Look around during the holidays and you are sure to see images on billboards, on television, in magazines and in movies of picture perfect moments of families enjoying each other's company, good food, and the wonderful feeling of the holiday spirit.
Carma Haley Shoemaker

Taking some time ? for two
However, what you don't see is the behind the scenes stress that goes into making that moment what it is: the shopping, the cooking, the late nights, fighting the crowds, the family debates and the numerous phone calls. And, if you happen to be pregnant during the holidays, the stressors to your mind and body can easily double or even triple.

Why you need to relax
Stress is caused by many factors and can affect you in more ways than one. Whether mental, emotional or physical stress, failing to take time to relax can take a toll on your mind, body and spirit -- as well as the health of both you and your baby. According to The Central Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (the CAOG), added stress during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature labor as well as create an increased amount of strain on the mother's muscles, digestive tract and heart, not to mention her emotional state. The official website of the CAOG states, "Added levels of stress during pregnancy can be harmful physically, mentally and emotionally, which can be manifested in situations such as fatigue, fluctuating emotions, stomach or digestive problems, chest pain and/or premature labor."

"I was under extreme stress during my first pregnancy," says Jes Ferguson, a web hostess from Pecks Mill, West Virginia. "My increased stress manifested it's self as premature labor. I dilated to 4cm in my fourth month, right around the holidays. My doctor put me on a stress reduction plan that included meditation and breathing exercises," she says. "It was successful, and I carried my daughter to full term. She was born at eight pounds, 12 ounces and perfectly healthy."

It's okay to say "No"
As daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and women, there are many times when we are asked to go above and beyond our normal every day duties. This is especially true around the holiday season when family requests come into play. However, when you are expecting you may need to put your foot down and let your family know that you must decline their request this year, as any extra time you may have is reserved for you and your baby. Approach it graciously, explain it clearly, and let your family know that you will be able to give them what they wish for next year and you should have no problem giving "no" as an answer.

Top tips

When you're pregnant, you sometimes become the center of attention at family functions or get-togethers. People will flock around you, drowning you with affection and attention and sometimes it can get to be too much. It's perfectly fine to find a place to retreat and take a little time for yourself to regroup. If the get together is at someone else's home, call them a day or two before and ask them if there is a place where you can go and rest for a little while if you feel the need to. There is sure to be an extra bedroom or a den where you can put your feet up and rest for a little while to help rejuvenate your senses so you can quickly get back to the party.

Pace yourself
If you plan on having the annual family gathering at your house, be sure to plan ahead. For example, plan on doing the shopping for the party a few days before. Also, preparing or cooking any dishes that can be made ahead cuts down on the amount of time you will need to spend in the kitchen ? and on your feet ? the day of the party.

Dress comfortably
While you may have invested some money finding a wonderful outfit for the occasion, this is not the time to show off that sparkly ? but totally uncomfortable ? new sweater or those new heels you got at that big fall sale. Dressing comfortably will help keep your energy focused on your friends and family and not on your aching back or feet.

Ask for help
There is a lot to do to get ready for the holidays. Between the shopping, gift wrapping, cooking, decorating, trips to the post office and entertaining visitors, the hours you'll need to invest in making the holidays the best they can be can really add up. And, since you need to make sure to make time for you and your baby, this is not the time to try to do all these things alone. It's better to ask for help when you need it or accept it when it is offered.

Avoid the crowds
In the age of computers, going to the mall to find that perfect gift is no longer a necessity. To make it easier on yourself, why not sit back in your own home, avoid the stress of driving in the cold and fighting the crowds and buy those perfect gifts online? Even the more popular stores have their own websites that allow for online shopping, making it much more simple to check everyone off your list.

Take a time out
After arriving home or after the last guest has left is the perfect time to take a time out just for you. The dishes can wait until the morning. What you need now is a nice long shower or nice hot bubble bath to help you relax before heading to bed for a well-earned night of sleep.

Holidays are advertised as a time for family gatherings, joy and fun. However, gift wrapped inside those wonderful holiday moments can be unneeded stress for both you and your baby. Your best plan is to know your limits and prepare yourself. "I think my best weapon against holiday stress during my last pregnancy was making a plan," says Ferguson. "I was realistic about what I could and couldn't do and I didn't push myself. Following my plan allowed me to have fun and enjoy the holidays without the effects of any extra or unwanted stress."PregnancyAndBaby.com

Tags: relax

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