Can “The Secret” Benefit Mamas on Bedrest?

April 20th, 2010

“You have the power to have whatever you want!”

This is the message of the movie, The Secret. According to the laws of attraction, everything that we are currently experiencing we have brought into our lives or “attracted” with our thoughts. As someone who works with and for high risk pregnant women on bed rest, I have a bit of a problem with this statement. However if this theory is true, then there is no reason that The Secret and laws of attraction can’t be used by mamas on bed rest to help their situations.

First I want to say that I in no way believe that any woman on bed rest “attracted” her high risk situation. Most high risk pregnant women that I know take excellent care of themselves and their unborn babies. Still complications arose and they were put on bed rest for their health and the health of  their babies, to prolong their pregnancies and to avoid preterm labor. Despite the fact that I don’t believe women “attracted” their high risk pregnancies, I do think that high risk mamas on bed rest can employ this law of attraction to help themselves and their babies.

All Stressed out…but somewhere to go!

I want to go back to my last post, All stressed out and nowhere to go. In that post I presented ground breaking research by Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett and her colleagues in the field of pychoneuroimmunology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett and others have been able to show that stress puts women at risk for going into preterm labor. The physical reactions to stress create not only the “fight or flight” response from the adrenals but also an inflammatory response in the immune system. Chemicals released by the immune system produce inflammation in many tissues of the body including the cervix. It’s this inflammation that results in cervical ripening (too soon) and preterm labor.

So how can the law of attraction be applied to high risk pregnancy and preterm labor? According to the “experts” in the film, the law of attraction can be used to promote healing. Using the law of attraction and focusing on having a healthy full term baby a mother would bring that to fruition. This is not a new concept. Hypnosis, meditation, prayer, cognitive behavioral therapy and other autosuggestion types of relaxation and behavior modification are supposed to work in much the same way and many studies show that they are effective. But how do they work?

The Law of Attraction and Psychoneuroimmunology

If we go back to psychoneuroimmunology, we see that when a pregnant women (like anyone else) is stressed her brain sends messages to her adrenal glands to produce adrenal hormones for the “flight or fight” response and cortisol to protect against injury. The brain also sends messages to the immune system to put out chemicals to help reduce inflammation or infection in the event of an injury. This “red alert” system is great at protecting the woman in immediate stress, but if she remains in constant stress, these protective measures go askew and start to have negative effects on her body. One way in particular is by ripening her cervix too soon for delivery.

When the pregnant woman in our example begins to apply the laws of attraction, she begins to hold images of herself growing ever larger with her growing baby inside of her. If her cervix is incompetent, she may begin to envision her cervix being tightly closed and at a length that sustains pregnancy and not one the promotes delivery. She’llpromote calm in her surroundings with comfortable clothes and bedding, a comfortable and supportive set up around her bed and a supportive network of family and friends. She’ll envision herself going into labor ONLY on her due date, and the labor and delivery going well without complications. Finally she should envision herself holding her newborn in her arms, healthy and full term.

Again, I cannot say with absolute certainty that The Secret or the laws of attraction that it advocates is effective or that if high risk pregnant women employ the laws of attraction that they will have  full term pregnancies and uncomplicated labors and deliveries. However, hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, prayer and visualization have been scientifically shown to work with other people in other situations.  It stands to reason then that it is certainly better for a mama on bed rest to be calm and to think positive thoughts than to dwell on whatever put her on bed rest and the prospect that she may lose her baby.

So if thinking positive thoughts, envisioning a tight cervix, breathing down high blood pressure or positively planning for the future with a happy and healthy full term baby are all methods of employing The Secret, then Mamas on Bedrest-the secret is out!

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Mamas on Bedrest: All stressed out with nowhere to go

April 15th, 2010

Mamas on bed rest are at increased risk of going into preterm labor!

Now any woman on bed rest reading this is probably ready to click off. Why am I stating the obvious? Because the answer to my original statement is not what you think. Women who are prescribed bed rest receive the prescription because they have incompetent cervices, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, vaginal bleeding, placental issues, poor fetal growth or some other obstetrical complication. These complications increase a pregnant woman’s risk of going into preterm labor and increase the health risks to both mother and baby.

But consider this: in addition to being at increased risk of going into preterm labor due to an obstetrical complication, women who are on prescribed bed rest-either in the hospital or at home as an outpatient-have an additional increased risk of going into preterm labor due to being on bed rest. The fact of the matter is despite its intention, being on prescribed bed rest is stressful, and it’s this stress that compounds the risk of going into preterm labor.

The Physiologic Effects of Stress

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC is a health psychologist who studies the effects of chronic stress and depression on health. Her websites and have a combination of evidenced based science linking chronic stress and depression as well as very “people-friendly” information on the ameliorating effects of breastfeeding on depression in new mothers.

In the normal stress response, the brain releases chemicals from the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline for “flight/fight” and cortisol to aid in repair from disease or injury. At the same time, the immune system releases chemicals called cytokines that start a cascade of events designed to slow, halt and reverse  inflammation associated with illness or injury.

According to Kendall-Tackett and her colleagues in this emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology, in people under chronic stress, these usually protective mechanisms go haywire. The normal stress reaction is that the brain perceives danger or stress and sends messages to the adrenal glands and immune system to prepare for defense. Once the stress or danger is removed, the HPA gets the message that there is no longer any danger and stops sending out messages to the adrenal glands and the immune systems. The systems reset themselves and stop producing and secreting the protective hormones and chemicals.

In a person under continuous stress, the HPA continuously sends out “stress” messages. The adrenal glands continuously produce and secrete adrenaline and cortisol in response  and as a result  too much adrenaline and cortisol are produced. A similar response occurs in the immune system. Cytokines are produced and released in excess by the immune system in response to the perceived “threat”. The result is a state of chronic inflammation.

Psychoneuroimmunology and Mamas on Bedrest

So what does all this science mean for Mamas on Bedrest? Well, the normal physiology of pregnancy results in elevated levels of cytokines, the chemicals released by the immune system in response to stress, in the third trimester. Accordingly, women in the third trimester of pregnancy are at increased risk of developing depression. Since cytokines remain elevated into the post partum period, this inflammatory response persists and increases the risk of developing post partum depression.

Women on prescribed bed rest are stressed simply by being placed on prescribed bed rest. Add to that stress the time they may spend worrying about their health, the health of their babies, their families, their jobs, their finances, etc… and you can see that they are under additional stress. Their HPA’s are firing like gangbusters telling the adrenals glands and immune system to prepare for battle. Adrenal hormones are present in excess. Cytokines are produced and put out by the immune system in excess. Hence, a woman on bed rest who is stressed is in a heightened state of inflammation. She’s all stressed out with nowhere to go.

But what does this mean for her pregnancy? Researchers have shown that cytokines act on the cervix causing an inflammatory response. This inflammation causes cervical “ripening”, i.e. the cervix to shorten and thin and prepare for delivery of the baby. Hormones secreted from the adrenal glands trigger partuition. If this inflammatory response occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy, in addition to be at risk for preterm labor due to obstetrical complications, mama is also at risk of preterm labor due to the stress response on her cervix. If she’s already on bed rest for an incompetent cervix this is a “double whammy.” But in combination with other known obstetrical complications, this can become a very serious problem.

But there is good news

When women on bed rest are able to keep their stress levels low, they are able to reduce their inflammatory responses and lower their risks of preterm labor. The psychoneuroimmunologists have also found that DHA, an Omega 3 fatty acid found in fish oils helps lower the inflammatory response. While no one is telling mamas on bed rest to go out and to start taking fish oil (you have to be very careful with supplements during pregnancy. Always consult with your OB or midwife and/or a nutritionist prior to taking any supplements during pregnancy!) this information relates directly to our discussion on eating a healthy, well balanced, whole foods diet.

There is so much more to this story and we will continue the discussion in the subsequent post.

Please share your thoughts on this blog post in the comments section below. Also, please share this vital information with friends and loved ones.

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Mamas on Bedrest: Answer 6 Questions to Make Bed Rest Better

April 2nd, 2010

Mamas on Bedrest I need your help. Click on this link and answer the 6 survey questions posted there by April 30, 2010.

If you have been following my blog, looking at my website or following me on twitter, then you know that a large focus of what I do via Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond is advocacy for high risk pregnant women. When I was pregnant with my children, there were few if any resources available for high risk pregnant women, especially for those women who may be on bed rest at home. I started Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond to change that. What has started out as a way to provide support and resources locally to high risk pregnant women, is now becoming a national initiative.

A few posts back I talked about the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS) and their annual meeting which I attended. That meeting has taken Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond to another level. I asked several of the leaders in maternity and birth services who were at the meeting what was being done to improve maternity services for high risk pregnant women. They replied that while they are currently focusing on improving maternity services for uncomplicated pregnancies and advocating for the midwifery model of care, their goal is to transform maternity care for all women.

So Mamas, we are on the crest of change but the advocating leaders need our help. Please go to and complete the simple 6 question survey by April 30, 2010. I will share your responses with those advocating to improve maternity services and make your needs known. Act now. We can have our concerns addressed but not if we don’t take the time to make these needs known.

Please share this blog post with any high risk pregnant woman, especially a mama on bedrest,  that you know. Tell them to go to and fill out the survey. We can make bed rest better, but only if we lift our voices and make our needs and concerns know.

Thank you!

Darline Turner-Lee, Owner and Founder of Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond