As a woman considering a family, you know it’s important to keep up with your physical fitness and your healthy diet, but did you know emotional health during pregnancy is just as important?
According to the Government of Western Australia Department of Health, emotional health during pregnancy controls hormone fluctuations–one of the stimulants babies respond to in the womb.
What affects emotional health during pregnancy?
Not all pregnancies are planned and not all families can easily accommodate another addition to the ranks. Even when they are planned, babies are expensive, and raising a child means taking on the added financial responsibilities of foods, diapers and supplies the child quickly grows out of.
Hormone fluctuations combined with concerns about finances and child care can place an extreme stress on mothers-to-be, and as a result emotional health during pregnancy can suffer.
Some women are already under emotional stress; perhaps their family relationships are not where they would like them to be or perhaps they have suffered recent hardships in life.
And even for women who have external factors taken care of and who have no want for money or support, pregnancy is a hormonal roller coaster, and there are bound to be good days and bad days when it comes to emotional health during pregnancy.
Why emotional health during pregnancy is important
While a fetus can respond to sounds and vibrations early in development, the primary stimulants in the womb are hormones.
Mothers-to-be should keep this in mind, especially if they find themselves under conditions of chronic stress; just as the stress hormone cortisol can affect an adult negatively, experts indicate that same hormone may predispose a baby to chronic illnesses later in life.
“The stress hormone cortisol may be a key factor in programming the fetus, baby or child to be at risk of disease in later life,” said Professor Megan Holmes, a neuroendocrinologist from the University of Edinburgh/British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science in Scotland (UK), in a symposium for the British Neuroscience Association.
“Cortisol causes reduced growth and modifies the timing of tissue development as well as having long lasting effects on gene expression.”
Other issues, such as depression, can also negatively impact a fetus, according to WebMD.
Mothers who are anxious and depressed during pregnancy are more likely to have babies who start to show sleep issues around the age of 18 months. Those same children also report more incidence of hyperactivity and anxiety as they get older.
“Anxiety and depression [in mothers] don’t predict [a baby's] total sleep, but do predict sleep problems and disruptive sleep,” researcher Thomas O’Connor, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, told WebMD. “The babies may sleep just as long, but they wake up more often and they have trouble falling asleep.”
Research has also shown that babies born to stressed mothers are often underweight and more likely to present health issues and hyperactivity.
Maintaining good emotional health during pregnancy
It will be impossible to completely maintain your moods while you are pregnant; Mother Nature is working against you with all of your natural hormone fluctuations.
You can, however, try to manage your emotional health during pregnancy with these tips:
- Be prepared so you aren’t looking last minute for supplies.
- Inform your doctor if you have had depressive episode prior to pregnancy so you can come up with a game plan to prevent more from happening.
- Exercise to release endorphins, which are important to boost mood. Try to exercise multiple times during the day. Ask your doctor the appropriate exercises for each stage of pregnancy.
- Stay connected with positive friends.
- Only talk positively to yourself and your baby, even if you don’t feel like it.
- Keep a journal so you can express your concerns and negative feelings rather than holding them inside.
- Eat right to help your body feel healthy.
- Join an online forum to discuss your concerns with anonymity.
- Meditate — this can help you balance out your emotions and drastically reduce your stress levels. Five minutes is all it takes but of course, the more you meditate, the better you will feel.
- Focus on all the things that make you excited and happy about this new life you are creating inside you.
- Do not sweat the small stuff. Now that you know how your emotions affect your baby, make an effort to not worry about things that are really minor.
- The same way your negative emotions affect your baby, your positive ones also stimulate him. Anything that elicits peace and joy in you will compensate any negative influence from stressful situations. Do things that put you in a good mood — listen to music, dance, play.