Prenatal Stress Affects Babies

We worry about our babies from the minute we discover we are pregnant. I think we intuitively know that babies don't like it when we mothers are under stress. They are steeping in our chemical make up, after all. It only makes sense that if we release stress hormones, the babies will feel the effects. We know that it's important to minimize stress on the job and in the home.
What the study out of the Netherlands suggests is that stress doesn't just have a transient effect; it actually changes the biology of babies.
"...pregnant women with high stress and anxiety levels are at increased risk for spontaneous abortion and preterm labour [sic] and for having a malformed or growth-retarded baby"

(Mulder, Robles, Medina, Huizink, Van den Bergh, Buitilaar, Visser, 2002)

Of course, some of us have been saying that for a long time. In The Biology of Transcendence, Joseph Chilton Pearce explains the biology of how this happens. In Prenatal Parenting, Dr. Fred Wirth discusses how stress impacts the 'fetal brain architecture'. And of course in HypnoBirthing, we teach methods for optimizing fetal brain growth and bonding through relaxation techniques that bring a peaceful calm to mom and baby throughout each day of the pregnancy and every moment of the birth.

What seems to escape most people is that perhaps the biggest contributor to the stress in most women's pregnancies is the prenatal care they receive! The entire system is build upon the premise that 'something' could go wrong at any moment and we must look for problems at every visit, using every test we can invent, regardless of whether we can do anything about the problems, whether the problems actually exist or not, and even if the tests themselves cause problems.

In Expecting Trouble: What expectant parents should know about prenatal care in America, Dr. Thomas Strong closely examines the safety and efficacy of prenatal care as we know it. Ultimately, his findings are the same as those in A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth available free online through Childbirth Connection. Most prenatal tests (not to mention birthing interventions) are not supported by evidence and often to nothing but increase the amount of ANXIETY mothers feel. Yes, you read that right: all of these routinely administered tests have done NOTHING to make mothers or babies safer in the US. Far from it. In the years I've been studying childbirth (over 15) more and more tests have been introduced; more and more interventions are now standard in 'normal' birth. Maternal mortality has remained essentially the same. Infant mortality has worsened. For some sobering statistics, see Born in the USA: How a broken maternity system must be fixed to put women and children first, by Dr. Marsden Wagner.

A few years ago, I asked mothers of twins to tell me their stories. I received about 50 responses. I wanted to see if there was a difference in twin pregnancies managed by midwives and doctors. There was: in the pregnancies managed by doctors, with the mantra of 'twins always come early and are always small', twins came early (often because if they didn't come by 36 weeks the doctors would induce or surgically remove the babies-talk about a Pygmalion Effect!) and were small. In the midwife attended twins, often the twins went to 39, 40 or even 41 weeks and weighed 6, 7 or even 8 lb.

One woman's doctor performed dozens of ultrasounds, despite the fact that ultrasounds have been implicated in early miscarriage and low birth weight! Now, granted, a twin pregnancy is just cause for a couple of ultrasounds. It's important to determine if the babies are monoamniotic, and it's also important to know their position at the time of birth. But what exactly did 2 or 3 a month tell her doctor? How did it change her care? One thing it did for certain was reinforce the idea that 'something' could go wrong at an minute, inducing STRESS and nearly ensuring a pre-term birth; a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Every test and intervention has its place. There are medical indications that precipitated the introduction of each one. For mother-babies who are sick or injured in such a way that those medical indications manifest, those tests and interventions are appropriate. For the other 90%, they are at best worthless, and at worst dangerous.

How much stress could be avoid, how much healthier would our mother-babies be, if we taught women how to be healthy in pregnancy instead of convincing them they were sick?

Mulder EJ, Robles de Medina PG, Huizink AC, Van den Bergh BR,
Buitelaar JK, Visser GH., (2002).Prenatal maternal stress: effects on pregnancy and the (unborn) child.Department of Perinatology and Gynaecology, University Medical
Centre, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Extreme Pumpkin

Ok, I just have to say, the brilliant idea wasn't mine; it came from Extreme Pumpkins but it was too darn funny. As a HypnoBirthing instructor, scary thoughts include posterior babies and birth this painful.
Unfortunately, when it's dark enough to see the detail of the little baby's face lit up, it's too dark for a decent picture with the camera I have, but it is even funnier when you can see both faces in the dark.
It turned out cute. I had to share.


New Baby On the Way!

Wow, our nephew and his wife, Josh and Maggie, just had a gorgeous little girl last month, and now my baby sister is pregnant! It's all very exciting!
I'm waiting to hear an announcement from my brother and his wife next. They have two beautiful girls now, but I think my brother was offered one more chance for a boy at some point. Who knows if that offer is still on the table?
So, now I'm back to knitting baby stuff, which I love!
I guess now that I'm back trying to be consistent about this blogging stuff, I'll say a bit more about HypnoBirthing too. I never did get around to that in any detail back when the question was asked.
HypnoBirthing is all I teach now. I used to teach another method, but once I found HB, and women were having such great success, I decided I was where I needed to be.
What is it? It's a class that teaches women to use self-hypnosis for birth. About 30% of women experience pain-free labor/birth. Many comment that it wasn't pain free, but it was certainly manageable and they didn't suffer or anything. Of course, most of my clients see some fabulous CNMs at Aurora in Oshkosh, so they are very happy with their HypnoBirthing births.
The bonus of HB is that using the techniques throughout pregnancy has other benefits to mom and baby as well. The Biology of Transcendence by Joseph Chilton Pearce, Prenatal Parenting, by Dr. Fred Wirth, and the video What Babies Want all speak to the science of this. Yoga is also beneficial in the same way. It's a wonderful way to treat yourself, bond with your baby, and create a gentle birth all at the same time!
For more information, testimonials, and practitioners in your area, you can go to the official website or my website.


Subsidizing Obesity

Ok, so today the debate continues on MSN about obesity in America. Once again, it is suggested that PSAs should show "a person complaining about how a fat neighbor's medical bills are costing taxpayers"
There are a couple of problems with this thinking.
First of all, not all fat people are lazy, gluttonous or unhealthy. To be sure, some (perhaps many) are, but I'll get to that in a moment. I am personally about 75 lb. overweight. I walk several miles a day, I do yoga several times a week, I bike, yadda, yadda, yadda. I 'out move' my 16 year old daughter who would slip into a coma if she moved any less, and she's about 5'5' and can't weigh more than 100 lb. I can think of at least a half dozen people in my own little social circle who are far thinner than I am, move less and eat more. Oh, who also spend thousands annually on medical bills. I've spent maybe $1500 in the last 17 years, INCLUDING my homebirth (proven to be as safe as, or safer than, hospital and far less expensive) and my broken arm (acquired while ROLLER BLADING no less).
Second of all, if it's ok to single out fat people for the medical bills the taxpayers end up shouldering, perhaps we could deal with the fact that as a taxpayer, I object to paying for hospital births and formula. Hospital births cost 3 to 10 times more than a homebirth with a midwife (depending on if the birth is simply full of non-medically indicated intervention or if it's surgical), with NO (none, zip, nadda) improvement in outcomes. No fewer babies die. No fewer mothers die. The only difference is that more mothers and babies do suffer injuries IN THE HOSPITAL, costing the U.S taxpayers at least 7 B-I-L-L-I-O-N annually. In fact, with increasing technology, mortality (death) rates for babies has risen in the last 20 years, and remained unchanged for mothers. Countries where homebirth and miwives are the norm have far better outcomes than the U.S.
Now, here's the really ironic part: as a tax payer, I have to pay for formula for the nearly one million WIC recipients who will not breastfeed.
If you add in the costs of all women who don't breastfeed, the "Total Annual Cost of not Breastfeeding: $1.186 to $1.301 billion" (yes, that's B-I-L-L-I-O-N EACH YEAR"
That isn't even adding up the 2 to 5 times more illnesses bottle-fed babies will generate 'medical bills costing taxpayers'. Me. I pay for that.
Where's the irony, you may ask? Here it is. Formula feeding, among other things, increases OBESITY rates.
This shouldn't be surprising since formula ingredients include cow's milk (whey protein concentrate-another irony is that mothers are told not to give their babies milk for the first year, yet a waste product from the diary industry is in the food they give their babies) and sugar (maltodextrin), which are both implicated in obesity. Therefore, by birthing my daughter at home, breastfeeding her, and not constantly giving her antibiotics and contributing to the antibiotic resistance problem imposed on me by all the parents who insist on antibiotics for their kid's recurrent ear infections and colds against the advice of the CDC I've
Now, instead of getting pissy about how much my fat costs you, let's be fair. If we really want to get serious about eradicating obesity and the toll it takes on us financially, let's stop subsidizing sugar "to the tune of $1.4 billion US annually" ; or beef, which would cost $35 dollars a pound if it wasn't subsidized ; or milk. Simply making these items prohibitively expensive would lower obesity rates. Oh, and how about tossing potatoes into the mix, considering the popularity of chips and french fries.
Now, instead of subsidizing unhealthy products, help out bean, legume, fruit and vegetable farmers. Tax the hell out of things like violent video games that keep kids tethered to the couch (at the very least). This would place the burden on the truly lazy, gluttonous, but most importantly of all, unhealthy people.
But that won't happen because the consumers of those products we KNOW contribute to the problem includes plenty of THIN people. We don't REALLY want to actually FIX the problem; we just want a reason to blame fat people because some thin people like to feel sanctimonious. We don't want actually deal with the root issues because that would make a lot of thin people feel sad that they didn't have a reason to revile fat people. All fat people deserve to feel bad. Right?