It's hard not to wonder how much your baby feels and experiences when you're pregnant. Some moms swear that their infants recognize certain songs from the womb; others swear their unborn babies would react to the sound of their dad's voice or loud noises. But what about things like hiccups and sneezes? What does your baby feel when you laugh during pregnancy?
Physically, when you laugh, your baby bounces up and down on a kind of uterine trampoline, reported Family Today — I assume this is why bouncy castles are so popular at birthday parties. But as it turns out, there's a lot more to pregnancy joy than you might think. Dr. Camille Hoffman, a Maternal-Fetal Medicine provider at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, Colorado researching prenatal mental health, tells Romper that mothers with a more positive attitude — less anxiety, more joy — later have babies with lower anxiety levels and an increased ability to cope with stress. In fact, excessive prenatal stress can even shape a child's temperament later in life, according to a study in Development and Psychopathology, and might make children more prone to depression.
"We all have stressors in our lives, but resiliency and ability to cope with stress is improved" when mom's mood is better during those crucial nine months, Hoffman explains. One measure of how you're handling stress is heart-rate variability, or HRV. According to Harvard Health, "HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat," which in turn indicates overall nervous system function and balance.
When you're stressed, Hoffman explains, your heart rate is fast and unchanging. But when you chill out, the heart beat is more flexible, or variable. People who meditate or have mindfulness practices tend to have excellent HRV, and when depressed people start feeling better, you can read the change in their heartbeat.
Unlike with cortisol tests, HRV tests provide a quick picture of a pregnant woman's well-being in real time, making it a great measure for researchers. Hoffman's group uses a heart-rate variability biofeedback device for moms and babies, and during ultrasounds, the findings are fascinating: when mom is looking at her baby onscreen, HRV improves. In other words, when mom is reassured and content, she gets healthier right away. "You can see that change reflected immediately in her autonomic nervous system function," says Hoffman.
Because mom's nervous system is so intimately bound up with her baby's, her happiness is good news for both of them. Consistent stress can even increase your risk of giving birth prematurely, according to the March of Dimes.
But let's pause for a second. When I was pregnant, reading about how stress is terrible for your baby almost always gave me a mini panic attack — and stressing about feeling stressed is a vicious, useless cycle. What's great about the work that Hoffman and her team is doing is that they're not just warning mothers to avoid feeling anxious — I mean, we all have jobs and spouses and lives, right? Instead, she's looking at breathing practices and a pregnancy meditation app called Expectful, and these are practical measures any pregnant woman can take to feel better.
In addition to the app, there are many other tools available to pregnant women for stress relief. For instance, prenatal yoga is a great way to relax more, because gentle stretching and breathing exercises can alleviate feelings of stress. There are also several free meditation apps for pregnant people that can help you clear your head and calm your breathing. If you want direct guidance in stress reduction, then consider finding a therapist, whether that’s online or in real life. Hopefully, these resources will help to cut back on any tension you’re carrying and make it a little easier to smile (and laugh).
If you're not into any of the above methods, however, I'd suggest tacking an ultrasound picture to your refrigerator or carrying one in your wallet for a quick hit of happiness. Also, consider Netflix-ing a comedy tonight. As the old saying goes, laughter is the best medicine.
N. R. Bush, "Effects of pre- and postnatal maternal stress on infant temperament and autonomic nervous system reactivity and regulation in a diverse, low-income population" Volume 29, Journal of Development and Psychopathology, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579417001237
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