How to reduce stress in pregnancy

Special thanks to Jessie Tomico for writing this post. Jessie teaches HypnoBirthing and has a wealth of knowledge to share on pregnancy, birth, parenthood as well as many other subjects, she is the mother of two beautiful children and a true asset to the Purely Pregnant Team.

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Henderson

Following Maternal Mental Health Month in May and Stress Awareness Month in April, we’ve been thinking about how to minimise stress levels and be as (mentally) healthy as possible in pregnancy, as well as on our journey to parenthood.

Now referred to as a modern – day epidemic, the Mental Health Foundation cites that 74% of UK adults have felt overwhelmed by stress in the last year.

Not only does stress have a detrimental impact on mental health, but it is also linked to varying physical health problems.

When we are stressed or anxious, a hormone called cortisol is pumped into the blood, this is good in the short term, as it helps the body to deal with a stressful situation, but long – term stress can cause tiredness and susceptibility to illness. 

Studies also show that the effects of stress in pregnancy are compelling from as early as 17 weeks gestational age. 

Where cortisol is found in maternal blood, it can also be found in the amniotic fluid which surrounds and is mainly produced by growing baby. The further along the pregnancy, the stronger this correlation.

These findings also apply to the birth itself. When cortisol is released in maternal blood, not only can baby be exposed to this but it can also have a significant impact on how the birth can unfold. When feelings of stress or anxiety are experienced, the body is likely to produce cortisol and adrenaline as a response to fear or perceived danger. 

The release of adrenaline can inhibit the natural birthing process in a number of ways

1. It triggers a flight, fight or freeze response (never helpful in a labouring context) 

2. The production of adrenaline means that it is physiologically impossible to produce the hormones that are needed to fuel labour such as oxytocin (the hormone that triggers the onset and progression of labour) and endorphins (the body’s natural response to pain and discomfort).    

This evidence base therefore highlights an increasing need to identify and understand any causes of stress in pregnancy and dissolve any fears or anxieties around the birthing process and labour. Of course, this can be easier said than done. Pregnancy itself can trigger all sorts of feelings and emotional changes, so be kind to yourself.  

We have complied a stress solution guide for Mums/Partners/Parents to be which centres around the theme of prioritising yourselves and your maternal and paternal health:  

Sleep glorious sleep. According to an article published in the Guardian back in February – a consistent 7 to 9 hour sleep each night is the most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health. If babies and pregnancy don’t perhaps allow for a full night of sleep – turning off all technology before bed will help to avoid uneasy sleep and over stimulation.

Sleep quality is much better before midnight, so securing an extra hour before midnight will make a big difference to how you feel the following day.

Hypnobirthing relaxation techniques are also an excellent way to promote rest and good quality sleep by pacifying the conscious (analytical) mind and promoting the production of some very important ‘feel good’ hormones. By doing so, the body’s production of cortisol is minimised.   

Relaxing the mind and taking regular breaks. You are enough, you have enough, you do enough. Research indicates that short, frequent breaks actually help us to be more productive by reducing stress and boosting concentration. People relax in different ways, so understanding what works on a personal level can be beneficial. Research shows that relaxation exercises and listening to relaxing music can significantly reduce levels of cortisol. We recommend trying some mindfulness, meditation or some of the simple breathing techniques taught in our Hypnobirthing courses.

Hydration – drink more water. Dehydration can affect brain structure and function. Prolonged dehydration can lead to problems with thinking and reasoning. Ensure that you are drinking plenty to achieve mental clarity.

Visit green spaces and open places. A gentle walk and exercise can work wonders for promoting endorphin levels. Fresh air really is good for the soul. When ‘feel good’ hormones are released, the production of the body’s stress hormones are minimised.

Pregnancy yoga. Yoga has undisputed benefits for physical health, wellbeing and flexibility. According to a recent feature in Psychology Today, results from a national survey show that over 85% of people who do yoga report that it helps them to relieve stress. Not only does pregnancy yoga support this but it also dedicated ‘time out’ for some gentle exercise and birth preparation.   

Affirmations taught on our HypnoBirthing course are an excellent way to focus the mind and channel positivity for both the pregnancy and labour.

A positive mind brings about positive vibes and a positive pregnancy.

A lot of the content covered in this piece touches on both the theory and practical techniques covered in our Hypnobirthing courses. We would love to share more with you and warmly invite you to attend one of our free taster sessions. To find out more visit our website or get in touch – we would love to hear from you.   

 

Rhiannon’s Birth Story

Niamh Johanna was born on Mother’s Day night in what can only be described as an empowering induced labour

Thom (my partner) made the room into a safe haven: dimmed lights, LED candles, fairy lights and an iPod dock for my HypnoBirthing App. I also used Clary Sage essential oil.

My waters were broken but nothing really started to happen until I spoke to Noah (my four year old). He said ‘I love you Mummy, has Bibit come out yet?‘. This gave me a huge burst of love and encouraged some surges to flow intermittently. As things were slow, I was hooked up to a drip at a low dose which was enough to nudge my body into taking over with it’s own supply of oxytocin. The surges then became regular.

I got into my ‘zone’ with the App and Thom breathing with me, by my side. 

Things started to ramp up a little so I leant against the bed and used gas and air whilst rhythmically rocking on a birth ball, breathing slowly and steadily.

Then, things got very intense, very quickly: enormous surges came, each one riding on top of each other with no respite and cruelly the image of my (own) mum on her deathbed popped into my head (Rhiannon tragically and suddenly lost her mum during her pregnancy). It was a loud memory. I found it all too intense and I lacked the ability to re-focus. I found myself making primal and guttural noises which I think was my way of processing raw grief combined with bringing Niamh into the world. 

A huge juxtaposition! Three female generations in one point across time.

One minute I found myself crying out for an epidural and the next I was feeling an overwhelming urge to push. Shortly after, Niamh was born safely and swiftly into my arms in a split second of primal intensity. Sheer joy and relief filled my heart and body.

She was here, finally and she was safe. A Mother’s Day gift from my Mum!

HOW TO USE THE POWER OF THE MIND TO HAVE THE BIRTH YOU WANT

Affirmation art courtesy of Emily Lewis

‘If you change the way you view birth, the way you birth will change’ – Marie Mongan, the Founder of HypnoBirthing

We are bombarded with negative stories and depictions of pregnancy and birth, from the chaotic births you see on the ever-popular TV series One Born Every Minute to the birth stories (well-intentioned) strangers tell you on the bus.

At some point in your pregnancy journey, it might be worth setting boundaries and limiting the negative input around birth. Why?

One theory in HypnoBirthing is that when you reduce the negative thoughts and emotions around birth you can open space in the mind for positive thoughts to grow. As they start to grow, the negativity naturally subsides. A little like weighing scales–you want them to tip in your favour!

Would you rather feel fearful and anxious about birth, or excited to meet your baby?

Here are three easy tips to limiting the negative input:

  1. Politely duck out of any conversation where birth is being pictured in a negative way ‘I need the toilet’ or even more directly ‘I am trying to focus on positive birth stories at the moment, let’s talk more after I’ve had my baby’.
  2. Avoid watching anything that depicts birth as anything other than the positive, natural and healthy experience that it is. This rules out the aforementioned One Born Every Minute TV series and potentially Call the Midwife (though this one depends on which episode you’re watching).
  3. Instead, read books that will empower you and make you think about how birth can be. Search on YouTube for ‘hypnobirths’ or even ‘orgasmic births’. If you attend a Positive Birth Movement meeting (where new mums talk about their births in a positive light), you will have the added benefit of being surrounded by birth professionals who have seen birth in a beautiful light. Read positive birth stories like those in Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin.

Think about the various antenatal courses on offer and pick the one that best suits your preferences for birth

Choose your antenatal and birth preparation courses wisely. Remember: What you think is what you become. For example, if you over-focus on a ventouse delivery or even a c-section, that may end up being the fate of your birth. It is, of course, not that black and white; however, you can give yourself your best chance of having the kind of birth you want if you think about it, visualise it, draw it, dream it, talk about it.

The power of affirmations in preparation for labour and birth

‘Every thought we think is creating our future’ – Louise Hay

In HypnoBirthing, we use positive affirmations, on repeat, to plant positive seeds in the mind. The more we repeat them, the stronger they get. A positive mindset grows from the seeds and the possibility of the birth you want feels more and more real. For example:

  • I feel confident, I feel safe, I feel secure
  • My baby moves gently along in its journey
  • I feel natural anaesthesia flowing through my body
  • My mind is relaxed, my body is relaxed
  • I am prepared to meet whatever turn my birthing takes

We suggest writing these down and putting them in places where you see them regularly, e.g. on the mirror where you brush your teeth, by the kettle.

Some final thoughts

  1. Are you able to make some small changes NOW to limit the negativity you see or hear around birth?
  1. How can you create some healthy boundaries with well-intentioned friends and strangers to opt out of unhelpful conversations?
  1. Are you willing to try using affirmations to help you to focus on the exciting event that birth is?

For more information, see our page on what HypnoBirthing can teach you.

For a free PDF copy of the Birth Affirmations please email us at info@purelypregnant.co.uk.

Did you find this helpful? Please let me know in the comments below and please share with anyone who might be interested.