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Cath Coleman from Kent Hypnobirthing talks about recognising and managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy.
It is common for many women to feel difficult emotions during pregnancy. After all, expecting a baby can be exciting, stressful, joyful or scary, and it is perfectly normal to experience a roller-coaster of emotions.
But prenatal depression and anxiety are more serious and you may need extra support.
Prenatal depression can be caused by the changes in your hormones during your pregnancy. But it can also be caused by many other things, such as feeling stressed and overwhelmed about becoming a mother, relationship or financial problems, your feelings about your changing body, or previous difficult pregnancies.
Symptoms of prenatal depression
- Low mood
- Lack of energy
- Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
- Isolating yourself
- Feelings of guilt
It is common to have feelings of anxiety when you are pregnant. Many women worry about their baby, the birth, or how their lives will change after their baby is born. But if you find your worrying excessively, or if your anxiety is becoming overwhelming, you may have prenatal anxiety.
Symptoms of prenatal anxiety
- Feeling anxious, worrying or panicky most of the time
- Racing or intrusive thoughts
- Unable to sleep or relax
- A racing heart or faster breathing
- Sweating and hot flashes
- Feeling shaky or having pins and needles
- Dizzy or light-headed
- A sense of dread and thinking the worst is going to happen
Self-help ideas for prenatal depression or anxiety
If you think you or someone you know might have depression or anxiety, it is important you see your GP or midwife. They can help by referring you to a mental health professional and may offer you talking therapies, such as counselling.
There are some ways you can manage mild depression and anxiety yourself.
- Make sure you connect with friends and family, talk to other people and don’t isolate yourself.
- Take care of your physical health – eat well, get enough sleep and stay active
- Keep a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings
- Relax – just 20 minutes a day is enough to help anxious thoughts and boost your mood. Try reading a book, going for a walk or having a long bath
- Practise self-care – do what you enjoy and make time for yourself
- Have a resilience toolkit – write a list of people, places or activities that life your mood. This could be anything – a movie you love, somewhere you love to walk or cuddling with your dog. Then when you feel low or anxious, look at your list and do one of those things.
Cath Coleman teaches hypnobirthing courses in Canterbury with Kent Hypnobirthing. Having worked as a mental health nurse for 17 years, she is experienced in supporting women with anxiety and depression during pregnancy.
A is for adrenaline
Adrenaline is the hormone that is released when your body feels fear. When you feel afraid, threatened or somewhere unfamiliar, your primal brain, the sympathetic nervous system, triggers freeze, fight or flight mode and secretes adrenaline. What effect does this have on birth and the birthing mother? In early labour, adrenaline can reduce the flow of blood to the uterus in favour of outer extremities, causing your uterus to tense, your heart rate to raise, make you feel anxiety and panic and stall your surges (contractions) and labour.
So how can we reduce the production of adrenaline in labour in order to prevent labour stalling and the resulting interventions such as induction to kick start labour with synthetic oxytocin? We need to switch from the freeze fight or flight state to a calm state. To do this we need quiet, dimmed lights and as little distraction and chatter as possible. There’s lots you can do to help with the natural production of oxytocin to get those surges going.
Adrenaline does however have a place in birth, and birthing women get a rush of adrenaline at the “transition” phase of labour. Most midwives will tell you a woman transitioning will suddenly start saying she can’t do this, want to get baby out and so on, but the adrenaline actually gives the mother a huge rush of energy which is needed near the end of labour, and helps with the strong contractions needed to birth baby.
Want to read more? Find the rest of Erin’s A to Z of Birth on her website.
Julie Dodd from North Kent Yoga shares her thoughts on why doing yoga during pregnancy is so beneficial.
There are many reasons why attending a prenatal Yoga class during your pregnancy could be beneficial. Here a just a few examples:
Getting some regular ‘me’ time is important for everyone’s well-being. At a prenatal yoga class you can relax, have fun and make friends with other pregnant ladies, often gaining a support network to help you during your pregnancy, through the early years of motherhood or even making lifelong friends
Comfortable, Calm Pregnancy
Yoga can help you remain comfortable and calm throughout your pregnancy. When practiced regularly, Yoga can help to strengthen and stabilise your body as it changes while your baby grows, safely tucked up inside your womb. Yoga can help to prevent or ease the discomforts of pregnancy such as pelvic girdle pain, back pain, insomnia and anxiety.
Prepare for Birth
Yoga can also help you to prepare you for the birth of your baby by learning breathing techniques and labour poses to aid the birth. Familiarise yourself with the different birthing positions and calming breathing techniques available to you, all in the comfortable environment of a Yoga class. This can empower you to feel confident to use them when the time comes, making labour and birth a more comfortable experience.
Feel Connected and Supported
Your Yoga teacher will know lots of local pregnancy and birth well-being specialists such as doulas, hypnobirthing and independent midwifes. She may even invite them along to the class occasionally. Learning about what is available for your pregnancy and birth can help you make an informed choice about your birth plan. This can help you to feel calm and confident about the birth.
So, what are you waiting for? Google your nearest pregnancy yoga class now!
Julie teaches prenatal and Scarravelli Yoga in Swale, Maidstone and Medway. www.northkentyoga.com
Emma Rosen, writer, mother, singer and breastfeeding advocate. shares her views about the realities of becoming a parent and why honesty in motherhood is so important.
Hands up if you’ve heard phrases like, ‘You’ll forget it all soon enough,’ ‘At least you got a healthy baby,’ ‘You’ll miss these years – the best of your life.’ Did it make you want to kick those people in the shins for brushing you aside?
People do have a tendency to rose-tint parenthood.
The wonderful little bundle, the hours gazing at them, the fulfilment of raising this little human… These things are of course true – I’m not trying to say that parenthood is a constant thankless slog – but it’s important to remember the other side: the difficulty of growing and birthing a tiny human, the mum guilt, the ‘so tired I might die’, or the isolation. None of these things make parenthood bad – rather, they make it real. Human relationships aren’t easy, they’re complex. I’m sure every one of you could tell me the most annoying things about the person you love most or the hard things about a job you love. Everything is multi-layered.
It’s normal to want to put a positive spin on experiences; the issue is that when we sugarcoat our experiences we influence the expectation of others. If pregnancy or parenthood are set up as perfect and beautiful, when our personal experiences are different we feel cheated, or worse, responsible. That doesn’t mean we should be spreading horror stories either, we just need to be honest.
Humans communicate and learn through social stories.
If we were in hunter-gatherer communities we’d be sitting round the fire sharing tales, but we don’t do that any more. We are increasingly isolated and living in filtered online communities. The implications of this are that our personal interactions become so much more important in establishing what constitutes an ordinary experience.
I wrote my book Milk as an honest story of my pregnancies, birth and breastfeeding. It’s a complex story with cultural, social and historical context. My experience was good, bad and every shade in between. I wanted make sure my telling of it was honest in order to help other parents feel less alone or for birth workers to have more empathy. My story is my own and of course everyone’s experience is different. Whilst not everyone is going to write a book about their experiences, you will most likely be talking about them in some form. Be real – we owe each other the benefits of our shared stories.
Emma Rosen loves all things breastfeeding and volunteers as a peer supporter at a local breastfeeding support group. When she’s not writing or chasing her children, Emma makes YouTube videos, stares at the sea and sings in a band.
A baby who cries constantly for no apparent reason can put huge pressure on parents and family life. By acknowledging that birth is a dramatic and considerable experience for a baby as they journey from the security of the womb to the outside world it may help to consider that your baby could be expressing their birthing experience through crying and body language.
As well as times of intense physical pressure during labour, a baby may become disorientated, their body flooded by stress hormones or drugs through the umbilical cord, or deprived of oxygen as the cord gets compressed during contractions.
Babies can be deeply affected physically, emotionally and psychologically by the way they are born and this experience can be held in the cells and tissues of their bodies, a concept known as ‘body memory’.
After birth, your baby may be trying to express their ‘body memory’ through body language and crying as they try to communicate their birthing experience.
Needs Crying and Memory Crying
Crying can be for a present moment need such as being hungry, uncomfortable or tired, called ‘needs crying’, and once the need is met the crying stops.
However, constant crying for no apparent reason, called ‘memory crying’, often occurs when your baby is experiencing internal body sensations that relate to an earlier experience (body memory), such as a moment in the birth that was overwhelming. Memory crying is often associated with repetitive body movements, such as, for example, frantically pushing with the legs or swiping an area of the head or pulling an ear again and again. Babies need us to respond to the experience they are holding in their bodies.
How to support Memory Crying
It is well-documented that babies thrive on empathy. They respond to facial expressions and tones of voice. They are conscious human beings. How we are able to listen to a baby after they are born is very important, and by listening with accurate empathy babies can begin to release the tension associated with held experience/ body memory.
If you sense your baby may be memory crying here are some things you can try yourself:
- Acknowledging that they want to tell their story and that it is ok to cry,
- Calmly making eye contact and quietly asking what it is they want to tell us or what they want us to understand,
- Mirroring their facial expressions or hand movements.
Craniosacral Therapy is another very gentle way of supporting you and your baby to come into relationship with body memory using light touch and sensitive listening, enabling you and your baby to begin to resolve held experience associated with birth or womb life. Craniosacral Therapy can also offer support for:
- early infant feeding problems including colic and reflux
- neck pain and stiffnes
- settling the nervous systems
- developing good sleep patterns
- establishing and supporting breastfeeding
References: Mathew Appleton (MA RCST UKCP) ‘ Birth trauma. A cultural blind spot’ and ideas from the late John Chitty.
Unfiltered Motherhood: Building a community to support women through Matrescence
Maria Garcia (Unfiltered Motherhood)
I became a first time mother last December. My experience of Motherhood turned out to be a lot different than I expected. The first 3 months of my daughter’s life I was keeping afloat, on survival mode, feeling very vulnerable, lost, scared, sad, angry…Reactions that took me by surprise. I cried almost every day, sometimes twice. I started wondering whether I was suffering from postnatal depression. Seeking for help, I talked to other mothers and 95% of them told me what I was feeling was completely normal, that they had felt the same way when they had their children.
I asked myself why I didn’t know about this? How come women are not talking about this openly.
I started researching the subject and found out there is a term that defines everything I was feeling. This transitional stage into Motherhood is called Matrescence. This is a healthy developmental stage women undertake when entering Motherhood.
Matrescence is experienced by women in many different and individual ways, nevertheless there are broad psychological aspects that can have a significant impact. They include:
A brutal hormonal imbalance
This hormonal imbalance starts during pregnancy in preparation for birth and continues once the baby is born, remarkably during the 1st week after birth as a consequence of the breast milk coming in regardless of whether you decide to breastfeed.
The act of giving birth
The act of giving birth is life changing whatever your experience of it is. When this experience turns out to be negative or even traumatic it is crucial to talk about it. Failing to do so can lead to potential psychological consequences as the impact that experience has can get locked in the woman’s body.
A loss of identity
We give birth to our baby and ourselves at the same time, but the woman tends to get lost in the process. The mother seems to become invisible as the baby takes centre of stage. The role of the woman changes completely, becoming a mother, a new role she has yet to find her feet in. Her identity fades away and there is a loss of the old life. The baby takes up all the mothers time and all the activities and hobbies she used to do before are secondary.
Changes in the family unit/relationship
The relationship/family configuration needs to be re-organised as there is a new member. Some couples experience their relationship falling apart, they distance from each other and find it very difficult to connect again. The baby takes priority and everyone and everything else in the mother’s’ life competes for her attention. This can awaken jealousy and feelings of abandonment in the couple and other members of the family. Another difficulty is that sometimes the partner doesn’t know what their role as a parent is which can leave them feeling very disconnected and out of place.
A door to own childhood opens
It is inevitable to become in touch with our own childhood as becoming a mother is informed and formed by how we were mothered.
During my pregnancy I attended various courses, all of them focused on birth and keeping healthy during pregnancy. To be honest, I didn’t have the head space to think beyond birth, plus there were no courses focused on women’s mental health, on women’s wellbeing and psychological preparation into motherhood. We are forgotten about once we become mothers,we are expected to be recovered within 40 days and have every aspect of our lives under control. Everything that doesn’t match that idyllic Motherhood happy picture is not accepted and women end up repressing all those difficult feelings that can emanate from the savage life changes stated above. This leaves us feeling ashamed, guilty and isolated. Especially in our western isolated lifestyle where we don’t have the much needed community to support us through Matrescence.
Unfiltered Motherhood is a project I developed aiming to create a community for women. The goal is to demystify the idyllic picture of Motherhood, normalising and making Matrescence visible by focusing on the woman’s experience. I offer therapy groups as well as Matrescence preparation workshops for expecting couples (whatever your relationship status).
Maria Garcia is a psychotherapist and psychologist based in Kent. She runs her Unfiltered Motherhood sessions in her local area.
How you can prepare for birth with hypnobirthing
Gina Potts (ZenBirth UK)
Hypnobirthing is a complete antenatal education programme which teaches simple and highly effective relaxation, breathing and self-hypnosis techniques. It is soundly based upon established anatomy, physiology and psychology, and helps women to give birth more easily and comfortably. Hypnobirthing has been proven to minimize unnecessary medical interventions. It empowers parents-to-be to remain calm, confident and in control during labour and birth. And it helps parents have the birth that they want for their baby.
‘The hypnobirthing techniques helped enormously and contributed to my quick, easy labour.’ – Lianne, Sevenoaks, Kent (first time mum)
How does it work?
Hypnobirthing works from two key premises:
- a woman’s body is perfectly designed to birth naturally, and
- fear and tension, which create pain, can be replaced by feelings of calm, confidence and relaxation.
During birth, the uterine muscles contract rhythmically in order to gradually open the cervix and nudge the baby down the birth canal. The birthing muscles work better when they are relaxed. By releasing fears and anxieties about labour and birth, tensions within the body are eliminated and allow the birthing muscles to work as they were designed to do. You are therefore working with your body, not against it, making birth much gentler.
‘The knowledge I gained about labour and birth from our hypnobirthing classes stopped me from feeling panicked. I am sure my calmness contributed to my short 6-hour labour.’ – Sarah, Whitstable, Kent (first time mum)
What are the advantages of hypnobirthing?
- You are more likely to experience a natural, more comfortable birth.
- You may find that you don’t need any pain relief drugs.
- It can shorten the length of labour, and you will be more alert and in control.
- Your birth partner can be actively involved with an important role to play.
- Your baby enters with world in an atmosphere of calm and gentleness.
- Hypnobirthed babies have higher APGAR scores, and tend to be calmer and establish feeding more easily.
‘Absolutely amazing! We learnt so many things and you made us feel wiser and definitely more confident about the whole birth process! We strongly recommend ZenBirth to everyone!’ – Marios, Canterbury, Kent (first time dad)
What will I learn on my Hypnobirthing course?
Hypnobirthing prepares you for the right birth on the day. You will learn about the anatomy and physiology of the birthing body, and how the mind affects the body during labour and birth. You will learn simple and highly effective breathing, relaxation, visualsation and self-hypnosis techniques, as well as how to avoid artificial induction and reduce the likelihood of medical intervention. The course includes massage and other techniques for birth partners, hypnosis sessions to build confidence and instill a sense of calm confidence. You will get tips on deciding your birth preferences, how to navigate the maternity-care system, where to find good evidence-based information to help you make informed choices during pregnancy, birth and when caring for your baby, resources for breastfeeding and more. Courses are offered in small groups or one-to-one, and include a range of learning resourses.
Gina Potts is Director of ZenBirth UK. She comes from an academic research background, focusing on women’s history, writing and feminism. Since 2009 has spent much of her time researching into all aspects of maternity care, pregnancy, birth and women’s postnatal health. In 2011, she founded ZenBirth and has helped hundreds of couples have a positive birth experience.