When it comes to mental health and wellbeing we know that too much stress is bad for anyone. Stress causes cortisol to surge around the body and can leave anyone suffering with it’s really unpleasant side effects.
For a woman being stressed in pregnancy, birth or in the postnatal period has a profound effect upon her but also up on her baby, both as it develops inside the uterus and the days, weeks and months after birth.
There are many reasons why a woman may struggle with stress however it shouldn’t be caused by their maternity journey. It could be that her pregnancy has been difficult or a previous birth was traumatic or maybe loss of a baby is causing distress. If these are the cause for stress in pregnancy or the postnatal period it is vital that support is offered.
For a baby in utero growing and developing, stress can be damaging. Protecting infant mental health therefore starts with protecting women emotionally in pregnancy.
What about the birth itself? When a birth is difficult, even traumatic, the effects on a woman and her relationship with her baby can be profound, both physically and emotionally. Bonding can be affected and a woman may find it hard to even feel love towards her baby. Feeding can be affected, as can all aspects of caring for her newborn. A difficult birth can affect maternal mental health sometimes resulting in postnatal depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder.
In the postnatal period many women struggle to voice that they have found their birth experience to be traumatising and so will seek to move on, often being told that a ‘healthy baby is all that matters’. If support isn’t accessed or is unavailable after a difficult birth, feelings of fear and anxiety can persist. When another pregnancy comes along these feelings can be greatly increased, creating severe stress and anxiety in the woman and maybe her partner too.
For other women a difficult birth it can result in hyper-vigilance over their baby, fearing that something awful may happen to them. It can result in an over protection for their baby, with a reluctance to seek support and help with caring for their baby. This can mean stress for both the woman and her baby.
Development of a baby’s brain in the early weeks and months can set the foundation for progression into adulthood. Secure attachment, bonding with caregivers and learning that they are safe, cared for and their needs responded to, help the firing of synapses that make lifelong connections supporting good mental health. So it is important that this is supported by good maternity experiences.
Support for women and their partners around their birth experience is vital. Providing support if a birth is traumatic or if a previous birth has been traumatic is vital to not only maternal mental health, but infant mental health too. Prevention of stress, the damage it can do to mums and babies, safeguarding them both emotionally includes support before birth and after.
Unfold your wings believes that mums and babies deserve the support that will help them both to flourish. Making sure that birth experiences are acknowledged and help is given to support healing, and moving beyond birth trauma when needed, can do much to to keep our families emotionally well for years to come.
Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: ://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052760/