An Ounce of Prevention
Prevention is better than cure.
Over the years, researchers have discovered many factors that can, for better or worse, affect babies during the delicate first nine months of their lives in the womb. With each discovery, pregnant women all over the world have complied by watching what they eat, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and letting someone else clean the cat box. Yet despite doing “all the right things,” childhood problems with attention, learning, and anxiety are on the rise—dramatically. What have we overlooked that may be contributing to the rise of these problems?
As a child neuropsychologist, I have evaluated and treated hundreds of children with many types of learning and developmental problems. I have also worked with many parents who were worried about their children’s future. In my search for new and more effective tools to boost children’s learning potential and treat childhood disorders, I found studies that pointed to an alarming rise in anxiety-related problems among both children and adults. It seemed logical that there might be a connection between the rise in anxiety among adults and the increase in anxiety among children. After digging further into this question, I discovered an astonishing link between anxious pregnant women and many behavioral and emotional problems that show up in their children.
Medical historians long ago identified that war and natural disasters have significant effects on the children born to women who were pregnant during those events. As it turns out, though, the trauma of a single catastrophic ordeal is not the only kind of stress that can potentially affect an unborn child. A mounting body of evidence clearly links sustained high levels of stress and anxiety during pregnancy to many of today’s major issues of birth and childhood, such as low birth weight and preterm birth, difficulty coping in emotional situations, learning disabilities, attention deficit, and childhood anxiety.
A wealth of research about the effects of prenatal stress—stress experienced during pregnancy—has been emerging over the past 40 years. In scientific terms, this body of knowledge is brand new and is just starting to reach the general public. While more research still needs to be done, what we have learned already is so vital to the health of future generations that I knew I had to write a book on this one key issue—the potential dangers that too much stress can pose for pregnant women and their babies—so that mothers-to-be and those who support them could immediately begin to understand and integrate this new information into their daily lives.
Simply put, I believe the information in this book is equal to—if not more important than—the well-recognized warnings for expecting mothers to avoid alcohol and stop smoking. Yes, dealing effectively with stress, especially while you are pregnant, is that crucial to you, your baby, and our future.
Managing Your Stress Will Benefit You and Your Baby
Not all stress, of course, is bad. Stress can be thought of as a continuum ranging from having positive effects on us to having very negative effects. On the positive end of this continuum are events that stimulate us and cause us to adjust our behavior and to think and stretch and grow. On the negative end are the kinds of aggravations that make us worry, feel tense and nervous, or feel as if we are always under attack.
Events on the stimulating end of the continuum are often good for us and may be good for a developing baby. And, under normal circumstances, a healthy body and a normal nervous system will naturally reduce the effects of stress, even some of the more negative ones, once the stressful events are over. The problem arises when life’s daily stressful events pile up and we fail to recognize that our body is not automatically reducing the chemical byproducts building up in our body and brain as a result of trying to cope with those events. In other words, it’s not the events themselves that can cause the damage but what happens in our mind and body as a result of the events.
Obviously, stress-producing events are potentially everywhere and it is impossible to avoid them. So I’m not going to tell you to avoid stress. That would be unrealistic. Stress is a part of everyone’s life and you can take steps to effectively deal with it. Instead of writing a book warning of dangers and heaping more worry onto pregnant women, I wrote Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms to empower women with the tools necessary to identify the warning signs and potential dangers and learn how to deal with them.
This book offers a double benefit: you can reduce the wear and tear on your body during your pregnancy and boost your baby’s potential for well-being by managing your stress during this critical time. In essence, both you and your baby can benefit from what you'll learn here. Even if you consider yourself to be healthy and under little or no stress, I urge you to review this material and the tools and suggestions I offer here. Why? Simply because many of us aren't good judges of when we are under too much pressure and need to do something to return to a state of balance. When you take the self-assessments in Part Two, you may, in fact, be surprised to see where you fall on the stress continuum. In addition, all of us have days that are more stressful than others and you can use the techniques I share here whenever you need them.
A Three-Part Approach to Prenatal Stress
My approach to addressing the issue of prenatal stress is threefold:
- Educate yourself about the problem.
- Learn how to measure your own stress levels.
- Start using a simple new formula and point system to keep your stress levels under control while pregnant.
I will not be covering typical pregnancy topics such as morning sickness or the “I can’t wait until this is over” stage. Many wonderful books along with excellent websites already exist to direct pregnant women through the day-to-day changes in their body and hormones.1 Instead, my goals in creating this book are to bring together important, cutting-edge information about prenatal stress that every pregnant woman should know and to introduce an easy-to-apply point system, similar to some well-known diet plans, that can be used every day to maintain an optimal prenatal environment in which your baby’s development can thrive.
Part One begins with an explanation of the recently discovered connections between chronically high levels of prenatal stress and childhood developmental and behavioral issues. You’ll also learn how stress can be amplified for the expecting mom because of the internal changes in her body.
In today’s world, where we’ve come to accept high levels of pressure and nervous tension as “normal,” recognizing the degree to which we are stressed is definitely a challenge. Part Two responds to that challenge by detailing how the new formula and daily point system I have developed works. The system calculates how much relaxation and stress reduction you need each day to get back into balance and protect your baby.
As you’ll learn in the Stress Solutions Resource Guide in Part Three, there are abundant resources to reduce stress in a measurable way. The resource guide offers many different types of effective, affordable, and readily available solutions to help you return to an optimum state of balance that is beneficial to both you and your child. Many of the tools in that section are things you can start using immediately just by sitting down in your own living room with the guide in hand.