By: Janice Champion
The importance of regular relaxation in pregnancy
Being pregnant can be such an exciting time in life and an emotional rollercoaster. Any major life change, even when it is positive, can be stressful. There are the hormonal ups and downs which can cause mental fatigue. Then there are so many changes taking place in the body, as well as the increasing weight of the baby, which can bring about physical fatigue.
Short periods of stress can be ok for us and even healthy, but when these periods of stress are prolonged, it can have an affect not just on your body, but on your baby too. When stressed the blood pressure and heart rate rise and the breath is shallow and faster, due to the release of cortisol and adrenaline from the adrenal glands.
When we cannot avoid stress, and let’s face it, life can be stressful even when not pregnant, managing stress is important. Just getting to a meeting or to work on time can cause us to go into the emergency response. Going into the fight or flight response on a regular basis, such as with chronic stress, causes the body to use all its resources for that. This reduces resources for natural functioning such as digestion, repair and healing of the body. It can also interfere with growing your baby.
benefits of regular relaxation
Going into relaxation on a regular basis helps to de-sensitise the body to stress and anxiety, so that when stressful situations come along (as they do) we are less reactive and cope better. When relaxed, stress hormones decrease so the heart rate slows down, blood pressure normalises and breathing is steady. This also provides a practical way to make your birth better as you will be more able to relax during labour.
Research has shown that women labour better when relaxed and that is why Hypnobirthing is so effective. Hypnobirthing teaches you to relax regularly using special visualisation, hypnosis and breathing exercises, supported by your birth partner or husband. Entering relaxation sends messages to the body that all is safe and well, so that the healthy normal functioning of the body can go on. When you take time to quiet the mind, the calming physiological changes that happen are communicated to your baby. Oxygen circulates freely, and the baby receives the psychological and physiological benefits.
The great thing about practicing relaxation regularly, it gets easier each time that you do it. Your body and mind remember as they learn through repetition. This enables you to relax more quickly and effectively when it is needed, such as labour. It will also be useful when you are trying to breastfeed or settle your baby. It can help with ‘baby brain’ as your memory improves and you can think more clearly, enabling you to make better decisions. As your feelings of well being improve, you may also find you have less aches and pains. As your body rests and repairs itself, your immune system is able to do its job more effectively.
Many people when asked what they do to relax will say they watch TV. This can be a nice way to relax your muscles as you sit during the evening watching Eastenders, but it does not relax the brain and nervous system and can be quite stimulating. It takes your focus out of yourself like so many things in life where we are bombarded with information. Relaxation such as a guided meditation helps shift your awareness inwards to a place of inner peace.
Mental health is as important as physical health, as it is common for pregnant women to develop symptoms of low mood, anxiety and depression from unmanaged stress. According to Tommy’s – the UK’s largest charity researching the causes and prevention of pregnancy complications, it is thought that 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. Regular relaxation can help prevent the development of anxiety and depression in pregnancy and in the postnatal period.
A systematic review by Fink et al found that women who used regular relaxation during pregnancy led to fewer admissions to the hospital, fewer obstetric complications, less likely to have a premature baby, reduction in caesarean sections and fewer postnatal complications. Babies were also less likely to be of low birth weight and had improved performance on the neonatal behavioural assessment scale.
tips to relax in pregnancy
- pregnancy yoga at least once a week
- regular guided meditation
- daily breathing exercises
- go for a walk in nature
- listen to soothing music
- do a Hypnobirthing course
- repeat positive affirmations
- have a bath (light a candle and add a few drops of lavender oil to the water)
I hope you have enjoyed this blog on the importance of regular relaxation in pregnancy. If you have any questions, or would like more information about hypnobirthing courses or pregnancy yoga then please get in touch.