The Mind/Body Connection: What it Means For Mamas on Bedrest

June 24th, 2010

Yesterday was my oldest sister’s birthday. She turned 52. She may not be too happy to know that I have blasted her age to the masses, yet her birthday is truly an extraordinary event. My sister was a preemie. She was born at 6 1/2 months (they didn’t really do weeks back then according to my mother) and weighed a mere 3 lbs. She subsequently dropped down to 1 pound and everyone in the neonatal unit was sure that she wasn’t going to make it. But my parents, the wide-eyed teens that they were, never for one moment doubted that she would make it and yesterday’s birthday is a testament to that fact. My mom says that “I just never even thought about her dying.” I believe it’s that spirit that kept my sister alive. My mom also says that every time she visited my sister in the NICU, my sister would move and squirm. The doctors believed that this movement helped her to deep breathe and contributed to her survival.

We don’t talk much about my sister’s birth but it is still a clear memory for my mother. I realized this 8 years ago when I had my daughter at 36 weeks and 6 days and she was admitted to the NICU. My mother came down to support me and as we entered the NICU she stopped just inside and was momentarily frozen. I didn’t think much about it then but I now realize that my mother, in that moment, was reliving her own experience of entering the NICU to visit my sister. 44 years later, the NICU still had the power to halt (albeit momentarily)  my mother.

Back in 1958 when my mother had my sister I am sure that no one discussed the mind/body connection and what it could mean for premature infants and their parents. But researchers now know that there is a very strong connection between the mind and the body-not only within an individual but also between people, especially between premature infants and their parents.

Last night I had the great fortune to attend a parent discussion group hosted by Hand to Hold, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting parents of premature infants and children utilizing a mentoring model. New preemie parents are paired with “veteran” preemie parents so that the vets can help the new parents navigated the complicated hospital system, cope with the myriad of peaks and valleys that constitute caring for a fragile child and to be a support and a caring, comforting ear. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, OB/GYN, Physiatrist, pain medicine specialist and author of The Preemie Primer spoke about the mind/body connection and how it can have a huge impact on premature infants as well as their parents. She talked at great length about her own experience carrying triplets, losing one at 22 weeks and subsequently delivering the two remaining boys at 26 weeks. “Everyday I would say to myself and to the babies, Not today, not until 26 weeks.” She actually gave birth to her boys at exactly 26 weeks.  Dr. Gunter also offered several good, simple techniques for parents to use when they are feeling overwhelmed.

  • Take a deep breath that expands the belly not just the chest
  • Go for a walk, outside if possible. Walking eases tension, forces you to take deep breaths and the fresh air and sunshine will help lighten your mood
  • Use positive affirmations. Positive affirmations change the brain’s chemistry and actually affect how the body reacts. Dr. Gunter keep telling herself and her boys “not until 26 weeks” and helped delay her delivery. My mom kept talking to my infant sister and held it in her own mind that her baby would come home and she did.
  • Yoga. Yoga is a great stress reliever and helps with breathing and calming the mind
  • Dr. Gunter recommends that parents of preemies be screened for post partum depression 2 weeks after the birth of their child. This is also a good idea for parents who had a traumatic birth.

Mamas on Bedrest are at risk for delivery complications and premature delivery. This knowledge can be very troubling causing mamas to worry and fret. This is no good for you or your baby. As Dr. Gunter said, the emotional state of the mother does influence the baby. Worry releases brain chemicals that can have negative effects on both mama and baby’s health. Likewise, a positive attitude along with positive affirmations will release brain chemicals that have a calming and health enhancing effect on mama and her infant. I encourage you to begin cultivating a positive attitude towards your pregnancy, labor and delivery. Speaking positively about your child’s health-not only to yourself, but to your child. Studies have shown that babies in utero and out respond to their parent’s voices and to their environment. Keep the environment as calming, soothing and positive as possible. Read to your baby, sing to your baby, play music or just talk lovingly to your baby. This will release calming, positive brain chemicals into your blood stream that will subsequently make the in utero environment calmer and more health enhancing as well.

You’re doing very Important work, Mamas on Bedrest! Here’s to you and to healthy, full term pregnancies, safe and uncomplicated labors and deliveries and to healthy, happy babies.!

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