The importance of relaxation during pregnancy

The importance of relaxation in pregnancy

Why is it important to relax during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, a calmer approach to every day’s challenges is essential not only for the healthy development of the foetus but also to prevent possible future diseases. Studies indicate that the mother’s biochemistry has direct influence onto foetal development.[1]

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the “fight or flight” response, the reaction of the body to perceived dangers: the heart rate and pressure elevates, the blood rushes to the limbs and the flow of oxygenated blood to internal organs like the uterus and the placenta decreases.[2] Although the human body is prepared to cope with stress, and short-term stresses do not affect the baby, prolonged, chronical exposure to stress has a negative effect on the baby’s development and health.[3] It lowers the immune system, increases the chances of developing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.[4] Stress during pregnancy has been linked to increased risks of pre-term labour, pre-term birth, low birth weight. Moreover, individuals who experienced stress in utero have higher probabilities as an adult to develop heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.[5]

Relaxation on the other hand, helps to reduce anxiety and nervousness. Calmer states of mind stimulate the part of the autonomic nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) whose main function is to activate the body’s “rest and digest” response.

During labour, remaining calm will help the mother release hormones like oxytocin which act as a natural pain killer and will facilitate birth.

Some of the possible practices that can be included throughout pregnancy to promote relaxation are:

1. Deep restorative posture (supported Savasana):

This pose restores the body and mind after the practice. It is a conscious rest that allows the mind to become stiller and quieter. Using your yoga mat as a base, place two blocks (one on its higher position, one on its lower) underneath a bolster or big pillow so that it lies at an angle. Sit as close as possible to the lower edge of the bolster and rest the length of your spine on it. Place blankets or other props to support your knees and let the arms fall to the sides using more props if necessary. For an extra treat, put on an eye pillow and enjoy as much time as possible in this position.

Alternatively, lie on your left side (especially after the 28th week). Support your head with a pillow, keep your hips stacked, and your entire body warm and comfortable.

2. Breath awareness (Pranayama):

Deep, conscious breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, a part of the PSNS. The heart rate slows, the blood pressure decreases, and the muscles relax creating an overall feeling of calm.[6]

Try practicing Ujjayi breath or Nadi Shodana. Ujjayi warms the body, helps maintaining breath awareness (due to the sound and sensation of the technique), creates a quietness and calms the nerves. Nadi Shodana activates and balances the energy channels in the subtle body and harmonizes the hemispheres of the brain.[7]

3. Instant relaxation practices:

Tension releasing practices that combine movement and breath like voice sighing, shaking out arms and legs, and standing swinging twists are helpful. Rotating, and flexing and extending the neck, the shoulders, the wrists, and ankles (Pawanmuktasana energy freeing series), unlocks stagnant energies in the joints and promote relaxation. Having a laugh is also an effective and quick way to let go of stress.

4. Meditation and visualization:

Meditation and visualization techniques awaken the awareness of intuitive guidance[8] of mothers-to-be, create a deeper connection with themselves and their babies, promote positive emotions and help managing fears and anxiety.[9] If you’re not familiar with these practices try an audio guided meditation.

[1] How does the mother’s emotional well-being impact the child within her womb? https://www.brucelipton.com/blog/how-does-the-mothers-emotional-well-being-impact-the-child-within-her-womb

[2] What Research Says About Stress During Pregnancy https://www.parijatdeshpande.com/post/2016/10/30/what-research-says-about-stress-during-pregnancy

[3] University of Zurich. “Too much stress for the mother affects the baby through amniotic fluid.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170529090530.htm>.

[4] Stress and pregnancy https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/stress-and-pregnancy.aspx

[5] Fetus to Mom: You’re Stressing Me Out! https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/fetal-stress#1

[6] Proper Breathing Brings Better Health https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/

[7] Stephens, Mark. 2010. Teaching Yoga. Essential Foundations and Techniques. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, p. 248-258.

[8] Dinsmore-Tuli, Uma. 2017. Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth. Improve your wellbeing throughout pregnancy and beyond. London: Teach Yourself, p.188.

[9] Elkind, Sue. 2019. Dig Pregnancy, Birth and Baby: A Conscious and Empowered Approach to prenatal and Postnatal Yoga. SN Living Yoga, Inc., p. 30.