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Stress During Pregnancy - June is the Routine in the Womb Awareness Month

Routine in the Womb is my awareness campaign that has been running every June since 2017, to raise awareness of the increased risks and effects associated with maternal stress on the unborn baby during pregnancy.

The entire world has just been through 2 of the most stressful years a woman can imagine when it comes to pregnancy and birth. We forget that as a society we are living day to day with the highest stress levels and many, if not most women are stressed before they even conceive, stress after all is one of the biggest factors affecting fertility! lists the causes of stress as:

· Being under lots of pressure

· Facing big changes

· Worrying about something

· Not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation

· Having responsibility that you’re finding overwhelming

· Not having enough work, activities or change in your life

· Times of uncertainty

So if we look at this list in relation to the last two years of lockdowns, pregnant women have faced elevated stress levels on a prolonged basis which has continued in to their birth and now the early years of their child’s life. Women have faced:

· Being isolated, inside four walls, at a time of great worry and when they need their ‘community’ the most

· Feeling pressured to restrict themselves from society and their loved ones at a time when hormones, questions and emotions are in need of answers and support.

· Receiving restricted maternity care and limited, and sometimes conflicting advice whilst having to attend all important appointments and scans alone. This of course has impacted partners too.

· Giving birth alone, in an environment that is not conducive to reducing stress or helping relaxation, with only unfamiliar midwives who themselves are extremely stressed.

· Being isolated again after birth, at a time when they need support from their ‘community’ of family and friends the most. Mum’s mental health is at its most fragile.

‘what has completely amazed me is how the entire medical profession has ignored one of the biggest dangers to pregnancy, birth, the life and mental health wellbeing of the unborn baby and lets not forget the mothers themselves. This is proven research, it is not just my theories and predictions. Why aren’t we taking this issue seriously? Why is it only me who is raising this awareness to mums as early in their pregnancy as possible, when it should be one of the most important pieces of information alongside the effects of drinking, smoking and taking drugs!’

The risks associated from stress were well known, researched and documented before the pandemic, hence why the campaign was started in 2017, these include:

· Increased risk of miscarriage

· Increased risk of premature or emergency birth, still birth or neonatal death

· Increased risk of mental health concerns in the new born baby and beyond including anxiety, ADHD, addiction and schizophrenia in later life which also contribute to developmental and cognitive delays.

· Increased risk of post-natal depression and wellbeing concerns for mum

I always cite the work of Professor Vivette Glover, Professor of Perinatal Psychobiology at Imperial College London in particular for highlighting the potentially damaging risks of stress during pregnancy on the unborn baby’s developing brain. Professor Glover is award winning for her research in pregnancy and infant health.

One of those pieces of research include a paper on “Maternal prenatal cortisol and infant cognitive development” published by the Society of Biological Psychiatry (2010) by Bergman, Sakar, O’Connor & Glover:

Early glucocorticoid exposure may have lasting effects on the neurodevelopment of the offspring. Prenatal cortisol exposure, indexed by amniotic fluid levels, negatively predicted cognitive ability in the infant. The evidence suggests that increased cortisol in utero is associated with impaired cognitive development and that its impact is also dependent on the quality of the mother-infant relationship.

In addition, a 2011 paper “Prenatal stress and the origins of psychopathology” from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that stated:

If a mother is stressed or anxious whilst pregnant her child is more likely to show a range of symptoms such as those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, aggression and anxiety. There is good evidence that prenatal stress exposure can increase the risk for later psychopathology.

Whilst there are risks, there are things that women can do to reduce those risks. This year the campaign focus is simple, it is about sharing information, making mums aware of risks and empowering them with the knowledge of how they can combat stress:

  • First and foremost, women need to be informed, if they don’t know the risks they cannot even begin to reduce their stress levels

  • We can educate mums on the baby’s energy and sensory journey over the coming months – when they develop their senses and how they can be nurtured but most importantly how they can be impacted

  • guide mum on the effects of maternal stress and how to alleviate it using Babyopathy – meditation, relaxation, massage, aromatherapy, music and sound therapy, colour psychology, biophilia and routine

  • guide mum on their own energy and sensory journey during pregnancy and how to support it using Babyopathy

  • guide mum on their lifestyle and how to prepare for an addition to the family, mentally, physically and emotionally.

  • Finally, we can start talking about it, as employers, as medical professionals and start working towards environments and practices to support women and their unborn baby during pregnancy and beyond.

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