The mind-body connection — it’s something we hear a lot, but what exactly does it mean? In short, the thoughts and emotions in one’s mind have the capability and potential to affect the physical body and its reactions, as a result of a complex system of hormones coursing throughout the body. This mind-body connection is evident throughout all aspects of life, but is especially notable as far as pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting is concerned.
Right from the beginning of pregnancy, a woman’s thoughts and emotions can affect her growing baby. When a woman is fearful, upset, or anxious, her body releases stress hormones. These hormones enter the bloodstream, traveling through the placenta, and then on to her baby. Some studies suggest that this early exposure to these stress hormones can cause a baby to be more fussy and irritable once he or she arrives. On the contrary, mamas who spend time relaxing every day doing such activities as meditation or yoga, pass that same sense of calm and well-being to their little ones.
During labor and birth, the mind-body connection is amazingly powerful. In order for a woman to progress in her labor, she needs to really let go, trust the process of birth, and dig deep within herself. The logical, thinking part of her brain is pushed aside, as her primitive, instinctual part of the brain comes forward. When she is able to do this, her body responds, and labor is often shorter and easier, requiring little to no outside intervention. If she is stressed, anxious, afraid, nervous, hungry, thirsty, scared, uncomfortable in her surroundings, or concerned with the well-being of those around her, her body will release stress hormones. These hormones impede the production of oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions of the uterus. When the oxytocin isn’t flowing, labor will often slow or stop until she feels safe and secure in her environment. Think of a wildebeest laboring in the wild. If a lion attacks, will she continue to labor and birth her calf? Certainly not. She will get to safety first before bringing her little one into the world. In the birthing world of humans, we often forget our animal roots. Much of the time, this slowing of labor leads to interventions that are designed to speed up labor artificially, when what a woman really needs is to talk about her fears, eat something, or be reassured that what she is experiencing is normal.
After birth, the mind-body connection continues. When breastfeeding, a woman needs to be very relaxed. Oxytocin plays a crucial role in breastfeeding, causing the milk ejection or “let-down” reflex. Just like in birth, if a woman is stressed, her oxytocin production is diminished and she’ll have difficulty getting her milk to flow. If she is uncomfortable or anxious, not only will feeding be more difficult, but also parenting in general. Babies pick up on positive and negative energy of their caregivers, so a calm parent will make for a calm baby, while an anxious parent will make an anxious baby.
Throughout pregnancy and beyond, take time every day to improve your mind-body connection. Relax in a warm bath, talk about your fears, meditate, practice yoga, do some deep breathing, and connect with your baby–your mind, your body, and your baby will feel the positive effects!
What do you do to make sure you find time to relax in your daily schedule?