Relaxation is important through pregnancy because during this time the woman is more vulnerable to and affected by stress in her everyday life and relationships. A woman goes through many ‘what if…?’ scenarios as there is a transformation in her body and mind and her own perception at work and within society. We all want to feel secure in our daily lives and what leads to insecurity is the fear of the unknown. In pregnancy there are too many unknowns such as how will labour be, how will the birth be, will I be able to cope with motherhood.
Stress hormones have negative effect on the woman’s and babies health. Firstly if the nervous system is unable to balance, the direct blood flow goes towards the limbs away from the organs including the uterus. There is research to suggests that on-ongoing stress leads to low birth weight. Long term stress inhibits our immune system. Stress effects the woman’s digestion which is already sluggish. The absorption of nutrients is less efficient during periods of high stress. There is research to suggest that chronic stress has negative effect on the baby’s brain development in the womb and that the mother’s own stress response pattern is programmed in the womb. There are links between maternal prenatal stress and the infant intestinal microbiota and health. Although causality cannot be concluded, the results suggest a possible mechanism by which maternal prenatal stress influences the offspring development (Zilmans et al, 2015). Maternal lifetime and incident anxiety disorders are positively correlated with excessive crying (Petzold eta al, 2014).
Understanding the autonomic nervous system will help to establish the effect of stress on pregnancy at a deeper level. The autonomic nervous system is divided into the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest and digest, calm and connect and most importantly it is important to release the hormone oxytocin. The sympathetic nervous system is concerned with the active alert states of challenge, detecting danger and the fight and flight response. The key hormones are adrenaline and noradrenaline. For a healthy body we need a balance between both these systems. The presence of the stress hormone is to inhibit the hormoens needed for labour to begin, for contractions to be effective and for the placenta to be delivered naturally. It is the low levels of oxytocin which affects post partum hemorrhage.
It is through our breath which is the only autonomic function that can voluntary controlled that we can balance our nervous system and influence the levels of oxytocin which is vital for grown, healthy immune and endocrine system functioning, pre and post natal bonding and social interactions.
All this makes relaxation and stress reduction vital for a pregnant mother. One of the relaxation techniques is deep relaxation through the observation of the flow of breath with focus on extending the exhalation. A second relaxation technique is walking meditation which is taking steps which are synchronized with the breath and connecting with the baby by just placing the mother’s hand on the womb. The third relaxation technique is the tension and release practice such as doing an entire body scan where you tense and release each muscle of the body starting from the sole to the crown of the head. The fourth relaxation technique is yoga nidra with visualization to create positive and deep relaxation. Click on the pregnancy resources link to listen to relaxation techniques.