When you’re pregnant, your mood affects your baby. Although most mothers-to-be instinctively know this, research has confirmed it.
Fortunately, there are simple and effective practices that minimize the release of stress hormones in mother and protect baby from negative effects of those hormones.
Mom and Baby Share Hormones and Stress
Cortisol increases with stress and anxiety, and is shared with the developing fetus. Long-term studies show that extreme anxiety during pregnancy can increase the risk of hyperactivity and emotional distress in the growing child years later.
This means that excessive stress affects the fetus’ developing brain, encoding implicit memories in the deepest, subcortical (primitive) and limbic (emotional) areas.
Fortunately, the same is true for hormones that give us feelings of contentment, security, and safety, enhancing bonding and attachment.
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We call Oxytocin the trust or love hormone; researchers believe that oxytocin has an effect on fetal growth as well as Mom’s nurturing instinct.
Strategies to Help Mom and Baby Stay Calm
Indigenous people in Western Amazonia believe that no one should argue with a pregnant woman, and if that does happen they should always allow her to have the last word. This helps pregnant women avoid conflict – and has a side effect of minimizing stress hormones’ effect on her baby.
Some ancient practices such as Hatha or Iyengar yoga reduce anxiety and depression in pregnant women when she practices them daily. The Mayo Clinic provides reputable advice about yoga for pregnant women, and does not recommend hot yoga or the use of extreme postures during pregnancy.
Types of yoga that teach mindfulness and relaxation are most beneficial and are effective in management of physical pain in addition to emotional distress. Beginning this practice prior to conception, or at least early in the pregnancy, results in the most benefit for Mom and baby.
Refocus Attention to De-Stress
Our brain provides us with the tools to manage our distressing emotions. When we visualize or imagine peaceful, safe scenes, and open all of our senses to the experience, our body responds by relaxing. In pregnancy, this has the effect of reducing cortisol and overall stress level in both Mother and baby.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that practitioners have used successfully for both physical and emotional relaxation, prenatal classes often include these exercises in preparation for labour.
Autogenic (from within) techniques combine visualization, words, and/or body awareness for stress reduction.
Comprehensive Prenatal Care Reduces Risk of Stress
Mothers-to-be benefit from community-based group programs that provide comprehensive prenatal care, including social support, medical monitoring, and education regarding pregnancy, birth and child care. A study in Calgary, Alberta, concluded that programs such as CenteringPregnancy ® improve mental health and antenatal outcomes through education and support.
Increased knowledge and perceived social support reduces Mother’s anxiety and depression, improving the baby’s prenatal environment and future health.
Glover, Vivette. The Effects of Maternal Anxiety or Stress During Pregnancy on the Fetus and the Long-Term Development of the Child. (2007). Nutrition and Health. Accessed September 30, 2013.
Thomson, Paula. The Impact of Trauma on the Embryo and Fetus: An Application of the Diathesis-Stress Model and the Neurovulnerability-Neurotoxicity Model. Birth Psychology. (2004).The Association of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. Accessed, September 30, 2013.
Benediktsson, Ingunn, et al. Comparing CenteringPregnancy ® to standard prenatal care plus prenatal education. (2013). BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. Accessed September 30, 2013© Copyright 2013 Hazel Trego: Families, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Pregnancy