Stress in Pregnancy is Increasing
The stressors for pregnant women have been increasing manifold over the recent decades. The ratio of available OB/GYNs for the millions of pregnancies is much below average which makes care provision very challenging hence, on an average, an OB/GYN spends about 5 minutes over the entire pregnancy per consultation.
The joint family system is the first line of defence especially for children and a major factor in their survival, health, education, development, and protection. It is also a major source of nurturance, emotional bonding and socialisation, and a link between continuity and change. It has the major potential to provide stability and support when there are problems. The joint-family system is on the decline and the nuclear family has steadily surfaced as the dominant form of residential unit, especially in urban areas. This has left the urban pregnant woman with little or no family support to fall back on. While maternal mortality has been steadily decreasing, there has been a 40% increase in paediatric diseases.
It is being proven again and again that regular, consistent mental stress experienced by the pregnant woman affects her unborn baby. It is not just toxic or extreme prenatal stress that bears a connection but also issues such as daily hassles, pregnancy-specific anxiety or relationship strain that can have an adverse effect on the developing foetus.
The 'baby blues' are growing, and more so in Asian countries and urban women with one report indicating its presence in 65% of new mothers. Approximately 70% to 80% of women experience either prolonged depression or a phase of baby-blues a study based on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children indicated that maternal prenatal anxiety predicted persistently higher behavioural and emotional symptoms across childhood with no decrease of effect into adolescence. Elevated prenatal anxiety (top 15%) was associated with a twofold increase in risk of a probable mental disorder in the child.
Stress does pass from mum to baby
A study was done on the children of the Holocaust survivors who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). These children had no connection to the Nazi concentration camps and no personal experience of the stress, but still were born with low cortisol levels similar to their mothers! What do we learn from this? We learn that the unimaginable distress of a concentration camp - lack of food, disease and overwork in which thousands of prisoners died from exhaustion, starvation, and exposure – did not end with the generation that suffered it. It passed on.
Cortisol, the stress hormone damages the unborn baby
Many years later, the same study added to its purview, the inspection of war veterans and mothers who had developed PTSD after the World Trade Centre attacks in New York in September 2001. Again, similar low cortisol levels were found which the mums passed on to their children.
- In his book Nurturing the Unborn Child: A Nine-Month Program for Soothing, Stimulating, and Communicating with Your Baby, psychiatrist Thomas Verny tells us: “If a pregnant mother experiences acute or chronic stress, her body will manufacture stress hormones (including adrenaline and noradrenaline) that travel through her bloodstream to the womb, inducing the same stressful state in the unborn child.”
- Verny goes on to say, “Our studies show that mothers under extreme and constant stress are more likely to have babies who are premature, lower than average in weight, hyperactive, irritable, and colicky. In extreme instances, these babies may be born with thumbs sucked raw or even with ulcers.
Studies have shown that mum’s stress can cause intrauterine infections, low birth weight and premature labour. Pre-term babies are prone to a range of complications later, including chronic lung disease,
Isn’t the baby shaped with parent's DNA?
Originally, it was believed that our traits were based on genes that were transmitted only through the chromosomal DNA we received from our parents. Now, with greater understanding of the human genome, scientists have discovered that chromosomal DNA-the DNA responsible for transmitting physical traits, such as the colour of our hair, eyes, and skin-surprisingly makes up less than 2 percent of our total DNA. The other 98 percent consists of what is called noncoding DNA (ncDNA), and is responsible for many of the emotional, behavioural, and personality traits we inherit.
Studies done on maternal influence on foetus
Children of mothers with PMD (prenatal maternal depression) showed cortical thinning, particularly over the frontal lobes (12) and cortical thinning may be a risk marker for depression. A second study found that the microstructure of the amygdala, indexed by fractional anisotropy, may be altered in newborns of mothers with PMD. A third study showed that PMD-exposed infants had increased functional connectivity between the amygdala and several frontal regions. Together these results suggest that exposure to PMD may influence the development of the frontal cortex, and, particularly, amygdala–prefrontal circuits, with implications for future. For example, altered amygdala–prefrontal connectivity has been implicated in pediatric depression.
Many studies have proven that even when in the womb, the baby can perceive and react to many influences that go on to shape his or her future personality. John Kelly and Thomas R. Verny in their landmark book, ‘The Secret Life of the Unborn Child’ have shared many interesting studies on this.
By the 6th month, the baby can not only hear the mother clearly, she also moves around in the rhythm of mum’s voice. This was proven by Dr. Henry Truby, professor of Pediatrics, Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of Miami. So, mum-to-be, if you are chanting calming phrases or singing calming songs, imagine what a peaceful movement you are creating for your unborn child.
Another study established the importance of mum’s heartbeats. A study was done in which human heartbeat was played in a nursery filled with newborn babies. The babies who were in the room where the heartbeat was played did better than the others. They ate more, weighed better, slept more, breathed better, cried less and got sick less.
Rejection can be experienced by the baby in womb and translate as adult-depressive states. Dr Paul Bick put an anxiety patient into a trance. Slowly moving back across the months he had spent in the womb, the man recalled particular incidents, always describing them in a calm, level voice until he reached his seventh month. Then, suddenly his voice tightened and he began to panic. Clearly, he had arrived at the experience that had become the prototype for his problem. He felt terribly hot and afraid. What caused this? When the doctor talked to his mother, she confessed she had attempted to abort him in her seventh month of pregnancy by sitting in hot bathtubs. It's a marvel that the baby inside understood her intentions and became nervous and depressive even as a adult.
In another study, Dr. Gary Maier discovered that an adult man had deep social anxiety that could be traced back to his mother being humiliated at parties for being an unwed pregnant woman.
While in the womb, babies are quite sensitive to how their mothers are being treated. An observation reported by Dr Michelle Clement seen at his clinic was when the man accompanying his pregnant wife yelled at her, her baby started kicking very furiously. The kicks could be seen from a distance, too.
In one study, it was found that when a mother’s heart starts racing because of shock or fear, her baby’s heart starts beating at twice the speed. It indicates that agitation in mums during pregnancy directly affects the baby and his growth can be affected.
Why is regular Garbhsanskar practise important for today’s pregnant woman?
The pregnant woman’s state of mind affects the development of the unborn baby’s cognitive and noncognitive skills: when she is calm and at peace, the baby reaps significant benefits.
Step 1: Recognize that stress is omnipresent. Perhaps, the triggers for a pregnant woman’s stress cannot even be removed from her environment. What helps in this case is for the woman to articulate the stress in words, acknowledge her response to it and be non-judgmental.
Instead of ‘My husband never takes out time to sit by my side, maybe, he does not even want this baby’, please say -
‘I have been feeling lonely since my husband has a busy schedule. I admit it is making me feel lonely and sad. I am aware that feeling sad is not good for my baby. I will discuss this with my husband.’
Step 2: Know that while sources of stress cannot always be removed, you can do certain activities to minimise its effect on yourself - like deep breathing, meditation, safe yoga, listening to calming music, talking to your baby. Remember, only when you do these consistently, you will see results. Also, it's better to do these under the guidance of trained professionals.
Step 3: Although it may sound strange and weird, your bond with your child starts right from the time you conceive. The baby listens to you and feels your feelings even when it is developing in your womb. You can shape up your baby’s first impressions by listening to good music, meditating and of course, with the help of positive thinking. Continue talking to the baby. Yes, talk loudly - give the baby a name for the time being and describe your day and how excited you are to meet him/her. This will help you build a strong connection and the baby will feel loved and grow a confident personality.
We have relied on the body of research on mindful interventions such as Garbh Sanskar, hence, that has inspired us to put together our Womb Care Program that has:
- Sleep guides
- Harmonising Music
- Talk to Baby and Story-telling (Baby Bonding activities)
- Breathing and Yoga Asanas
- Diet and Pregnancy Info
In a scientific study done on- 520 women, we were able to establish that doing these activities made the women calmer, increased chances of normal delivery+ baby’s birthweight, reduced fear of labour and increased maternal-foetal bonding that led to more successful breastfeeding.
Hence, the age-old goodness of Garbhsanskar stays relevant and we are in the perpetual quest of finding new and more effective ways of helping pregnant women to reap the benefits.