Courtesy of The Raithwaite Estate Spa, N Yorks
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Wellness Starts in the Womb

by Terri Irvin, Owner & Founder of Bump & Beyond

TerriIrvin

Spa; what does it mean to you? To many, it’s described as a “haven that promotes wellbeing”.  A place to resolve aches and pains, stresses and skin concerns. A retreat for relaxation and a place to unwind and ‘find yourself’.  It would appear that the role of the spa is largely reactive. But could it also be proactive in preventing physical and mental ailments in the first place? And to who? It’s currently uncommon to find many treatments designed for pregnant women and their partners. Typically, if treatments are available, they might be targeted at expectant mothers late within their second or third trimester of pregnancy.  

Becoming a parent can be pricey. It is understandable that expectant parents would consider their personal wellbeing to be a ‘low priority’ expense. However, the mothers’ physical and mental wellness has a direct and determining influence on the likelihood of a positive birth outcome and the overall health of the baby.

"Who you are and what you're like when you're pregnant will affect who that baby is". 

Janet DiPietro - developmental psychologist, Johns Hopkins University

It is easy for us to assume that new parents choose to spend, in other areas during pregnancy, as they prepare for welcoming a child. There is an endless list of consumables we think we need in the run-up to birth. The trendiest crib and the latest, safest car seat. Where does the safety of the child's and mother’s wellbeing factor in all of this? Is it an afterthought, that we only think of the child's state of mind once he/she is born. As humans we go through more developmental stages in-utero then we do in our lifetime.

From conception, mum and embryo are connected by a wave of chemicals known as hormones. These chemicals changes have a huge impact on our baby's development in the womb. We need an abundance of certain hormones such as hCG, hPL, Estrogen and Progesterone for the embryo to thrive. 

During pregnancy, many women maintain their working commitments and responsibilities. For some women, their focus is their career, for another it’s other financial gain. In truth, there are many reasons. It has become our social norm to work right up to our ‘’ due date’’. Living as part of the modern balanced society whereby we take ‘’time out’ ’to focus on our health and wellbeing during pregnancy is the ideal situation.  Are we achieving this state?

When we feel stress and anxiety our nervous system is stimulated to produce epinephrine and norepinephrine, these are the stress hormones that effectively put that body into fight or flight mode to help us avoid uncertain situations. In pregnancy, these hormones constrict the blood vessels, thus blood and oxygen to the uterus are restricted. If this stress on the body is managed well, it can have little effect. However, research is studying how chronic stress will have an inflammatory response that can have an everlasting effect on our child's development. 

During the first trimester, this exposure to chronic stress can dictate preterm labour and low birth weight which of course comes with further risks.

Research suggests that mums who have low levels of stress hormone during the first trimester will deliver passed their estimated date of arrival or full term. This has long term health benefits for mum and baby’s development as they grow. We should be asking ourselves, do we currently offer solace and strategies for stress reduction at an early stage in our treatment menus? Could spa teach coping mechanisms, stress reduction and relaxation techniques, to be taken through the pregnancy journey to maintain health and positive birth outcomes.

Other findings suggest that stress, anxiety and the personality of the mother will ultimately affect the temperament of babies. Excessive work, financial and relationship stress could contribute to chronic stress. This can effect who the child goes on to become and their mental state as they grow. 

I welcome this new wave of awareness surrounding mental health. It’s a growing topic in its own right. How much of our mental state is carved out in pregnancy? Doctors in some countries can test the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) the baby is exposed to in the womb at 17 weeks gestation. Their research suggests that raised levels of cortisol can affect children’s brain development early on.

With many recent campaigns like ‘Heads Together’’ we are encouraging people to open up and talk about their mental health and seek professional help as soon as possible. As an industry that prides itself on wellbeing, should spa be looking more into prevention rather than a cure.

So, therefore what support are we giving to our pregnant clients for this early stage of pregnancy to support mum and baby’s wellbeing? Can we help to reduce stresses mum could be exposed to? Can we as an industry promote more relaxation and expand spa in pregnancy, which will have health benefits for not only mum and baby but impacts future generations?

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Friday, 18 September 2020