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Emotional Wellness in Prenatal Care: A Conversation with Dr. Christine Sterling on Alleviating Stress and Anxiety Associated with Pregnancy

Dr. Sterling is a board certified ObGyn and mother of three who cares deeply about providing physical support and emotional wellness guidance for pregnant people. In 2019, Dr. Sterling left her medical practice to begin Sterling Parents, an online membership program for people trying to conceive, navigating pregnancy, or experiencing their own postpartum journey. She specifically targets the issue of stress and anxiety in pregnancy, and works with her members to overcome these fears so they may ultimately achieve a more empowered and relaxed fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum experience.

Nyssa chatted with Dr. Sterling about her approach to prenatal care and her upcoming class on November 15th, “3 Things to Stop Doing in Pregnancy”. 


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

TS: Can you share with us a bit about yourself and your medical practice?

CS: I’m Dr. Christine Sterling. I'm a board certified ObGyn. And in 2019, I actually left my clinical practice because of the constraints of our healthcare system. With the short, 10 minute prenatal appointments and one, maybe two appointments we have with people postpartum that are structured this way because of how insurance works in the United States, I found that the system was not really allowing me to provide the type of support I believe people deserve. 

My perspective is that prenatal care is currently structured to get the pregnant person and baby out of pregnancy physically healthy, but doesn’t do really anything to help pregnant people carry the invisible, mental load of pregnancy, the emotions of it, all of the concerns and worries and stresses. I actually think our system exacerbates it because we have so little access to expertise. So we’re trying to figure out the answers to our questions with the Google search bar. And there’s a lot of advice and information online that is not great. So that's why I wanted to fill those gaps. And I do so online through raising awareness on my Instagram and TikTok. I also offer a membership program for people who are moving through the reproductive journey where I provide an extra level of service.

TS: What do you think is a primary source for stress and anxiety during pregnancy?

CS: I have seen a phenomena in a lot of pregnant people that I call ‘pregnancy associated uncertainty syndrome’. At its core, there is this deep desire in pregnant people to do what's right and not do anything wrong or harm baby. And what do we do when we want to make sure we're doing all the right things? Well, we try to learn and try to do our own research. Inevitably, we go to online spaces and come across conflicting information, then we're second guessing ourselves and we become worried that we're missing something. So people are moving through pregnancy with this cloud and weight of uncertainty. There's a lot of sources of stress, but pregnancy associated uncertainty syndrome, this phenomenon I'm seeing, is one of the main ones.

TS: How will you bring these understandings of pregnancy stress to your online class, “3 Things to Stop Doing in Pregnancy”, on November 15th?

CS: We are going to talk about the invisible load of pregnancy and how we can take these worries and concerns and actually turn them into plans. I have a specific framework that I take people through and it also helps people do their own research on pregnancy when they don't have access to an expert. So it's really about tackling the stress, tackling this invisible load of pregnancy.

TS: How do you recommend women with health complications during pregnancy (chronic pain/illness, sickness, infection, etc.) care for themselves while navigating challenges of the health care system and pregnancy itself? 

CS: For people with high risk pregnancies and complications, I think that you want to get a great provider who's going to have a collaborative relationship with you and understands that ‘center’, your wellness center, your overall wellness. As physicians, we can sometimes narrow in on the numbers and all of that, but understand that you are more than your numbers.You are more than your condition or complication. Focus on your wellness, reduce your stress, sleep, exercise. Those types of things can be really important for the overall health of your pregnancy.

TS: What advice can you offer for women who have experienced previous losses and have not yet carried to full term? 

CS: Pregnancy after loss is inherently very challenging. There's a lot of mixed emotions. I say embrace the mixed emotions and don't make yourself feel like you should be excited or you shouldn't feel grief or you shouldn't be sad or any of it. It's okay to feel all of those emotions. And find extra support as you move through pregnancy because it's hard, and you deserve that extra level of handholding.

artwork: isabella angelica via Unsplash



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