Worried that you’re juggling too much? We speak to the experts about how to reduce stress during pregnancy
Stress during pregnancy is something that concerns many mums-to-be, and can come with complicated implications if ignored. But when you’re juggling a lot, how exactly can you go about bringing more calm into your life?
During pregnancy, all of your baby’s neural pathways are developing, which spring to life in response to sensations such as a reaction to a bright light or sucking their thumb in the womb.
At birth, children have more neurons than they’ll have at any other time of their lives. What very few parents are aware of, however, is that the stress during pregnancy, caused by the hormone cortisol, can have a direct effect on the development of your baby’s brain.
The emphasis for pregnant mothers is quite often on nutrition and other health-related issues, such as taking folic acid and vitamins, and keeping hydrated. And while this is obviously critical, equally as important is the sensory world a baby is exposed to in the womb.
Why do I feel more stressed since becoming pregnant?
Stress has become part of every day life, and many of us can find it hard to deal with and look for ways to de-stress, even when we aren’t pregnant. Yet, many are unaware that stress during pregnancy naturally becomes amplified, with an influx of hormones and increased pressure on the body.
“Tiredness, dealing with nausea and working out what to eat: every feeling you have during pregnancy triggers a cascade of hormones,” says fertility expert Zita West. “It’s the stress hormones caused by anxiety that you need to deal with, as these can pass through the placenta to your baby.”
“Research suggests that stress during pregnancy can have a significant adverse effect on an expectant mother’s health and happiness, as well as on the health and development of the baby.”
What impact does stress have on my baby?
Zita suggests that from as early as the seventh week of pregnancy, your baby may be receiving pleasure-inducing chemicals from your bloodstream – but if you’re experiencing lots of stress during pregnancy, she may be getting high levels of stress chemicals as well. “By taking just a little time, on a regular basis, to completely relax throughout your pregnancy, you can help to counteract this,” she adds.
“The second trimester provides a good opportunity to start communicating with your baby on a deeper level and will help bring some much-needed calm. Ultrasound scans will have given you those first precious glimpses of your baby, use it to deepen your emotional bond.”
So, what should you do? Zita advises: “Introduce your baby to some of your favourite music, sing to her, tell her how much you’re looking forward to holding her, what the rest of their family is like – make a connection on a deep, personal level. Choose a quiet time – when no one can overhear you – to spend some quality time with your baby.”
How can I combat stress during pregnancy?
Bonding visualisation is a technique that can be completed in less than 10 minutes, and is designed to reduce stress during pregnancy. Zita West suggests the following…
• Make yourself comfortable – perhaps by lying down on your bed or a couch.
• Place your hands in a heart-shaped position, with your thumbs pointing to your tummy button and your fingers to your pubic bone.
• Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Let thoughts drift in and out of your mind.
• Imagine a ray of light passing through the top of your head to your forehead and down through your cheekbones. Feel yourself relaxing as the light reaches your jawbone.
• Release any tension, allowing your lips to part a little and tongue to relax. Send the light through your neck and shoulder muscles.
• Now imagine the light flowing down through an imaginary channel in the centre of your body. This is an acupuncture meridian called the Conception Vessel.
• Imagine, for a minute or so, that connection with the heart, where you feel love, warmth and deep relaxation. When you’re content you produce ‘love hormones’, such as oxytocin, which are sent through your body after birth to help you bond with your baby.
• Allow the light to travel down into your uterus and picture your baby. They’re snug, secure and responding to your calm, relaxed state with your heartbeat a backdrop to theirs. She’s thriving and growing.
• Visualise the umbilical cord allowing your nourishment to pass through to your baby. You’re also sending all those wonderful ‘happy hormones’ and the love that you feel for her.
• Stay with this for a while and then allow the light to pass on down to your knees and lower legs, feeling calm and relaxed.
What other techniques are there to reduce stress?
Angela Spencer, author of Babyopathy, offers the following tips for helping to reduce stress during pregnancy.
Some aromatherapy products are safe to use environmentally in pregnancy, for example two or three drops of lemon essential oil or lavender oil in a diffuser or vaporiser can help to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere.
Angela also suggests carrying a bottle of water with lemon slices with you, especially when travelling on trains or on the underground, wafting it under your nose if you start to feel off-colour or need an energy lift
Setting aside a time in the evening each day to play some relaxing music and just sit and absorb it will not only help you to de-stress but is also said to be beneficial for your baby.
From about 17 weeks, your baby is able to hear through the womb and will recognise familiar tones and rhythms once born so you are already setting the foundations of a ‘bedtime’ routine.
Meditation or mindfulness is a growing trend in managing stress during pregnancy that Angela thoroughly recommends trying to pursue. However, when you are busy and already feeling stressed and pressured some people find it difficult to find the time.
She suggests, when feeling stressed and overwhelmed just take a moment for a few deep breaths – complete lungs full of air breathed in for a count of five and out for a count of five, just to help you feel rebalanced.
Move over diamonds, there’s a new rock in town! Rose quartz is the ‘mother’ of all crystals when it comes to pregnancy. It has a loving, protective energy during pregnancy (and childbirth) and is said to be powerful in healing during stressful times. There are some beautiful polished crystal bracelets available now that can help to combat stress during pregnancy.
Just a 10-minute walk immersed in nature, a walk along the riverbank or in amongst trees, can have a direct affect on our wellbeing, reducing stress during pregnancy and improving our mood. If the sun is shining you get the added benefit of some much needed vitamin D, as many of us have a deficiency of this essential vitamin.
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