One of the most exciting times in a woman’s life is when she finds out that she is expecting a child. Feelings of exhilaration around starting a new family—or adding to it—consume the new mommy-to-be’s thoughts nonstop. Will it be a girl or a boy? Will he look like his daddy? Will she have my eyes? What color should the nursery be? What will we name her?
The first several months of pregnancy are a settling-in period as the new parents get used to the idea that a baby is on the way. One newly pregnant mom said, “I spend the bulk of my time thinking about my health; what I'm eating and drinking so that I'm proving the best nutrients possible for my growing baby. I'm also noticing the situations around me more, and being conscious to avoid emotional stress and drama. I’m being more mindful of external sounds, like conversations that are being had and music that is playing. I’m going more with Mozart over hard rock,” she laughs.
As pregnancy continues, and the woman’s body begins to change, she goes through a new cycle of thoughts, some of them turning to concerns, fears, and even anxiety. “What will my body look like after I give birth?” “How much is this going to hurt?” “What if I can’t handle the pain of going through labor?” “How will I know what to do?” “What if I make mistakes?” These are all perfectly normal thoughts, and the stress that can accompany these worries can have a negative effect.
The Effects of Your Emotional State on Your Child
It’s no secret that in many ancient cultures found around the world, it is believed that the emotions of an expecting mother have a direct effect on her unborn child. Stress and anxiety have a detrimental effect on the physical body, and when a woman is with child, it’s quite possible that her emotional states can have both immediate and long-term effects on her new baby.
The fight-or-flight response is your genetically wired survival mechanism that kicks in anytime there is a perceived threat to your environment or existence. Anything that stresses you out, from the little things to the biggest—and everything in between—causes your physiology to automatically go into fight-or-flight mode. During this survival response, some of the biological effects, as well as the issues they contribute to, are the following:
- Increase in blood pressure and heart stress contributes to coronary heart disease
- Increase in sticky platelets contributes to heart attacks and strokes
- Increase in stress hormones contributes to anxiety, insomnia, and addictions
- Increase in blood sugar contributes to diabetes and obesity
- Decrease in circulation to digestive tract contributes to digestive disturbances
- Decrease in growth and sex hormones contributes to premature aging
- Decrease in immunity contributes to infections and cancer
The more frequently the mother experiences emotional upset, the more frequently this is registered with her unborn child. By six months in utero, a fetus is already emotionally aware and responsive to both parents’ emotions, as well as the environment the mother finds herself in. Stressful emotions like anger, sadness, and fear can be transferred to the unborn baby who is already able to experience visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and gustatory sensory perception.
Stress Outcomes on Your Baby’s Development
According to Katarina C. Johnson, Ph.D., some of the stress outcomes of the various phases of the baby’s development are as follows:
Prenatal stress and perinatal outcomes
- Shorter gestation and higher incidence of preterm birth
- Smaller birth weight and length
- Increased risk of miscarriage
Prenatal stress and infant outcomes
- Temperamental problems and increased fussiness
- Problems with attention, attention regulation, and emotional reactivity
- Lower scores on measures of mental development
Prenatal stress and child outcomes
- Hyperactivity and inattention in boys
- Emotional problems in girls and boys
- Conduct problems in girls
Psychologists at the University of Denver are also looking at how time in the womb affects a child’s life course. In their work, Dr.’s Davis and Kim are also specifically focused on how stress, both prenatally and postnatally, influences a mother's bond with her child. All in all, it’s clear that stress and anxiety have a detrimental effect on both mother and baby.
One of the biggest factors that can relieve laboring women—and the people supporting them—of their anxiety as they prepare for childbirth is to stay focused on positive thoughts and language. This goes for internal dialogue (how she talks to herself) as well as external conversations with the people around her. Words of encouragement and supportive language will make a world of difference in how she experiences childbirth overall.
As the due date gets closer, many women begin to get anxious about what their labor and child-birthing experience will be like. Inevitably, the expecting mother will have read plenty of articles and heard more than her share of not-so-pleasant stories about giving birth, and she may be starting to feel anxiety around what to expect when the time comes. Here is a soothing visualization process designed to help ease the anxious vibes before giving birth.
Guided Meditation for Calming Anxiety Before Giving Birth
- Find a comfortable, seated position using pillows to support your body and a blanket if you are easily chilled.
- Close your eyes and take some relaxing breaths in and out through your nose.
- As you connect to your inhalation and exhalation, use your breath as a tool to help you settle into a calm, centered and balanced state.
- Relax your shoulders, your abdomen, and your hips, allowing yourself to melt into where you sit.
- Begin by doing a full body scan, starting at your toes and moving up your body. Notice any tension in your physical body or anxiety in your mind.
- Simply observe whatever you are experiencing, giving it a label and acknowledging its presence.
- Connect with what it is, specifically, that you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed out about.
- Next, imagine yourself floating up above where you are sitting and out into the future.
- Go out into the future until you are 15 minutes past the successful completion of the event you were feeling anxious about.
- Allow your focus to be on the most positive, best possible outcome instead, as your end result.
- While you are there, talk with your unborn baby and tell it how much you love it, that everything is going to go smoothly, and that you’re excited for the arrival of your new bundle of joy (or whatever else comes to mind).
- Talk with yourself, giving yourself positive suggestions and loving words of encouragement, again allowing your focus to be on the most positive, best possible outcome as your end result.
- When you are ready, turn around and look back toward now and notice how all the events between then and now re-evaluate themselves to support the most positive outcome.
- Notice how the anxiety has completely disappeared, and then come back to now and imagine floating back down into your body where you sit.
- Take a few deep breaths before slowly opening your eyes and coming back into the present moment.
- Notice that you now feel more relaxed mentally, that you are more at peace emotionally, and your physical body feels more at ease.
Feel free to repeat this guided visualization anytime you are feeling anxiety and be sure that you are working with something specific each time you do it. This guided meditation will help you to let go of the anxiety and feel more relaxed, present, and confident about you and your baby’s future.
Remember that giving your baby a healthy physical, emotional, and psychological start begins with the parents during pregnancy. When asked, a mother of two recently shared that as she’s getting ready to welcome her child into the world, she visualizes everything going well for herself and for the birthing process. She envisions holding her happy, healthy baby in her arms, and later watching her little bundle of joy crawling around and laughing; a happy little baby in perfect health.
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