Expert / 2 November, 2021 / My Baba
Stress is a worry in all our busy lives, and although some of this is an alarming read there are some great easy steps to help you manage stress during pregnancy.
For many mums that I’ve spoken to, their pregnancy doesn’t become real to them until they feel their baby move, which is anywhere between 17 and 20 weeks (sometimes earlier in subsequent pregnancies) – it is a sensory response that reinforces what we know to be true.
It is also around this time that all of our baby’s sensory systems really start to develop, although first responses may have occurred earlier. From four to five months pre-natal the baby can, amongst other things:
The emphasis for pregnant mums is quite often on nutrition and other health-related issues such as smoking, drinking and taking folic acid and whilst this is important, just as crucial is the sensory world the baby is exposed to.
For example, if the mum is having an argument, not only will the baby be able to hear the aggressive nature of those sounds but they will also feel the effects of the stress hormone the mum’s body will be releasing.
During pregnancy, all of the baby’s neural pathways are developing. These pathways spring into life in response to sensations such as a reaction to a bright light through the belly or sucking their thumb. At birth, children have more neurons than they will have at any other time of their lives. What very few are aware of is that the stress hormone cortisol can have a direct effect on the development of your baby’s brain.
Stress has become part of everyday life and many of us can find it hard to deal with and look for ways to de-stress when we are not pregnant.
However, what most people are unaware of is that stress when we are pregnant naturally becomes amplified as pregnancy is already putting our bodies under increasing pressure and causing an influx of hormones.
When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’, which causes the fight or flight response and is part of our human nature. A certain amount of cortisol is needed during pregnancy to pass on the natural instincts that we all have. However, too much stress and too much cortisol raises a risk of health problems in your unborn baby.
I recently came across a 2011 paper “Prenatal Stress and the Origins of Psychopathology” from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that stated:
If a mother is stressed or anxious whilst pregnant her child is more likely to show a range of symptoms such as those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, aggression and anxiety. There is good evidence that prenatal stress exposure can increase the risk for later psychopathology.
We all know that excessive stress in our lives can cause many health issues including anxiety, irritability and even cravings and insomnia. I have identified that an excess of cortisol during pregnancy raises the risk of these health issues to your baby too. Some recent studies have also linked the effects of mum’s stress hormone on the baby when pregnant to ADD, mental health disorders and even addiction in later life.
We are seeing a rising trend of mental health issues in children as young as 4 through to teenage years and I believe that the increasingly stressful lifestyles when pregnant, over the past decade or so, is to blame.
Whilst this is definitely not the case for every pregnancy we cannot ignore the potential risk and should be looking at how stress during pregnancy can be avoided.
Throughout pregnancy a mum’s senses can come alive too. Some women say their sense of smell becomes heightened, for others its taste. Some things always tolerated will now become their worst nightmare, others will become an absolute craving. Most pregnant mum’s will not even consider that that their baby has a sensory journey whilst in the womb, but they do.
Aromatherapy can be used safely during pregnancy if products have been developed especially for pregnancy or you are using recommended oils in a vapouriser etc. If you have to travel a lot for your work, or use the trains and underground, it can quickly cause you to feel nauseous or faint. I recommend keeping a bottle of lemon essential oil in your bag (as well as a bottle of water with sliced lemon in it to sip) so that you can waft it under your nose to give you an instant mood and energy lift and fight nausea.
Music is one of my favourite sensory ‘tools’ – it can make you happy, it can make you cry, it can help your digestion and it can help you relax.
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 from about 17 weeks your baby is able to hear through the womb and will recognize 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 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 5 and out for a count of 5 just to re-balance you.
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 powerful in healing during stressful times. Many underestimate the power of crystals, and this is one of my favourites. There are some beautiful polished crystal bracelets available now that will work to combat your stress levels during pregnancy.
My book, Babyopathy, which is based upon the care and development programme used in my children’s nurseries, encompasses the biophilia hypothesis which is our inbuilt connection with nature that can nurture wellbeing (and aid development and healing). 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 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.
Angela has owned and operated children’s nurseries for over 20 years opening her first in 1993 at the age of 21. After neither of her children slept through the night for their first three years, Angela decided to research deeper into child development and everything that can nurture or have an adverse effect on it. This research quickly took the route of sensory stimulation and the first programme called Natural Care was introduced into her Angels at Play nurseries in 2000.
This research did not stop there though, however, and from using her own natural imagery within the nurseries, Angela began researching the impact of the natural world on development and came across the biohilia hypothesis which is also now incorporated in to her newly named Nascuropathy Programme and Babyopathy (for pregnancy and under 1’s).