April 2016 is Stress Awareness Month, and my work over 20 years as a baby wellness and childcare expert has shown that high stress levels in pregnant mothers dramatically increases their baby's risk of anxiety and depression once born.
Stress has become part of every day life and many of us can find it hard to deal with and look for ways to de-stress. However, many people are unaware that stress levels naturally become amplified in pregnancy, as our bodies are out under increasing pressure thanks to an influx of hormones.
When we are stressed our bodies produce cortisol, 'the stress hormone', which causes the fight or flight response and is part of our human nature. A certain amount of cortisol is needed during pregnancy to pass on the natural instincts that we all have. However, too much stress and too much cortisol raises a risk of health problems in your unborn baby.
We all know that excessive stress in our lives can cause many health issues including anxiety, irritability and even cravings and insomnia. Through my research over the years, I have identified that an excess of cortisol during pregnancy raises the risk of these health issues to babies too. Some recent studies have also linked the effects of mum's stress hormone on the baby when pregnant to ADD, mental health disorders and even addiction in later life.
We are seeing a rising trend of mental health issues in children as young as four through to teenage years. It is my belief that increasingly stressful lifestyles when pregnant, over the past decade, is to blame
My book, Babyopathy - which looks at baby care the natural way - highlights a number of ways you can look to reduce your stress when pregnant and in turn nurture your baby's wellbeing.
Here are my sensory based tips to reduce stress when pregnant:
1. A sip and a sniff
Aromatherapy can be used safely during pregnancy if products have been developed especially for pregnancy or you are using recommended oils in a vapouriser etc. If you have to travel a lot for your work, or use the trains and underground, it can quickly cause you to feel nauseous or faint. Angela recommends to keep a bottle of lemon essential oil in your bag (as well as a bottle of water to sip) so that you can waft it under your nose to give you an instant mood and energy lift and fight nausea.
2. Music is food for the soul
Music is one of my favourite sensory 'tools' - it can make you happy, it can make you cry, it can help your digestion and it can help you relax. Setting aside a time in the evening each day to play some relaxing music and just sit and absorb it will not only help you to de-stress but from about 17 weeks your baby is able to hear through the womb and will recognise familiar tones and rhythms once born so you are already setting the foundations of a 'bedtime' routine
3. Just breathe
Meditation or mindfulness is a growing trend in managing stress that I thoroughly recommend trying to pursue. However, when you are busy and already feeling stressed and pressured some people find it difficult to find the time. She suggests, when feeling stressed and overwhelmed just take a moment for a few deep breaths - complete lungs full of air breathed in for a count of 5 and out for a count of 5 just to re-balance you.
4. Crystals are a girl's best friend
Move over diamonds, there's a new rock in town! Rose quartz is the 'mother' of all crystals when it comes to pregnancy. It has a loving, protective energy during pregnancy (and childbirth) and is powerful in healing during stressful times. Many underestimate the power of crystals, and this is one of my favourites. There are some beautiful polished crystal bracelets available now that will work to combat your stress levels during pregnancy.
5. A walk in nature
The biophilia hypothesis is our inbuilt connection with nature and how this can nurture wellbeing (and aid development and healing). Just a 10 minute walk immersed in nature, a walk along the riverbank or in amongst trees, can have a direct affect on our wellbeing reducing stress and improving our mood. If the sun is shining you get the added benefit of some much needed vitamin D as many of us have a deficiency of this essential vitamin.