Category Archives: Relax and de-stress

Cortisol and your baby: Stressed about stressing out?

One of the most conspicuous advice you’ll receive as an expecting mom is that stress is bad for you and for your baby. But what’s the link between the stress you may be feeling and your baby’s development? And how much stress is too much stress? Should you be more worried about that? But, hey! Isn’t worrying a bad idea? On this article, we’re going to explain what science has to say about this and what it means for you and your baby.

To understand the role of stress in the body we need to talk about cortisol. Cortisol is an important steroid hormone that is produced by the body to kick-start some metabolic functions. It interacts with the immune system, helps memories of important events to stick and regulates the internal biological clock. It aids us in waking up and keeps us active during our work day. It is also partially responsible for the rush of energy we get when we’re anxious, or for the fast response our body provides when we find ourselves suddenly in trouble. Cortisol is the key to the proverbial fight-or-flight response. We wouldn’t be able to carry on with our lives if not for its small peaks during the day, and during pregnancy it helps the baby grow and develop his lungs.

Now, aside from its benefits, an excessive dose of cortisol is poisonous. When cortisol levels remain high, the body knows that we’ve been overwhelmed for a long time, and that can lead to insulin problems, insomnia, high blood pressure, poor immune response and fatigue, among other effects that can hinder the baby’s development. Prestigious institutions like UCLA have been studying for over two decades the link between the mother’s elevated cortisol and the baby’s cortisol levels because it travels from the mother’s bloodstream into the placenta.

But know that elevated cortisol doesn’t occur because of that one time you got worried about something for a couple of days. Cortisol can be a problem for you and for your baby when you experience very high stress levels for weeks or months non-stop. That is, when you find yourself anxious and “tired but wired” about family problems, financial or professional difficulties, the loss of a loved one, a natural disaster or other major difficulties. If this is the case, you should talk with your doctor or be referred to a psychologist or counselor.

The take-away here is that you don’t need to worry that the occasional preoccupation will halter your baby’s development or think that you could be stressing your way into a preterm delivery. As always, the best thing to do is to keep your stress in check. You can browse our catalog section to find some practical ideas to help you de-stress and relax.

Essential oils during pregnancy: Which ones are helpful and safe?

Essential oils are liquid concentrates of aroma compounds extracted from plants. They derive from different parts of the plant, like the bark, berries, flowers, leaves, peel, resin or seeds. There are records of the therapeutic use of essential oils dating back to the early 10th century, and we have continued to use them throughout history in various forms and with a vast array of applications, from treating sore muscles and sprains, to treating small skin lesions or insect bites.

Chances are you’ve heard of the uses of the most common essential oils, like peppermint, tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, or lemon balm. There are many different oils, each one with its specific properties and specific indications for use. Although most of them are regarded as safe when properly used, during pregnancy you must choose an oil that’s been approved for pregnant women.

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists agree that the following essential oils are safe for use during pregnancy: bergamot, black pepper, chamomile, clary sage, cypress, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, juniper, lavender, lemon, neroli, sweet orange, rose, sandalwood, tea tree, and ylang ylang.

Note that all essential oils must be properly diluted before applying them to the skin. The recommended ratio is 1%, which means using 1 drop of oil per teaspoon of carrier oil (like cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, or coconut oil), or up to 4 drops in a diffuser or in bathwater -a little goes a long way!

If you have been feeling a bit over-stressed, are experiencing tension headaches, or find yourself somewhat too anxious to get your full-night’s sleep, you could complement your relaxation exercises with either lavender, chamomile, or geranium essential oils. According to papers published in the International Journal of Neuroscience and in the scientific journal Phytomedicine these oils have proven to be as effective as medication. Try giving yourself a temple massage, or diffusing these around your room 30-min before you go to bed.

Relaxing environment

Pregnancy is accompanied by a bunch of changes in lifestyle, routines, habits, relationships and, last but not least, your home. Why not take advantage of the change and spruce up your room and home while you’re at it? There are theories that say that the elemnts of a room has the ability to either help you relax or not. With all the stress that may build up during your pregnancy, you can take a few measures to make sure your home is not a precursor for stress, but a place to unwind and relax after a long day.

These seemingly insignificant elements have an impact in your mood:
• Color. You’d be amazed of the psychological effects colors have on us.  Blue, green, lilac and cool shades of gray help you rest and have a calming effect, while tones such as bright yellow or red do just the opposite.
• Pattern: Harsh geometrical patterns can be tiring to the eyes. Opt for larger, soft patterns, with curves if possible.
• Fabric: If you want to add a tad of texture to your room, make sure it’s soft to the touch and easy to clean (remember you do have a little one on the way).
• Furniture: Comfort is your best ally. Choose something without many harsh edges (meaning, baby-proof) along with a simple and clean design.
• Pillows and throws: Same rule as the furniture, choose something that will add comfort and design to your room. Make sure it’s snuggle-worthy.
• Lighting: Light helps promote harmony and balance in your room. If you’re limited on windows, warm table lamps with a clean design will help you brighten up any room!
• Accessories: Even though we’re opting for a minimalistic design with the fewest distractions, there are a few add-ons you can include to ensure you get a mood-boost every day.
• Plants: No decoration will ever beat mother nature. Bring oxygen into your home and include some flowers like jasmine, violets, and gardenias. Nothing like a breath of fresh air to bring your day around!
• Scents: They have a powerful impact on your mood and your home’s atmosphere. Try with lighting some incense or scented candles. Even an aroma diffuser can do the trick! (Try playing around with these relaxing oils: lavender, chamomile, orange, cedar wood, peppermint).

There are tons of things you can do to prepare your home and make it a stress-free zone on a budget. Find what works best for you and your family and enjoy getting ready for your little one’s arrival.

My support system during childbirth

Feeling anxiety is very common during pregnancy, especially by the end of it. Also, it’s been said that in any hospitalization, the moment people are the most anxious is when they are waiting for the procedure. Everyone is afraid of pain, the unknown, of depending on strangers, of possible complications and body changes. That’s why, it is very important to use all our emotional resources to adapt to any situation while having a strong support system to helps us through it.

Childbirth used to be very different. Years ago, expecting mothers gave birth at home and not in a hospital. Back then, women stayed in a familiar space and received the attention of another woman whose job was to help with labor, be an emotional support, inform and give relaxing massages. This helped the mother to stay calm and satisfied. Today, although we benefit from medical advances, things have changed and childbirth has become a routine for doctors who may be cold towards their patients. When a woman is in labor, she has to go through routine procedures in the hands of an unknown staff and, although midwives are still a thing, they rarely assist the labor. That’s why it is very important to have a specialist or your partner to help you feel safe during the whole process.

Each person reacts differently towards the same situation and cope with it at their own pace. If you prepare yourself beforehand and have all the emotional tools to deal with it, you’ll face childbirth unfazed. In the other hand, a woman who doesn’t have the support of her partner or family may experience mental and physical negative consequences. The bigger your support system is, the stronger your “emotional immune system” is.

A study of 790 pregnancies showed that there was a greater tendency towards post-partum depression if the medical staff was unkind to the expecting mother, if they were unsatisfied with the care they received during pregnancy and if they felt the staff didn’t do their best to control the pain during labor. A later study, however, found out that those variables weren’t the ones that caused depression but the lack of support during labor, having experienced a lot of post-partum pain or an inadequate contact with the newborn. That’s why the support and care during labor is so important.

Speak to your doctor about any doubts you may have about labor and the hospital. Choose someone to assist you during childbirth or go to a childbirth class to learn how to deal with it. The birth of your baby is a one-in-a-lifetime experience, so build a strong support system, trust yourself and trust your team!

Debunking the myths of motherhood

The 40 weeks of pregnancy not only allow you to plan and prepare for the arrival of your baby, but they also let your mind fantasize about life with a baby and your expectations on motherhood. This is perfectly normal, but it is important to remember that these fantasies might not match up with reality after birth. We would like to debunk some of the most common myths of childbirth and motherhood to help you feel grounded, calm and relaxed the moment your little bundle of joy arrives.

Myth 1: When you come home with your baby you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been.

Sure, you will be very happy, but you’ll also be exhausted and maybe even a bit anxious. You might feel like crying too. This is completely normal and due to the hormonal adjustment in your body. The first couple months with your baby can feel more like boot camp than bliss. This is all part of a natural adjustment. Don’t worry if life is not quite as you expected, we promise that with time, experience and your baby’s growth and maturity things will settle down.

Myth 2: When your baby is born you’ll feel love at first sight.

Some moms don’t experience this rush of love straight away and this is perfectly normal. To fall in love, you need to know someone and you’ve just met your baby. Love and attachment will come with time, don’t pressure yourself if you don’t feel it right after birth.

Myth 3: If you do it correctly, breastfeeding is easy.

Breastfeeding although natural can be difficult for most women. It can take time for your baby to latch on correctly and at first you might experience some uterine contractions and nipple soreness. Take time to review breastfeeding positions, and don’t hesitate to contact a board-certified lactation consultant if you are having trouble establishing feedings.

Myth 4: I should be able to handle everything on my own.

Moms can sometimes place too much pressure on themselves thinking they should be supermoms who attend their babies, partners and house 24/7. This cannot be farther from the truth. Everyone needs help. Just like the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”, one should not care for an infant on their own. If you need a break have your partner lend you a hand. Try to sleep when the baby sleeps. If your family members are around and offer help, let them. Trying to do everything on your own can lead to burnout. Be sure to ask for help when needed.

Myth 5: My needs don’t matter.
Your needs are just as important now as they were before your baby was born. You might not have as much time as you did before, but taking some time for yourself, even if it is just a relaxing bath or a nap while your partner tends to your baby, can help you unwind and feel relaxed. By taking care of your needs you will be calmer and better able to respond to your little one’s needs. Remember a happy mom equals a happy baby.

Myth 6: As a mom, I should always be able to figure out why my baby is crying and be able to calm him down.

Learning to decipher why your baby cries takes time. As you get to know your baby you’ll begin to learn when your baby cries because he is hungry, tired, needs a diaper change, needs to be held or simply needs to cry. But it’s perfectly normal not to know why your baby cries most of the time. Take a deep breath and go over the list of needs food, sleep, diaper, gas release, hot or cold, closeness and try to satisfy each one until your little one settles. It’s important to remember that most babies have a period during the day when they cry inconsolably. This is completely normal and if you can’t settle him down it doesn’t mean you are a bad mom. Try to get some help if you can during this period of crying and remember that this will pass.

These six myths and all other unrealistic expectations and fantasies of what motherhood should be like can lead to depression. Get rid of these beliefs before your child is born. Trust yourself and be kind to yourself. You and your baby will learn to adapt to this new way of living, you as a mother and your baby by living outside the womb. Try to be mindful of your beliefs and let go of those that are useless or make you question your capacities. No book can ever compete with your intuition and knowledge of the dynamic between you and your baby. Don’t try to parent by the book, you’ll only set yourself up for failure. Instead, attune to your and your baby’s needs and, slowly but surely and day by day, you’ll get the hang of parenting.

Breathe in, breathe out

Everyone is afraid of the unknown. Some of us feel more fear than others, and pregnant women (especially first-time moms) are no exception. Breathing techniques and mindfulness skills can help moms to cope with all the fears they might have and even decrease symptoms of prenatal or postpartum depression.

With birth just around the corner, there is no better time to prepare the body and mind. Anxiety and fear are natural reactions to this new situation and the great responsibility that comes with it. But it’s also important to know that these feelings are the worst enemies of labor. They can increase resistance and therefore the pain and length of labor. Now, we don’t want to scare you, on the contrary, we want to share some helpful tips that will help you embark on this new journey by being fully present and feeling full of confidence.

Key tips for being mindful and managing fear during childbirth

Remember that contractions come and go. In between each one there is a moment of calm. Try to stay present and breathe deeply through each one without thinking about the past or worrying about what is to come. This is easier said than done, but breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth very slowly can help you stay calm during unpleasant situations. Plus, you’ll discover all your inner strength and resilience. Childbirth can be hard, but you can get through it with the help of breathing exercises.

Another important aspect to consider is that you don’t have to control and manage every aspect of childbirth. If for some reason things don’t go as planned and your natural birth must be a C-section, it’s okay! Remember that your health and safety and your baby’s comes first. It’s also important not to forget that it is totally natural to feel sad and disappointed. Don’t try to conceal your emotions, experience these feelings for a moment, but then try to breathe, let them go and stay present. Your baby is about to be born, you don’t want to miss it! Becoming aware of your resistance and need to control will help you let go and accept life’s alternate plan.

Finally, remember that mindfulness is like surfing. If you decide to ride the wave –of experience– instead of fighting it, you will not get as battered. Each wave will be a different, but learning to catch them and let go will help you stop yourself from worrying or feeling anger, anxiety and depression from trying to fight the ocean. You might fall from time to time, but if you remember that each wave –just like most experiences– is temporary, you’ll be able to go with the flow and stop trying to control everything. Knowing that life is always shifting and changing will not only help childbirth be more pleasant, but you’ll be ready for the rollercoaster of parenting.

Last trimester anxiety

The last stretch of pregnancy is here. Just a few weeks remain and soon you’ll be able to meet your little bundle of joy. This can be a very exciting time, but it can also cause lots of anxiety, especially if this is your first child.

To manage these last-minute jitters, it’s important to review your pregnancy “to-do list” and the decisions that need to be made before the arrival of your baby. Jotting down the things that need completing and then getting things done with the help of your partner and family members can help you feel calm.

Here are some common issues that arise once your baby is born. Take some time to review your thoughts on each and you’ll feel more in control of the uncertainty of what is to come.
• Am I going to breastfeed or bottle-feed?
• Have I talked to my partner about co-parenting our baby?
• Have I talked with my baby’s pediatrician about safety precautions?
• Will we circumcise my baby (if he is a boy)?
• Will we have guests come visit us in the hospital/birthing center or at home?
• Is the nursery ready?
• Is my hospital bag packed?
• Have I discussed my birth plan with my doctor?

Feel free to include or eliminate any specific issues of this list and talk about them with your partner, family members or doctor. Sharing your concerns makes them less daunting. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to clear your mind and feel prepared.

Take some time to practice the relaxation techniques you have learned with our prenatal program and childbirth classes. If you are feeling very anxious and can’t sleep, visit our activity catalog and practice 5-10 minutes of relaxation. They may help clear your mind and, as an added benefit, help you prepare for the big moment. Remember, there are some things you can control, like completing the list above, but with childbirth and life in general some things are out of our control. Try to separate what you can do and what you must accept as it is. Learning to decipher the controllable and uncontrollable situations will allow you to participate in all the wonderful scheme of colors that life has to offer.

Mindfulness during pregnancy and beyond

Practicing mindfulness is a lifelong journey. Although the concept of mindfulness is simple –be present, here and now, with no distractions, no judgements and a curious enquiring mind– it takes lots of practice. No two pregnancies are alike, as no two children are the same, and although the research on mindfulness is still young (no pun intended), studies have begun to reveal positive results. Mindfulness can prepare you for the unexpected eventualities of life as it is not specific to a particular situation, but rather a vehicle to understand why a specific situation triggers you and helps you to actively accept current situations.

Cultivating the moment-to-moment awareness of your surroundings and thoughts can greatly decrease anxiety and stress. A study done in 2014 looked into the benefits of a mindfulness class at UCLA. Forty-seven pregnant women who were in their first or second trimester participated. These women had high stress and anxiety levels before entering the class, and after six weeks of practice they learned to manage negative emotions, pain and even tricky social situations. These women’s anxiety decreased far more than those in the control group who only took a single class and read a reassuring book on pregnancy.

Mindfulness can give you the tools to manage difficult emotions such as fear of pain during childbirth or fear of taking care of your baby after birth. You can practice self-awareness even without meditating. All you need to do is notice how your thoughts affect your mood and body throughout the day. You’ll then be able to be fully present for happy moments and breathe through tough situations. Keep this in mind every day, remember to anchor yourself to the present moment as much as you can; your baby will surely benefit from it too, you’ll see.

Happy healthy pregnancy

Being pregnant involves a great deal of physical, hormonal and emotional changes. It might even be one of the most magical, confusing, scary, exciting, stressful and life-changing events in your life. Over the course of the next 40 weeks your baby will grow from a single cell to a tiny and beautiful human being. Not only will your body adapt to help your baby thrive, the changes you make during pregnancy to become a healthier, happier and more self-aware person will not only improve your emotional and physical state of being, but will also benefit your baby in the womb and after birth.

Destressing or stress management during pregnancy is just as important as eating healthy foods and exercising moderately. You’ll not only feel better physically and emotionally, but you’ll be creating a safe and nurturing environment for your baby. Take note on your present diet, physical activity and stress levels and evaluate if you need to make a change. It’s never too late to start! Parenting begins when you find out you are pregnant. By taking care of yourself you are taking care of your child and giving her a healthy start in life.

How to manage stress during pregnancy
• Get a goodnight’s sleep
• Talk with a friend
• Exercise
• Get a prenatal massage
• Watch a sitcom
• Read a fun book
• Make a to do list
• Do some yoga
• Have some me time
• Meditate or do some deep breathing exercises

If you try all tips above and still feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate getting help. Talk with your doctor about seeing a psychologist, some sessions of therapy can do wonders.

Mindfulness: preparing for childbirth

Mindfulness meditation during pregnancy is a great tool to prepare the body and mind for childbirth and beyond. Mindfulness is the awareness that comes from paying attention to the present moment without judgement. It is a skill that allows you to be aware of your surroundings, thoughts, feelings and body sensations in the exact moment that they are occurring.

Learning to be present is a skill that takes practice, but if you take it day by day, you’ll learn to accept the here and now just as it is. You’ll learn to enjoy the moment-to-moments of pregnancy and childbirth, and handle the challenges of being a parent with greater ease. Babies and children live in the present, so strengthening your mindfulness muscle will allow you to become better attuned.

To train the mind to become mindful it is important to cultivate a steady and deep breathing technique. When we take a moment to concentrate on our breathing we are able to ground ourselves, focus and ultimately relax. By gently noticing every inhalation and exhalation we begin to feel how the air enters and leaves the body. This allows us to practice being in the present moment. Take some time to try this today. Sit in a comfortable chair and get comfy. Take as long as you wish, you might want to begin with a short 5-minute meditation and increase the time as you get more practice. Begin to breathe in and out slowly and concentrate on how fresh air enters your body and warm breath leaves your body. Try not to let your mind wander but if you catch yourself thinking don’t worry, simply become aware of the thought without judging and bring your attention back to breathing.

It is very important to remember that there is no good or bad meditation. Thoughts are a natural part of ourselves and very important for us too. It is our automatic reaction to these thoughts –such as judging them as good or bad or getting caught up in a cycle– that can prevent us from living the present moment. So, be kind to yourself when you notice a thought that’s not useful and gently let it go. I know this is easier said than done, but trust us, if you practice your awareness you’ll feel a greater piece of mind.