It is now widely recognized that babies are intrinsically affected physiologically and energetically by the multi-sensory experiences provided for them in their mother’s womb. This means that if mum is able to enjoy a predominantly calm and relaxed state of being during pregnancy, then her baby will benefit from the calming influence of such feel good hormones as endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin.
Dr Sarah Buckley writes in her book “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.”
“The experiences that will begin to fire and wire your baby’s brain start in your womb, with the physical sensations that provide the earliest learning. These include being physically supported by the womb and amniotic fluid, being kept warm by your body warmth, being gently rocked as you walk, being exposed to different tastes from your diet via the amniotic fluid, hearing your voice and voices of other family members, and feeling calm and settled when you are calm and settled. Conversely, high levels of stress during pregnancy can fire and wire your baby’s brain for dysfunctions in learning and over-reactivity to stress”.
It is important to add that some stress during pregnancy is normal, however chronic or sustained stress causing high levels of cortisol and a predominance of the catecholamine hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, permeating the maternal-foetal system can negatively impact a woman’s pregnancy and have been associated with complications such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and even sleep and behavioural disorders in young children.
It is therefore so very important for mothers to learn how to relax during their pregnancy and especially to have the confidence and ability to transfer these relaxation skills into her labour and birth experience.
The Benefits Of Relaxation In Pregnancy Include The Following;
- Feeling more resilient and enjoying a better ability to cope with stress.
- Improves your feelings of wellbeing.
- Reduces anxiety.
- Reduces the effects of extreme tiredness associated with pregnancy.
- Soothes the body physically as less aches and pains are felt which are usually due to muscular tension.
- Learning to breathe optimally using relaxation methods can assist the mother with some of the physical discomforts of pregnancy and also provides a great preparation for birthing.
- The baby benefits and thrives from the hormones released during relaxation.
- Specific pregnancy relaxations and visualisations can assist to strengthen pre-birth bonding and communication with the baby.
- Visualisation in pregnancy can assist in developing a positive expectation and attitude towards birth.
- Specific relaxations during pregnancy can identify and assist to release fears and frustrations.
Being ultimately relaxed in labour is key to a positive birth experience. Your body is equipped to birth far more easily when the hormones of labour that are designed to support the normal physiological flow of labour release optimally and without hindrance. This is much more likely to occur when the mother is feeling private, safe and undisturbed and can access a deeply relaxed parasympathetic state using the tools of relaxation.
Fear, stress and anxiety when present during labour can activate a woman’s sympathetic nervous system to produce a fight/ flight response and the subsequent release of the hormones of adrenaline and noradrenaline.
These Stressor Hormones Can Then Affect The Physiology Of Labour In The Following Ways;
- Inhibiting the release of oxytocin and therefore often slowing down the first stage of labour.
- Diverting blood flow to the systems of defense, thereby restricting blood flow to the uterus, which is not part of the defense system.
- Limited blood flow means limited oxygen, the uterus is a set of muscles. What do muscles require in order to work properly? Oxygen.
- Oxygen to the baby is limited.
- Pain is created.
- Labour can be prolonged.
- “Failure to progress” is often called by caregivers.
- Interventions are then introduced.
- Emergency C-section is often the end result.
The Benefits Of Relaxation During Labour Include;
- Promotes the optimal release of oxytocin, the hormone of love and the primary hormone of labour, it regulates the frequency length and strength of your contractions and works best when the mother is feeling, calm, safe, loved unobserved and deeply relaxed.
- As labour gets stronger if the mother is deeply relaxed, her body will respond by producing ever increasing amounts of beta-endorphins her bodies natural opiates that have been proven to be up to 40 times stronger than morphine, therefore her experience of the labour sensations will be less painful.
- The beta-endorphins can also alter a mother’s perception of time, what felt like 5 minutes might actually have been an hour or more, this is a wonderful tool in labour!
- Allows the mother to calm and refocus between contractions, communicate with her baby and birth team and conserve her energy.
- As the mother is calm and relaxed during labour the calming hormones are transferred to her baby as he or she makes their powerful transition from womb to world.
- Baby receives more oxygen when the mother is breathing calmly and optimally during labour.
- A relaxing space or environment that has been set up for a labouring mother not only will benefit her and her baby, but will often have a positive effective on the demeanour and approach of her caregivers, especially in highly clinical birth settings.
So What Ways Can A Mother Learn How To Relax During Her Pregnancy?
There are a wide range of methods of relaxation available, ranging from very in depth to very simple and easy to use in every day life. It should be possible to choose one or more relaxation methods that you feel comfortable with. Some examples of types of relaxation follow.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Yoga Nidra or Guided Imagery
“The relaxation response yields many long term benefits in both health and well-being and can be bought on with very simple mental focusing or meditation techniques. People eliciting the relaxation response open a kind of door, clearing and rejuvenating their minds and bodies, readying themselves for new ideas and suggestion”
Dr Herbert Benson (Author of “Timeless Healing: the Power and Biology of Belief”).
Breathing Awareness & Practice
When you are stressed you may be taking shallow breaths and even be unconsciously holding your breath at times. Deep intentional breathing can really enhance your relaxation. Take a slow deep breath in through the nose, breathing up from the abdomen, holding for a moment, then slowly releasing the breath preferably back out through the nose, dropping the shoulders and visualizing all tension leaving the body with every breath.
Breathing out more deliberately can assist you to release tension and gain a more relaxed position. Sometimes even doing a big sigh out can help you to truly let go too!
Hypnotherapy & Visualisation Practice
If a mother can relax and enjoy pregnancy and approach her birth from a place of confidence as opposed to anxiety then she can generally prepare and look forward to a more positive birth experience.
The relaxation tools, affirmations, visualisations and hypnotherapy processes found in The Hypnobirthing AustraliaTM program and many other gentle birthing methods are invaluable to mother’s in assisting them to develop and enjoy good relaxation skills and habits for birthing and parenting.
“Every surge is a reminder to fully relax and go deeper”.
“I feel my body floating on a warm cloud of relaxation”.
“My baby’s birth will be easy because I am so relaxed.
Massage & Chiropractic/Osteopathic Bodywork
Prenatal massage has so many physiological and emotional benefits for you and your baby, schedule a regular treatment during your pregnancy, and ensure that your body is well supported as it adapts to support your growing body by checking in with your Chiropractor or Osteopath consistently.
Yoga & Exercise
Prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to slow the pace down in your pregnancy, relax and learn to connect with your baby through movement and also to learn some specific postures that can assist you to birth comfortably. Although not all women find exercise enjoyable, it is a fabulous stress reliever. Taking a walk, swim or enjoying your favourite activity can provide a welcome change from the daily routine.
Taking Regular Warm Baths
With your favourite pregnancy safe essential oils. If you are pregnant during summer, float belly up in the relaxing ocean!
The development of relaxation skills is vitally important to both mother and her baby during pregnancy. If practiced regularly it is key to helping them both feel calm and prepared for birth as well as during labour to surrender and release for a positive and empowering birth!
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