You have done everything possible to ensure a smooth, healthy pregnancy — but what about labor and birth? Mary Oscategui, baby planner, birthing options advocate and mother herself, joins us this week to share ways pregnant women can cope with the stresses of an approaching birth. She encourages mothers to acknowledge their fears — for the health and well-being of both themselves and their babies.
As a health practitioner, baby planner and single mom, I understand the challenges and stressors that can affect an expectant mom in preparation for birth — trust me, I’ve been there! Your baby is soon to arrive and the excitement is present, but along with that excitement can come many different emotions — some easy to cope with, and some not. You may be feeling anxious and stressed with a lot of questions and uncertainties weighing on your mind. Will I feel pain? How long will my labor last? Will my baby be OK? What if he/she is not breathing? What if the cord is wrapped around his/her neck? What if I have complications? Will I be able to handle motherhood?
As an expectant mom, your first reaction may be to hide these uncomfortable feelings — you may feel ashamed or embarrassed to share them. Giving birth is our natural birthright, however, that does not mean we also don’t have the freedom to experience some fears or doubts. Suppressing such feelings of anxiety and stress can not only take a toll on your body, but on your baby as well. It’s important to be aware of your fears, anxieties and stressors — and to address them. Doing so will only improve the health of you and your baby, and the outcome of your birth.
How do stress and anxiety affect a pregnant woman and her baby?
When an expectant mom feels anxious and stressed, her nervous system causes physiological changes in her body. Adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol, release into her bloodstream, causing her body to react in a fight-or-flight response. As a result, her digestive system slows down, which prevents essential nutrients from being absorbed into her body and passed on to her baby. Her muscles become very tense, making it difficult to think clearly and relax. These physiological changes can lead to premature labor, or even complications during labor.
Babies exposed to a variety of stress hormones, toxins and malnutrition inside the womb may develop a host of problems during their fetal growth and after they are born. Their bodies have to undergo certain biological changes in order to cope with a high-stress environment. In October of 2009, The UK Times reported new research that shows exactly how stress can harm a baby’s development, and how that stress can lead to long-term problems.
According to research by Vivette Glover, a professor of perinatal psychobiology, maternal anxiety affects the placenta by reducing the activity of the main barrier enzyme that hinders the hormone cortisol from reaching the fetus. The babies of women who were stressed during pregnancy had lower birth weights, lower IQs, slower cognitive development, and more anxiety than those born to the other women in the study.
How can women cope, and prevent stress and anxiety?
When I was pregnant, I found a few things essential to my (and my baby’s) well-being.
I had to accept and feel comfortable with my feelings, and not to try to resist them. It is perfectly normal to have some doubts or fears surrounding labor, especially if you are a first-time parent. Once you allow and invite your feelings to be present, you will be able to take the steps you need to take care of yourself and your baby, while reducing — if not eliminating — stress all together.
I sought support. This could be through an expectant mom’s group, a childbirth education class, or a qualified professional — such as a birth doula. By working with a birth doula, or attending a birth education class or expectant mom’s group, you can prevent or reduce stress levels dramatically. Birth doulas are trained to provide expectant moms emotional and physical support in preparation for labor, and are also present during labor for support. Childbirth education classes are designed to inform expectant mothers of their options for labor and birth, and prepare them for the journey. An expectant mom’s group can also be another great resource, as you will be able to relate to and share all the uncertainties and fears you are going through with other women who are going through the same process.
Sleep and Relaxation
I made it a priority to rest. It is so important to make sure you are getting as much sleep as your body needs, as well as taking some down time throughout the day. Your body repairs itself during sleep, and also works to restore any imbalances that are occurring. When you compromise sleep, you become more susceptible to stress, as your immune system has to work harder to maintain proper levels of functioning throughout the day. Also consider taking some down time through a yoga or meditation class, a brisk walk, bubble bath, or even by lightening your workload.
I found that nutrition played a very powerful role in both coping with and the prevention of stress while I was pregnant. Caffeine, sugar and processed foods can trigger stress, so it is best to avoid them. Eat whole, fresh organic foods: fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats that are easy to digest, and contain bio-available nutrients that are especially high in B vitamins and minerals. Exposure to sunshine for a few minutes of day will help your body absorb these nutrients. Of course, be sure to consult your midwife, doctor or nutritionist for your specific dietary needs.
Should you seek medical help?
If you have tried everything and find yourself helpless or depressed, it’s always best to seek medical attention. There are many professionals who are dedicated and committed to supporting you through your journey, and can provide you and your little one on board with the necessary help.
Mary Oscategui, CBP [IABPP], CPT, is the founder and CEO of The International Academy of Baby Planner Professionals (IABPP). She is an international business consultant and educator specializing in maternal health, fitness and going green. She is also the founder of TheBabyPlanner.com, EcoFit Mom and Physical Awakening. Mary is a writer, speaker, coach, author and birthing options advocate. She enjoys empowering, educating and supporting expectant and new parents to know all their options, so they may confidently make the best decisions for themselves and their baby in the most objective, healthy, safe way. Through IABPP, Mary introduced a new approach to the baby planning industry by focusing on the needs of her clients through parental education and emotional support.
How did you cope with the stresses of anticipating labor? Did you utilize a support group or birth professional? What tips do you have for other expectant moms?