By Nkem Ndefo MSN, CNM ~
I became a nurse-midwife because I realized what a special time pregnancy and birth are in the life of a person, their child, and family. It’s a time when we know that what we eat, what we do, and how we feel has deep and lasting impact. Sometimes that responsibility can be a source of anxiety, especially for first time parents. In my practice, I quickly realized that providing excellent midwifery care and great nutrition education wasn’t enough to compensate for the stress some pregnant people experience and the harm that toxic stress creates.
Changes to the body, concerns about the health of the baby, facing the unknowns of the birth process, uncertainty about what it will be like caring for a newborn, all of these are very real fears that can be worrying and stressful. And that’s not even touching on other factors that can contribute to stress. If, on top of the normal worries surrounding pregnancy, you have financial struggles, relationship problems, or lack of support, it is worth considering how stress may be affecting you and your baby. Add into the mix the tense social and political climate we are living in. It’s a stressful time to be bringing a child into the world.
So many people think if they plan hard enough or stay busy enough, they can win against the stress from their current lives, their childhood, and from the culture itself. But chronic and/or acute stress contributes to anxiety, depression, pain, high blood pressure, digestive problems, immunity problems, disrupted sleep, and, yes, even pregnancy complications. Stress gets lodged so deeply into our systems that it changes our hormones and even how our DNA expresses. Research shows that parental stress has a toxic effect on babies in utero and beyond. These are the reasons that I’ve spent the last 10 years learning everything I could about how stress works on all levels and developing programs that help people address stress head on at its root in the body. As a healthcare provider, I am always looking to solve the real problem behind the symptoms. And most of our current health issues are caused and/or exacerbated by stress.
As perinatal providers become more aware of the adverse affects of stress on both parents and babies, many are broadening their health paradigm to include mental health screenings and services. While there are many approaches to treating mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, very few providers are addressing the core, underlying issue of parental stress. And for the few that are looking at parental stress, even fewer know how to help those who are suffering.
The most common suggestions for stress reduction like meditation and yoga can be great, but they aren’t for everyone. Depending on a person’s past experiences, it can be triggering to jump right into a body-based practice like yoga. Plus not everyone has the time or resources to begin a safe yoga practice. And many people struggle with meditation. Sitting can be highly uncomfortable for someone with an activated nervous system. Because of my research and experience, I knew there were a variety of ways to relax the nervous system that are universally adaptable, safe, and accessible to all people. I hand-selected what I believe to be the most effective, quick, and practical tools for bringing relaxation and building resilience to create The Resilience Toolkit.
The Resilience Toolkit consists of a suite of mindfulness and movement tools that help regulate the nervous system, reduce stress, and build emotional capacity. By teaching people how to recognize the varied symptoms of stress and giving them quick, simple tools for self-regulation, The Resilience Toolkit empowers people to address stress early, reducing the toll it takes on the body, mind, and spirit, and making them more resilient in the face of life’s challenges.
It’s never too early to address stress, and that’s why I’m thrilled to be offering The Resilience Toolkit for parents at Del Mar Birth Center. Providers at the center want clients to have happy pregnancies, births, and babies, but they also want to prevent stress-related complications. Del Mar Birth Center does their due diligence, screening for anxiety early in the second trimester. Now clients who score high and those who self-refer, have a resource for addressing the stress they are experiencing in The Resilience Toolkit. Lest you think the bar is high, we ALL experience stress and we can ALL benefit from taking conscious actions to reduce stress. Reducing stress and connecting to a sense of safety and calm produces more positive outcomes for parents and babies, while also undoing the culture of fear around birth.
If you think you might be experiencing stress during your pregnancy, talk to your midwife, and join us at an upcoming session of The Resilience Toolkit. Bring your partner. The Resilience Toolkit is for everyone. You can learn how to calm your body during a time of big changes, and begin your child’s life as a more resilient parent.