Highly Sensitive Refuge
a highly sensitive person is pregnant

How to Survive Pregnancy as a Highly Sensitive Person

Not long after I learned that I am a highly sensitive person (HSP), I became pregnant. Suddenly, a lot of things that I was just starting to understand about myself — like my powerful emotions, my sensitivity to my surroundings, and my need to avoid overstimulation — changed. Some got more extreme, some just got different, often in very unexpected ways. 

Of course, pregnancy is rarely a walk in the park (for most of us, Amy Schumer’s pregnancy is a lot more relatable than Meghan Markle’s). But for HSPs, having a baby brings some additional challenges — and they’re things that no book prepares you for. 

Let’s take a look at the challenges of being pregnant for highly sensitive women, and how you can go in prepared. 

How Pregnancy Changes Your High Sensitivity

Some of the challenges that pregnancy brings — and the ways high sensitivity affects that — can be unexpected. For example:

Yes, your sensitivity goes through the roof.

Are you, like most HSPs, sensitive to smells? Congratulations! It will get so much worse when you’re pregnant. Had I been in better physical shape, I could have easily worked as a bloodhound during my pregnancy. A few examples: Someone has been smoking on my street? I still smell it hours later — and get nauseated to the point of cursing their name. Doggie puddle on the carpet? I can tell you which of my three dogs did the dirty deed, based on the smell alone. You’re thinking about making broccoli for dinner? I will strangle you! Or at least run to the bathroom to vomit…


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Nausea is almost guaranteed.

You don’t have to be an HSP to be plagued by nausea during your pregnancy, but because HSPs “over-process” stimuli, your nausea may be more easily triggered. Not just by actual smells or foods, but by the mere thought of them — as well as by physical or visual stimuli, or even sounds. While pregnant, I would start feeling queasy minutes before getting on the subway in the summer. (So many armpits near my face!) To make matters worse, most herbal teas that could settle your stomach are off limits during pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

Who’s emotional?

You thought you were emotional before getting pregnant? HSPs feel everything deeply, but add hormones, stress and, oh, only the biggest life-changing event ever to the mix… yeah, you get the picture. You won’t necessarily be a “mess,” but expect your skin to get even thinner. While I usually rock a poker face (or what you could call RBF…), when pregnant, I would bawl a lot. So much love, so much anticipation, so many hormones — I was raw. Baby animals on TV (especially baby elephants — weeee!), lullabies, reading I Love You Because You’re You: waterworks! Not that that’s a bad thing, but “old me” was a little embarrassed of “pregnant me.” 

You’ll be very tired.

Being an HSP can be exhausting because we are easily overstimulated. (We aren’t lazy; we really do need more sleep.) And, as you can imagine, growing a little human inside you is hard work. Caring for a newborn is even harder. Essentially, you’ll be “working for two” and opportunities for rest will become rare. You will be TIRED like never before. 

Expect discomfort and, yes, pain.

When my worst nausea was finally over, moving or resting comfortably was getting harder and harder due to my growing bump. Unfortunately, HSPs have a lower tolerance for aches and pains. Can you imagine feeling the pain of labor and childbirth more than the average woman? I had no desire to and opted for drugs; the pain I felt once the anesthesia wore off was bad enough, even with painkillers!

Okay, whew! Are you completely discouraged now? Please don’t be. Parenthood is worth it, and no HSP should feel like they “can’t do it” because of their sensitivity. You just need a plan of attack.

6 Secrets to Pregnancy for HSPs

1. You can ask for consideration (for yourself and your baby).

HSPs tend to struggle with people pleasing and avoid rocking the boat. But no one who’s worth your time will hold it against you if you ask them (nicely) to make slight adjustments for you while you’re pregnant or nursing. Go ahead and ask for a seat on the totally-full subway. Take breaks at work. Have people smoke their cigarette somewhere else (yes, you have the right to request this!). Your health, as well as your baby’s, are worth someone else’s minor inconvenience.

2. You’re not crazy.

When you become a parent, you see the world differently. Your instinct kicks in and you become hyper-aware of potential risks for the safety of your child. In combination with all the other changes in your life and body, this can become overwhelming. Since HSPs are hyper-aware and easily overwhelmed to begin with, new HSP parents may feel tense and under pressure a lot. This doesn’t mean you’re crazy or being “difficult.” It means the people around you need to be considerate and supportive during this special time. And it means you need to take good care of yourself. (If you’re experiencing severe anxiety or symptoms of depression, please speak with your primary care doctor.)

3. You need self-care.

Stress, sleep deprivation and emotions are an issue for all pregnant women and new parents. For HSPs, who are especially sensitive, it can get very serious. Make rest a priority — and get as much “you time” as possible. As an HSP, you may need to withdraw from time to time in order to stay sane. If laundry and dishes are piling up, so be it: a messy house is not a safety hazard. Being a zombie is

This is a special time. You created life! Now be good to yourself and cut yourself lots of slack. (Here are some great self-care ideas if you need them).

4. You deserve support and respect.

Not everyone has family nearby or can afford paid help, but if it’s at all possible, outsource as many chores as you can. And turn to friends where needed: HSPs tend to take care of everyone, but now it’s time for everyone to take care of you so you can focus on your baby. 

Yes, that also means that demanding bosses and overbearing family members need to back off and respect your needs and wishes (read up on how to set boundaries when you’re an HSP). 

5. Your pain is real!

You aren’t whiny or “weak,” you are more sensitive to pain than the average person. Doctors, nurses and family members need to understand that and make adjustments. This is the 21st century — no one should have to suffer needlessly during or after giving birth, and you don’t have to “toughen up” (nor is pregnancy the right time to try to do that). 

Likewise, once you’re ready, you should be able to enjoy pain-free sex. Do not suffer in silence and don’t let people tell you you “should” be fine if you’re not. Speak to your partner — and your doctor — if something hurts, and be clear that you need solutions. 

Only you can tell how you feel. If you have a hard time speaking up for yourself, have someone advocate for you. A spouse, a friend, or a doula are good candidates for the job.

6. Know thyself.

Be aware of your your needs as an HSP. If you can identify any challenges parenthood may bring ahead of time, you can make a plan and embrace the changes coming your way. 

More than anything: Embrace who you are and the journey of bringing a life into this world. While pregnancy and parenthood come with additional challenges for HSPs, we make great parents thanks to our nurturing nature, our dependability, and our rich inner world. The joy your little one will bring you is worth it. And, as an HSP, you’ll feel that joy more keenly than anyone. 

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