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Does Fear and Worry in Pregnancy have an Impact on my Baby?


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Does Fear and Worry in Pregnancy have an Impact on my Baby?

Bridget Wood

By Lael Stone

When a woman first finds out that she is pregnant, many conflicting emotions can move through her. From joy to disbelief, worry to excitement and everything in between.

Most women will spend the first 3 months of pregnancy getting their head around the fact that they are going to be a mother and how life is about to change. Then once the happy hormones start to kick in around the second trimester,women start to think about how this baby is going to come out. It is not surprising at all that the majority of women are frightened about childbirth and worry about their health and safety of their baby. After all, we get told horrible, dramatic birth stories, which seem to highlight all the things that can go wrong. We see television that portrays birth as the biggest emergency ever and particularly in our western culture we are bombarded with stories of how painful birth can be. We are not exposed to what normal birth looks like, we don't see our cousins or sisters give birth, we arent viewing empowered births on television or in the media and therefore most women create a story in their head of how bad birth is going to be. In my Calmbirth workshops, I ask women what they want for their ideal birth. The main answer I receive is“ I just don't want it to be too traumatic”

It is rare that I hear a woman say that she wants a calm and peaceful experience. Most of the time it is“ I just want to minimize my trauma”

Being in a culture that has set up birth to be a very medicalised event and one that is inherently dangerous, it is no wonder that worry, fear, and stress feature heavily for a pregnant woman. Combine that with the fact that most women will continue working till 37 weeks gestation and keep moving at the fast pace of life, we have to ask what is the impact of this stress and fear on our bodies and our babies?

Professor Phil Baker, Director of Gravida the National centre for growth and development in New Zealand says that ,

“More and more we are finding that the health of all of us, from childhood to adulthood, is influenced the most by the earliest time of our lives.Recently researchers have been able to show that stress during pregnancy can translate into long-term physical effects on a baby. Researchers looked at more than a million pregnancies in Denmark, taking advantage of coordinated health records linked up with social data. They took a specific marker of stress, a death or diagnosis of cancer in a child, sibling or parent during pregnancy – and looked at birth outcomes. They found higher instances of mothers going into preterm labor, higher instance of babies being smaller, and a range of long-term health effects including a higher risk of schizophrenia in their offspring. Suggesting yes, babies’ brain development is altered in some subtle way through maternal stress,” (1)

Professor Baker says research points to a complex interplay of hormones having effects in both mothers and babies, like cortisol, the stress hormone – as well as the increasingly understood area of epigenetics, where environmental influences such as steroids can switch genes on and off in babies.

So what can we do to help alleviate this stress and fear?

Professor Baker suggests “Getting everything as right as can possibly be prior to pregnancy is one of the key preparations and is where all health professionals can help mothers the most – and emotional wellbeing may be as important as physical wellbeing.”

Even before conception, taking steps to remove stresses in your life, eating better and helping your body move into its optimal health all play their part in a healthy pregnancy.

Throughout pregnancy, there is much that can be done emotionally and mentally to help create the best environment for your baby.

Dealing with your fears and concerns instead of laying awake at night worrying about them is one of the best steps you can take to destress.  Fears are not a bad thing - they often play an important role in keeping us safe. However when we let the fear rule our life or create greater stress, then we often have a problem. Education is one of the best ways to help deal with fears in birth. Learning a technique such as Calmbirth works on many levels to help the mother have a calm and relaxed pregnancy as well as helping her to achieve a positive birth. Normalising birth, educating the partner on how he can best support his woman and learning breathing techniques, help to destress the mother and reduce adrenalin in her system. Calmbirth also works with the Sub Conscious mind, helping to reprogram fears and belief systems to assist the body in birthing.

It has been clear to me in over 10 years of working in birth, that the more a woman deals with her fears and stress, the better pregnancy she has and ultimately the better birth experience. Birth can be so variable in how it unfolds, but women do have control over how they view the experience and how calm they are throughout the process. Learning techniques in pregnancy helps to assist a woman in labour, as well as create on going benefits for the baby by minimising stress. This, in turn, creates better health outcomes for mother and baby.

The Face of Fear” with presenter Sonia Sly (Part Two: Anxiety and Phobia - 29.03.13 - see notes on the rest of the series here:

Lael Stone is a proud mother of three children who has worked as a Birth Attendant/Doula, Childbirth Educator and certified Calmbirth Instructor since 2004. From a background in wellbeing and counselling Lael was compelled into the field of childbirth education by her own birth experiences. Lael has interviewed and collected birth experience data from hundreds of Australian women throughout her career. This data provided insight and motivation to develop the About Birth Online Education Program, a pioneering way to learn about birth and early parenting. Lael has spent the last few years working one on one with women around fears in their pregnancy, negative birth experiences as well as working with families to develop more connection with the Aware Parenting model. She is a certified Aware Parenting Instructor and runs regular groups for mothers as well as workshops and private sessions. Her passion is to create wellness in families through connection, communication and education.

EVENT: Hear Lael speak on the Q&A Panel at our event 'In Utero' on 13 July (early bird tickets end 1 July)