When I was pregnant with my little girl and we went along to our 20 week scan, I was shocked to discover that I had what the sonographer described as low blood flow through the placenta. I already knew that my baby was on the small side but I had put that down to genetics - neither my husband or I are particularly well built or tall. I was even more taken aback when they suggested that I needed additional scans to monitor the situation and this it might mean that my little girl might arrive early. I did what any nervous mum-to-be would do and Googled the problem as soon as possible.
What I read scared me a little but it also made sense - that the mother’s stress levels could affect the metabolism of the placenta. In other words, how I was feeling could be affecting how nutrients were passing across to my baby and this could be hindering her growth. And now, as is the way with anything you Google, there is evidence that shows the opposite can be true too.
We can all agree that chronic stress during pregnancy isn’t great. How can we deal with it though? Having a baby is stressful - there’s a birth to arrange, a seemingly never ending list of stuff to buy, worries about money, fears around giving birth, constant unwanted advice and bump touching plus you actually have to figure out how to look after this small human once they’ve safely arrived.
I’ve never been an anxious person but I had to work really hard to keep my looping mind in check. Luckily, the placental insufficiency problem naturally went away and my daughter was born a perfectly healthy 7lbs 3oz. Here’s how I kept on top of the thoughts that kept me up at 3am.
1. Write it all down I found this helped massively. In fact, now people around me know when I’m worrying about money and organising things, I’ll be found making a spreadsheet. I had lists of the baby things I wanted to buy, a spreadsheet which kept a running total of baby related expenditure and then also an income spreadsheet - what I was going to earn before my maternity leave started and outgoings as well as monthly budgets for before and after baby. It took it all out of my head and stopped the endless looping to do list.
2. Relaxations and mantras I’ve always leaned heavily on relaxing activities and positive thinking in times of pressure. Pregnancy was no different. I started each day with half an hour of gentle pregnancy yoga then listened to my positive birth affirmations MP3 as I got ready for my day. During my commute on the train, my headphones went on and I looked through the positive mantra cards I had - 10 positive birth statements that I went over each day. You may not be sure that the yoga is particularly working for you or that the mantras are going in but focusing on those instead of your usual worries will buy you a valuable bit of headspace.
3. Facing birth fear head on A little bit of trepidation or uncertainty is normal when such a life change is approaching but if you’re really starting to worry and dread is creeping in, consider finding a professional who can help you with your fears. Hypnotherapists are great at dealing with specific fears such as blood or needle phobia whereas hypnobirthing teachers are trained to help you prepare for your birth more generally. Midwives will help answer specific medical questions and doulas can be a great source of emotional support for the whole family.
4. Politely decline what you’re not happy with I was so stubborn about this. I just couldn’t bear it. Not only would I refuse all birth stories as soon as a well meaning person started to talk (whether they seemed good or bad, I just couldn’t take the risk), I also didn’t want to hear about or see anything medical - dentists visits, operations, general health stories, hosptial programmes on TV. I just had to protect my space.
5. Stay close to your partner I now look back on my pregnancy as a magical time for us as a couple. We had so many beautiful conversations about how our little girl might look, what we should call her, how she might grow up. At the time though, on the days which were difficult, I did feel a gap between us that I wasn’t sure how to fill. My body was working so hard to grow our little human and there were so many things that I felt like only I could understand. I know now that this was probably my mega protective mum hormones taking hold - I think these same hormones were what was making me feel like only I could get it right. Know that this might happen and make an effort to share. Your partner will most likely love to be included and take some of the strain for you.
6. Meditations and visualisations This was one of the most amazing parts of being pregnant and now I already have a child, it likely won’t happen again. Whenever I had some time alone, I would sit on the floor, facing our garden, and breath, directing energy to my baby, sending positive energy her way. Somedays I would wait for her kicks, others I would imagine a golden glow getting stronger each time I breathed in. There are loads of pregnancy visualisations that can accompany meditation - Headspace is one of my favourites (I’m just a fan! This isn’t a paid endorsement). I also carried with me a vision of how I wanted my birth to go: My partner and I, at home, with the door to the garden open, laughing and dancing, ready to gently welcome our baby into the world.
Keeping your anxiety in check during pregnancy isn’t easy. It’s so worth making the effort though. A calm and confident mum will birth and raise an equally calm and content baby. The 9 months will be over before you know it. Hang on in there mama.
This post was written for and first appeared on The Natural Parent Magazine.