(Part 3 of 3)
An ounce of prevention paves the way to a healthy pregnancy!
In Part 2, I discussed the impact stress can have on our mental (and physical) health and how regular, ongoing prevention can play a critical role in our mental health & wellness. In Part 3, I will discuss the importance of preventative mental health and wellness during pregnancy as well as how to apply preventative measures in our every day lives.
Are you pregnant or trying to get pregnant? The time for health and wellness is now!
Pregnancy is an incredibly wonderful time of change for individuals, couples and families! It can also be an emotional and highly unpredictable time. Due to its unpredictable nature, pregnancy often brings a moderate amount of fears and worry which can lead to a heightened sense of stress.
Can stress affect my baby? In a word, Yes! A mother’s body, including her genes, are affected by her thoughts, perceptions, behavior and surrounding environment, all of which also influence the degree of stress she experiences. Heightened maternal stress during pregnancy can create a series of chemical changes in the body and brain which affect both the mother and the developing child. If ever there was a “right” time to begin preventative measures in mental health, it is the period surrounding pregnancy.
A mother’s emotional state during pregnancy impacts both her health and the health of her child during and beyond childbirth:
- Women who experience untreated prolonged periods of anxiety or depression during pregnancy are more likely to continue feeling depressed after giving birth and are more likely to have additional depressive symptoms in the 5 years following childbirth.
- In some cases, prolonged periods of maternal stress has been linked to cognitive and behavioral issues in the developing child as well as smaller birth weights and/or early delivery.
Not all stress was created equally. Mild to moderate amounts of stress during and after pregnancy are common. In fact, 80% of women will experience what is called the “baby blues”, a term used to describe feelings of worry, fatigue and general unhappiness. The baby blues is a fairly common reaction during the first few days after delivery and usually subsides within 1-2 weeks. However, in some cases the baby blues can spiral into something more serious. Fifteen percent of all pregnancies result in post-partem depression. A condition that should be addressed with and treated by a mental health professional.
Whether stress induces the baby blues or the other way around, it’s safe to say that the two almost always go hand-in-hand. Learning how to recognize and reduce areas of stress, before and during pregnancy, directly benefit you and your child by keeping the baby blues from spiraling out of control. Prevention is the key to doing just that!
Preventative Health and Wellness Tips
The importance of breathing on stress reduction is often overlooked because of its simplicity. Learning proper and appropriate breathing techniques enables you to quiet your mind, connect with your body and increase oxygen to the brain, promoting a state of calmness.
Create a supportive social network of friends and family whom you can turn to and rely on in times of need. Having a social network adds to a sense of community, belonging and security. Social support has been known to reduce the risk of ill health and increase an individual’s overall sense of well-being, including an increased ability to cope with various life stressors.
Unpredictable times lead to unpredictable stressors. Don’t get caught off-guard! Identifying potential stressors and learning evidence-based techniques, such as mindfulness, to help control, reduce and overcome anxiety are among the first steps toward achieving mental health and wellness.
While moderate amounts of stress during pregnancy are common, it is important to know when you and your baby have had enough. If, for some reason, you feel as if you are experiencing prolonged periods of stress, the symptoms associated with the baby blues are not getting better or you experience negative thoughts, fears or worries that begin to interfere with your daily activities, it may be an indication of a larger problem and a sign that you may want to seek professional help.
Only a professional can help you determine whether what you are experiencing is the baby blues or perhaps something more. Together, you and your mental health provider can discuss ways to reduce stress, increase your coping skills, optimize relaxation techniques and create a wellness plan that works for you.
To enhance your mental health and wellness during pregnancy, action is necessary. Prevention offers knowledge, strength and power. It is the first step toward a happier healthier YOU! Make a commitment to invest in yourself, your baby and your futures by taking preventative action today!