Feeling stressed and nervous is not unusual during pregnancy as a woman's body, hormones, identity and relationships are shifting. Pregnancy is a profound transformation that affects every aspect of a woman's life. While small periods of stress have no harmful effect, long-term stress can increase the chances of pregnancy complications and shape the baby's development in the long term.
Prenates are affected by their mother's mood, thoughts and action — and experience their own array of emotions, including disappointment, depression, anger, fear, love, bliss, and belonging.
The key to reducing trauma, fear and anxiety during pregnancy is to adopt the attitude that the baby feels everything the mother does. By adopting this attitude of connectedness, the mother can position herself as an advocate for the well-being of herself and her baby. And although it is not fully understood how the baby perceives these messages, it is important to be aware of this holistic communication, which includes the ebb and flow of love and stress hormones, neurotransmitters (chemical messages), nutrients, and physical activity, all of which impact the developing baby.
In modern pediatrics and developmental psychobiology, fetal programming (also called prenatal programming) is the idea that during development of the fetus significant physiological responses can be shaped and nurtured by environmental events. Food, exposure to environmental chemicals, mood, touch, sounds and stress can all affect the baby's development. Cellular environments can change gene expression during the construction of tissues and organs, and these changes can influence long-range function throughout adulthood.
Indeed, there is a consensus among neuropsychologists, neurotoxicologists, herbalists and midwives that the quality of life of the mother directly impacts the vitality and mood of the baby. Awareness that a woman's emotional state during pregnancy affects her unborn child can be explained by the "fetal programming hypothesis," which theorizes that disturbing factors can affect the baby biologically.
According to this theory, high levels of anxiety during a woman's pregnancy can predispose a child to attention deficits, hyperactivity, OCD, acting out and anxiety disorders. This hypothesis also posits that children whose mothers were depressed during pregnancy have a lifelong increased risk of mental illnesses, such as anxiety and mood disorders, which may be a result of reduced structural connectivity in the area of the brain that controls emotion.
Tips to Promote Wellness & Relaxation for Mother & Child
Promoting physical comfort is a great way to improve the quality of life for mother and child. Lots of rest, soaking in the bathtub, using a heating pad and self-massage with oil/belly butters can soothe mother and baby and relieve discomfort.
Herbs are rich in mood-promoting constituents, vitamins, and minerals and can help mother with occasional stress and sleeplessness. Creating a ritual with herbs can nourish mother and baby and promote relaxation. Drinking herbal tea and having remedies on hand can assist the mother with the emotions, fears and transformation experienced during pregnancy.
Movement & Prenatal Yoga:
Committing to a yoga routine can improve flexibility, strength and mood while pregnant. Researchers have studied the effects of yoga and found it can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression in a mom-to-be. Professor John Aplin notes, "Yoga incorporates relaxation and breathing techniques with postures that can be adapted for pregnant women. There is evidence that yoga can reduce the need for pain relief during birth and the likelihood for delivery by emergency caesarean section."
Meditation techniques are useful in calming down the heart beat, breath and the stress reaction which can influence the development of your baby day to day and long term. Learning to clear the mind and follow the breath is a potent technique that can be applied in pregnancy, birth and the developing years.
Touch is a powerful way to support the body, mood and spirit of another. Loving touch stimulates feel-good hormones like oxytocin which help bond mother with baby and increase a harmonious birth. Foot rubs, back rubs and gentle affection is an effortless and rewarding way to support the mood and sense of well-being for mother and child.
Herbal Strategies to Promote Mood & Relaxation
Calming and rich in brain nutrients like GABA, Passionflower provides sleep and relaxation support and calms the mind. Reach for Passionflower in formula with other nervous system herbs to soothe agitation, nervousness, and tears.
More than 1000 properties have been identified in hops, which make it a dynamic remedy for sleep, relaxation, digestion, and lactation. Take note that hops is very bitter, and is much more palatable in formulation than taken alone. Hops is a reliable aid to promote sleep and calm nervousness and support healthy production of breast milk.
This soothing mint family plant can promote healthy digestion, calm tummy discomfort and help relax a worried and tense body. Delicious as a tincture, tea or fresh from the garden, catnip is a beautiful and helpful remedy to have in the house for mother and baby to soothe irritation and the physical response to stress.
Reach for this soothing tea or tincture to calm irritation, nervousness, and physical discomfort. Chamomile also gently promotes digestion and is an ancient remedy for teething and colicky babies.
Is a restorative and calming herb, both mentally and physically. Traditionally, Scullcap has been used to normalize the central nervous system, soothe physical tension, and nourish and protect the neurons. Use skullcap for a physical reaction and tension to stress and to increase a sense of comfort and wellbeing for mom and baby.
- Scullcap: The Plant That Soothes
- Five Easy Ways To Manage Stress And Boost Your Health
- Six Natural Ways to Deal With Stress
- Herbs & Lifestyle Strategies for Managing Stress
- 6 Nutrients To Help Moms Beat Stress, Anxiety, & Burnout
- Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 75, Issue 4, High Antenatal Maternal Anxiety is Related to ADHD Symptoms, Externalizing Problems and Anxiety in 8/9-Year-Olds by B.R.H. Van den Bergh and A. Marcoen, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. Copyright 2004 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.
- Babies can 'contract' depression in the womb: Infants with depressed mothers have abnormal brain wiring, by Rachael Rettner.
- More Than Genes I: So What Is Fetal Programming?: What science can tell us, by Dan Agin. October 26, 2009
- Birth Psychology, The Association For Prenatal And Perinatal Psychology And Health
- Will stress in pregnancy affect my baby? How can I calm down?
- Why pregnant film fans should stick to happy movies By DAVID DERBYSHIRE
- DiPietro, J.A. (2004). The role of maternal stress in child development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 71-74.
- Monk, C. (2001). Stress and mood disorders during pregnancy: Implications for child development. Psychiatric Quarterly, 72(4), 347-357.
Written by Elizabeth Willis, Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Certified Medical Herbalist. She is the Education & Sales Project Manager at WishGarden Herbs, Inc.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.