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Less Stress for Healthier Mom, Baby

Pregnancy itself can be stressful. And combined with other influences, stress during pregnancy can be compounded. But stress relief might be easier than you think.

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Making use of mind-body techniques, such as yoga and massage, can also help push the level stress during pregnancy way down. "Mind-body techniques are beneficial for both mother and child," says Ann Cotter, MD, medical director of The Atlantic Mind Body Center in Morristown, New Jersey. In the short term, she explains, they trigger the body's "relaxation response," which includes lowered blood pressure, lowered heart rate, and lowered respiratory rate. "When the body is relaxed," says Cotter, "all physiologic processes work more effectively.

"When done on a regular basis," she continues, "they also ... release endorphins and serotonin ... to bolster our ability to handle stress effectively." What that means for pregnant women are relaxed muscles, better ability to handle a changing body, increased relaxation and decreased pain during labor, improved sleep, and improved mother-baby bonding.

Cotter's favorite mind-body technique is yoga, since it increases awareness of breathing, which can become difficult in the later stages of pregnancy, as well as helps the body adjust to the significant physical changes that occur during pregnancy. "Patients who did not do yoga during their first pregnancy and started for their second pregnancy report easier labor, less fear, and less pain," says Cotter.

Meditation is also another recommendation of Cotter's, because it increases well-being and confidence, as well as relaxation during labor.

Don't overlook the pleasures --and benefits -- of a good massage. Garnet Adair, chair-elect of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, finds that during massage, the fetus moves around less actively. "This brings a moment of calm to the mom's body," says Adair, who adds that massage also relieves areas of stress and discomfort on the body during pregnancy, especially the lower back.

Before you run to the phone to schedule a massage though, check with your doctor.

When Jeanne Berkowitz was pregnant, she and her husband went to Hawaii for a "babymoon" (a good idea in itself!). While there, Jeanne received a massage from a woman who works frequently with pregnant women.

"She told me that it was important to massage my belly often to introduce the baby to human touch and to the world outside the womb," Jeanne says. "I'm not an expert on the benefits of prenatal massage, but it was fun for us, helped us (especially my husband) think of the baby as a real person, and I can't help but think it had to be good for the baby, too."

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