How important is relaxation during pregnancy? Very! When you’re strained, you produce stress hormones. These hormones affect your physical and emotional well-being. And when you’re pregnant, hormones can cross the placenta and color baby’s experience as well. Studies suggest that an anxious mom-to-be is more likely to produce an anxious baby (often seen as “colicky” in the early weeks), and a happy mom may very well create a happier baby. Because maternal hormones can influence baby’s development and future temperament, it’s in everyone’s best interest to generate more feel-good vibes and fewer stress-induced feelings. Baby thrives in a low-stress environment—he’s less likely to arrive preterm and more apt to gain weight and sleep soundly after birth.
Of course, no pregnancy is nine months of nirvana. Simply aim for a positive, relaxed pregnancy overall, and field the inevitable stressful situations with calm when you can. Let go of unnecessary tension, and opt for optimism. The best relaxation tactics will help you enjoy your body, connect with your baby, and cool your nerves. If you’re feeling serene, so is baby!
Getting pregnant doesn’t mean the rest of your life can be put on pause. You’re likely just as busy working (or wrangling baby’s older siblings) as you were before. When your time is limited, even a few minutes of quiet contemplation can be an oasis of calm in your day. Focus on slow, steady breathing, consciously relax your muscles, and conjure up a “happy place.” Particularly during pregnancy, meditation can mean focusing on your baby and reflecting on the changes taking place in your life and in your body.
Prenatal yoga will relax your mind and body, but that’s only the beginning. Practicing yoga while pregnant can also improve sleep, reduce inflammation, up your mood, and enhance your strength and flexibility, preparing you for childbirth. You may see a decrease in pregnancy discomforts such as lower back pain, nausea and headaches. Plus, yoga benefits baby as well. Preterm labor and intrauterine growth restriction are less common among yogi mamas. If you like to unwind in a social setting, sign up for a prenatal yoga class, and get to know other expectant ladies in your area. If you would prefer to pose in private, find a DVD that suits you (it should be specifically prenatal), and get moving in your living room.
Going for a walk
Moderate exercise—walking, swimming, yoga—can produce pleasurable endorphins, as well as help you shed a few calories and stay fit. It can make delivery and recovery easier and make losing the baby weight less of a hurdle. Plus, if you’re walking outside rather than on a treadmill, you’re breathing in fresh air and gaining mental clarity at the same time. Take your partner or a friend with you, and an evening walk can become a chance to connect socially too.
Reading books (and magazines) about pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing will, of course, help you understand what your body is going through and prepare for the future. But losing oneself in a great novel is one of life’s sweet pleasures. So pick up your tablet—or unplug and flip some papyrus—and enjoy a little distraction.
A thorough massage from a well-trained practitioner can be a godsend during pregnancy. Find a masseuse specially trained in prenatal massage (friend referrals may be your best bet), and schedule an appointment for a day and time when you won’t be in a rush. When you’re on the table, let your worries float away as you connect with your pregnant body. Massage can relieve some of the tension and aches of pregnancy, such as lower back and leg discomfort. Expect your mood and circulation to improve and your swelling and stress level to drop. You’ll likely sleep better too! Afterward, up your H2O consumption—masseuses often recommend drinking water after a massage to flush out any toxins that may have been released into the body.
Baths are wonderful for relaxing muscles and calming the mind—just keep the temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Test the temperature against your wrist, or use a bath thermo-meter.) If the water is any hotter, your body temperature will rise and limit blood flow to baby, which could be damaging. For this reason, hot tubs are not recommended during pregnancy. Some mamas like to use essential oils for extra relaxation or Epsom salts to reduce swelling, but check with your doctor to get the green light before adding these boosts to your bath.
Nothing can modify your mood quite like music, so pick something that reflects the feeling you’d like to stimulate: upbeat and energetic or slow and soothing. Of course, employ your own good judgment—just like with TV, avoid music that raises your stress level. (Rage Against the Machine was fun in high school but maybe not so much now.) Listening to music can also promote parent-baby bonding. Because baby’s hearing is fairly developed by the end of the second trimester, he may enjoy tuning in to your tunes. Gadgets like Bellybuds or Lullabelly play music directly to the belly, but baby would probably be just as happy to hear you sing if you’re up for it.
Studies have shown that watching TV slows down your brain activity and may depress your metabolism as well. However, a little boob tube here and there won’t kill you. Because pregnancy has your hormones raging, be mindful of what you watch. For example, the evening news may seem more upsetting than usual and lead to increased anxiety. If you’re feeling sensitive, your best bet is something lighthearted that will leave you with a smile.
Journaling is beneficial anytime, but when you’re pregnant—and possibly feeling moody, worried or forgetful—putting pen to paper can be especially soothing. Pent-up emotions will soon be set free, and as you record your thoughts, you may develop a greater sense of focus and stability. So jot down your feelings, record your body changes, and plan for the future on paper. Someday you’ll want to look back and remember what it was like to be pregnant (nausea and all). And if you’re not a pen-and-paper kind of gal? Blogging can be therapeutic too. Keep it private and personal, or share your posts with the planet; either way, you’re sorting through your thoughts and clearing your mental slate.