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!