Mental Health Awareness Month – Mental Health Begins in the Womb!

I fully support the need for better mental health services, especially where post-natal depression is concerned, to help those in need now. However, we are facing an even bigger time bomb, because future mental health wellbeing begins in the womb. Baby’s brain in the womb is affected by cortisol, the hormone released by the mum when stressed and we are the most stressed, especially when pregnant, than we have ever been before!

 

Back in 2011, the paper “Prenatal stress and the origins of psychopathology” from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 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.

 

In addition, a paper on “Maternal prenatal cortisol and infant cognitive development” published by the Society of Biological Psychiatry (2010) by Bergman, Sakar, O’Connor & Glover also confirmed:

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.

 

Also, a new US Government report called ‘Principles of Substance Abuse Prevention for Early Childhood’ addressed the major influences on a child’s early development:

The biological, psychological, social and environmental risk factors that lead to addiction take root during pregnancy and the stresses a child experiences before the age of eight also plays a big role in addiction in later life. Providing a stable home environment, adequate nutrition, physical and cognitive stimulation, warm supportive parenting and good classroom management in the early years of a child’s life (prenatal through age 8) can lead the child to develop strong self-regulation.

 

Finally, in this study, Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression & Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development it is noted:

More recently, maternal antenatal anxiety and/or depression have been shown to predict increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders in children, and to confer risk for future mental illness. Reports show that elevated levels of antenatal depression and anxiety are associated with poor emotional adjustment in young children. The impact of women’s anxiety (and/or depression) during pregnancy has been found to extend into childhood and adolescence, as well as to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, predicting attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in 8–9 year old children as well as alterations in HPA axis activation in 4 month olds in our laboratory and in 10, and 14–15 year olds.

Studies discussed in this paper, all of which are ongoing, indicate that pregnant women’s psychological health may have consequences for foetal neurobehavioral development, and consequently, child outcomes. These findings underscore the importance of considering the effects of women’s mental health on child development during the prenatal, as well the postnatal, periods.

This study was completed by:

Kinsella MT, Monk C. Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression & Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology. 2009;52(3):425-440. doi:10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181b52df1.

 

How many studies do we need before we act upon the research?

We are already seeing the outcomes of this research in the mental health of our children, please see my blog ‘Children as Young as Four Have Mental Health Issues, plus there are now studies being done on this – when does it end?

Mental health wellbeing begins in the womb and the only way we can start to change the outcomes for our children is to start where it begins!

My Routine in the Womb campaign, which already has over 7,000 followers on Facebook and we haven’t officially launched yet, empowers parents to take back control of their lives from the stress filled world we live in today through a range of Babyopathy tools such as meditation, aromatherapy, music therapy and more.

My unique programme give parents the tools to reduce their stress and therefore the effects of increased cortisol throughout their pregnancy but also through the all-important birth and beyond.

In the meantime, here are my top tips for reducing stress when pregnant from my blog last year

  1. A sip and a snif

Aromatherapy can be used safely during pregnancy if products have been developed especially for pregnancy or you are using recommended oils in a vapouriser etc. If you have to travel a lot for your work, or use the trains and underground, it can quickly cause you to feel nauseous or faint. Angela recommends to keep a bottle of lemon essential oil in your bag (as well as a bottle of water to sip) so that you can waft it under your nose to give you an instant mood and energy lift and fight nausea.

  1. Music is food for the soul

“Music is one of my favourite sensory ‘tools’ – it can make you happy, it can make you cry, it can help your digestion and it can help you relax” says Angela.

“Setting aside a time in the evening each day to play some relaxing music and just sit and absorb it will not only help you to de-stress but from about 17 weeks your baby is able to hear through the womb and will recognize familiar tones and rhythms once born so you are already setting the foundations of a ‘bedtime’ routine”

  1. Just breathe

Meditation or mindfulness is a growing trend in managing stress that Angela thoroughly recommends trying to pursue. However, when you are busy and already feeling stressed and pressured some people find it difficult to find the time. She suggests, when feeling stressed and overwhelmed just take a moment for a few deep breaths – complete lungs full of air breathed in for a count of 5 and out for a count of 5 just to re-balance you.

  1. Crystals are a girl’s best friend

Move over diamonds, there’s a new rock in town! Rose quartz is the ‘mother’ of all crystals when it comes to pregnancy. It has a loving, protective energy during pregnancy (and childbirth) and is powerful in healing during stressful times. Angela Says “many underestimate the power of crystals, and this is one of my favourites. There are some beautiful polished crystal bracelets available now that will work to combat your stress levels during pregnancy”.

  1. A walk in nature

Angela’s book, Babyopathy, which is based upon the care and development programme used in her children’s nurseries, encompases the biophilia hypothesis which is our inbuilt connection with nature that can nurture wellbeing (and aid development and healing). Just a 10 minute walk immersed in nature, a walk along the riverbank or in amongst trees, can have a direct affect on our wellbeing reducing stress and improving our mood. If the sun is shining you get the added benefit of some much needed vitamin D as many of us have a deficiency of this essential vitamin.