Are you experiencing too much stress during pregnancy? Not sure how much stress is too much? To answer your questions we are proud to feature Laurel Wilson, Injoy Birth and Parenting Customer Advocate, Executive Director for Lactation Programs with CAPPA, doula, childbirth and lactation educator, prenatal yoga instructor and board certified lactation consultant.
During my first pregnancy, my husband and I moved to a military base in Guam, which had just been struck by the worst typhoon in a decade and looked like a warzone. This is what we would call an “acute life stressor”. And yet, terrified as I was to be 5000 miles from my family, I had a deep sense that my baby was counting on me to remain calm and peaceful – my inner life affected how he would grow.
For the sake of my baby, I braved broken glass in the streets and smiled kindly to the worn-out looking locals in Guam. I went to the beach almost every day. I held my belly, sang to my baby, breathed deeply and focused on trying to be as present and connected as possible. I focused on the things that were grounding and comforting – cuddling with my husband, looking at pictures from home, and baking banana bread.
Today there is a body of evidence to show that my gut was right. Stress impacts the health of the baby, the pregnancy and the mother. While short term stress that is relieved quickly is proven to have benefits for the growing baby, the type of stress that most mother’s encounter today (including those who spend their entire pregnancy in familiar surroundings) is not normal and can change the way the baby reacts to its new world when she is born.
Short bursts of stress that are quickly resolved tell the baby that life has bumps in the road, but it’s all going to be okay. In the right doses, stress makes our babies hardy. In fact, the slight normal increase in the mom’s stress hormone cortisol in the last two weeks of pregnancy actually prepares the baby to come into the world. It accelerated the baby’s brain development and is associated with better motor and developmental skills at age two.
What is not healthy for the mother and baby is unrelenting, chronic stress. Unfortunately, many mothers today are chronically stressed. They live their lives constantly on the go, jumping from task to task, engaged in activity from sun up until they drop in to bed in state of exhaustion well past sun down. This environment of stress impacts mothers’ ability to sleep (which also effects their risk of developing postpartum mood and anxiety disorders), the blood flow to the placenta, and increases the risk of preterm delivery.
There is plenty of documentation now that both chronic and severe/acute stress change baby’s brain development. The Children of the 90’s study has shown that children exposed to chronic stress prenatally have significantly more behavioral problems and emotional disturbances as children.
So what is today’s mom to do? With the increasing pressures of today, how do we lighten our load? The good news is that it’s actually quite simple to help the body relieve stress. Below is a list of proven techniques that ANY pregnant mother can use to relieve the effects of stress:
- Yawn. Yes, yawn. Repeated yawning resets the brain, releases our “happy” hormones and helps the body process cortisol. Ever notice how you feel the need to yawn when you need to pay attention but just can’t find the energy? Yawning is like a natural, gentle boost to our brain. It helps us feel better.
- Move! Talk a 10 minute walk, swim for half and hour, dance to your favorite music in the living room after you get home from work, take a prenatal yoga class! Movement improves circulation, releases beta-endorphins and releases stress! What? You are on bed rest? Do deep breathing. Circle your ankles and wrists, do some static stretching.
- Smile and laugh. Have your best friends over for tea and giggle! Better yet, ask them make the tea and have you over, you are the pregnant momma after all! Watch your or favorite funny movie with your partner. Do things that make you HAPPY!!!! Laughter is one of the best antidotes for stress.
- Nap. Allowing yourself to get at a minimum of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and having just one 10 minute nap a day helps everyone deal with stress better. Getting the brain into the delta state of relaxation allows for body rejuvenation and improved immune functioning. Take an eye mask and your iPod to work and instead of talking at the water cooler during your break, lean back, close your eyes and rest deeply for ten minutes.
While you may not be able to remove your stressors during pregnancy, you can help remove their effects from your body. My Rx for a happier, healthier, cooing baby: yawn a bit, take two bursts of laughter, nap for ten minutes and call me for tea in the morning!
Laurel Wilson is the Customer Advocate for InJoy Birth and Parenting. She has been working with families during the childbearing year for over sixteen years as a doula, childbirth and lactation educator, prenatal yoga instructor and board certified lactation consultant. She is also the Executive Director for Lactation Programs with CAPPA and is the co-author of upcoming book, The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: Keys to the MotherBaby Bond due in the fall of 2011.