextricably linked and maintaining both is important for you and your baby.


Ensure you eat lots of broccoli for vitamins A, C and E and remember that frozen broccoli is packed with nutrients and can be healthier than fresh.

To 'think positive' and reduce your body's cortisol levels and the ensuing risk of inflammation, there are essential foods you should incorporate into your diet.

Colourful fruit and vegetables, such as tomatoes, oranges, blueberries, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, peppers, broccoli and green leafy veg will boost your vitamin C intake naturally and are great for reducing inflammation.

Olive oil, oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, pilchards and nuts such as almonds and walnuts are also good choices.

Make sure you have a good daily fluid intake of between 1.5-2.5 litres.

Here are eight top diet tips for expectant mums (there are plenty more in our nutrition plans):

1 Start the day with a drink of hot water with lemon (vitamin C), sliced ginger (anti-inflammatory) and a little honey (antioxidants)

2 Bell peppers have more vitamin C gram for gram than some citrus fruits and also have anti-inflammatory properties. When bottled in olive oil they can be drained, the oil reserved for dressings and blitzed into a hummus – enjoy with sourdough (probiotic), or add to salads.

3 Ensure you eat lots of broccoli for vitamins A, C and E and remember that frozen broccoli is packed with nutrients and can be healthier than fresh. Always have it in the freezer, along with petit pois or peas and sliced sourdough.

4 Turmeric is another food with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and should be added to recipes whenever possible.

5 Oats and bananas both have the prebiotic properties essential for boosting the growth of healthy gut bacteria to support your immune system.

6 Increase your chances of a good night’s sleep by having your last drink of water approximately 90 minutes before going to bed – that will reduce the need to get up for a wee in the middle of the night.

7 Eat a good-sized breakfast, such as a bowl of porridge with fruit or eggs on toast, a moderate sized lunch, an afternoon snack and a lighter supper

8 Incorporate yoga and meditation at home to relax you

This is intended as a quick guide and if you want to know more, or arrange a consultation, see the Contact page on this site.

For a combined diet and exercise plan, see glowingbumps.com

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