Don’t get excited folks, I’m not pregnant. I wrote a post during the summer on the topic of healthy fetal brain development and shortly thereafter was contacted by a publicist to review this particular book.
As the title suggests, this book is directed at pregnant moms. Midway through the book, I came to the conclusion that this book should be directed at women contemplating motherhood in the near future. Let me explain.
The author, Dr. Susan Andrews, does an excellent job of explaining stress and its numerous consequences on both the mom and the baby (within the womb and after birth). While the author is a clinical neuropsychologist, the use of academic language is kept to a minimum, making this book applicable and enjoyable to a wide audience. I would have liked a little more reference to research, especially in the section “Childhood Problems Related to Stress”; however, the book is well laid out and makes a strong case for reducing stress during pregnancy.
The author references the internationally known Avon Study or more commonly, the Children of the 90s study. This cohort study is following children born between 1991 and 1992, documenting every facet of their life from pregnancy, birth, to adulthood. Researchers are investigating how the individual genotype combines with environmental pressures and the effect on health and development.
Andrews references a finding from the Avon study that prenatal anxiety (anxiety experienced by the mom while pregnant) is predictive of emotional and behavioural issues at age 4, independent of postnatal depression or anxiety in the mom. More specifically, mothers with the highest anxiety rating (measured at 18 and 32 weeks of gestation) were 2-3x more likely to have a child with significant emotional problems and attention and conduct problems at age 4. Andrews does reiterate that high stress moms will not always have a child with emotional or conduct problems; the association is not causal, but that the risk increases the higher a mom’s stress and anxiety level.
Some of you may be wondering how anxiety was measured in this particular study. Anxiety was determined by the Crisp Crown Index of Phobic Anxiety that asks questions such as “Do you find yourself worrying about getting some incurable illness”. Each and every one of us will experience bouts of stress and anxiety throughout our lives, but the anxiety referenced here is much more severe and often debilitating. Furthermore, women who reported high anxiety during pregnancy are likely anxious by nature – they were anxious long before pregnancy and will likely remain so without an intervention of sorts. Throughout the book, Andrews makes it clear that her concern is not with the natural stress response we experience on a daily basis, but stress that has become chronic – when the flight/fight/freeze response never dissipates.
Thankfully, Andrews doesn’t just talk about how stress is bad, she actually provides the reader with tangible and practical solutions to address the issue. Andrews has created her own survey assessment tool and formula to help pregnant moms get a sense of how much stress they experience on a regular basis and how they can address it.
The first survey, The Baseline Stress Level Scale, measures, as the name suggests, one’s baseline stress level using a rating scale from “never” to “always”. Questions include, “I feel guilty about resting or taking time for myself” and “My mind restlessly moves from one thought to the next”. The second survey, the Daily Hassles Worksheet, asks the reader to document the number of hours dedicated to a particular daily hassle. For example, I may give “Feeling aggravated or frustrated” a rating of ‘3’ which corresponds with 2-3 hours. After completing the two surveys, readers then tally their score. Using Andrew’s formula, the reader determines how many relaxation points they need to accumulate per day to counter their baseline stress + daily hassles. Andrew’s even provides you with a fairly comprehensive list of stress-reducing activities which she outlines in detail at the end of the book.
My score on both surveys left me feeling rather…stressed. And I can only imagine, if pregnant, I would have felt even more stressed. Thus my suggestion, that this book be directed at women contemplating motherhood in the near future, is to prevent the response that Andrews so fervently wants to mitigate. If stress is as harmful as the research says it is (which it is), women need to start making changes prior to becoming pregnant. In fact, stress can significantly hamper a couples efforts to become pregnant, so women need to get things in check prior to the initiating the process of conceiving. Similar to the suggestion from my new doctor, that I should start taking folate now to ensure the healthy brain development of my future child (seriously, this isn’t happening for a while folks), doctors should be recommending to anxious women (and men, as Dads have a significant impact on their partner’s stress level) to start engaging in relaxation techniques long before getting pregnant.
Recently, I had the pleasure of becoming an aunt. The mother and father have the gift of a relatively calm baby. A baby who likes to sleep, on a fairly regular schedule, and is already smiling in response to mom and dad. The relative calmness of this baby, I believe, is reflective of the environment she experienced in the womb. The mom, a calm woman by nature and a woman that ensured a calm environment for her baby for all nine months, is a clear example of what Andrews speaks to throughout her book.
In summary, Andrews provides her readers with a practical solutions to monitoring and addressing stress during pregnancy. Even better, the strategies implemented during pregnancy can be continued long after to create an even more relaxed mom, baby, and family as a whole. Her straightforward writing style helps keep readers engaged. My only suggestion, target women in the contemplation phase of becoming pregnant. Give soon-to-be moms the opportunity to assess, monitor and take steps to address their stress level which, in turn, will give the baby the appropriate chance they deserve.
Overall, I highly recommend the book. It’s beneficial for anyone, regardless of pregnancy status. And Dad’s (or partners), I recommend the read. As Andrew’s suggests, with a better understanding of the consequences of unmitigated stress, partners can take on the role of the coach (a friendly one) and help soon-to-be moms establish routine, manage stress, and find some peace each and everyday.