During our development in the womb, our body is learning about the nature of the outside world and, figuratively speaking, making decisions about how best to respond to situations and stimuli.
One of the most significant factors seems to be how much glucocorticoids we are programmed to produce in our early development.
This steroid hormone is one of the most pernicious and harmful hormones we possess when released in excess, and it becomes rife during the stress response, causing all manner of unwanted side effects.
When Mummy gets stressed, she secretes an excess of glucocorticoids, which readily pass through foetal circulation. This teaches the little one to be prepared for a stressful world and tend towards excessive secretion of stress hormones.
At the same time, the brain appears to develop more receptor sites for these stress hormones. As a result, we are likely to end up having higher base levels of stress hormones in our system, a larger stress response, and a slower recovery from stress.
The small but solid literature on prenatal stress suggests this stress programming is carried on into adulthood and quite probably for life.
I went and learned with Will last year and had a very positive experience and have subsequently been recommending the course to friends. I had to have an operation soon after and I found the meditation really helped with the anxiety prior to it, and the recovery afterwards. I was extremely happy to get pregnant in the following couple of weeks, after 10 months of trying. It seems the meditation helped my body get back to where it needed to be . I am truly delighted with the results!
Rosie, Mother, Brighton
How can Vedic meditation help?
Fortunately, Vedic meditation gives us a very useful tool that we can use to help calm down the stress response so mothers-to-be won’t get nearly as stressed and, consequently, the hormonal signatures of the stress response don’t get so readily imprinted into the little one’s programming.
Instead of an overabundance of stress chemistry floating around our (and their) system, we get a lovely hit of meditation-induced endorphins to put a smile back on our face. It will offset any aches and pains we may have and, most importantly of all, give the young one all of the hormonal messages that indicate a happy and healthy world.
Lucky mums-to-be can meditate as much as they like, giving them all the support they need to remain balanced and rested throughout pregnancy.
The reduction in the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline released during stress reactions ensures that there is a more consistent uterine blood flow, keeping baby nourished with oxygen and nutrients while you carry them to term.
Crucially, that reduces the probability of there being any complications or miscarriages.
It is worth noting however that this is not hypnobirthing. This isn’t a birthing technique at all. It is a technique for cultivating greater balance within the mother and a much calmer, happier and healthier baby during the term so that when they arrive in our world, they are already set-up with a wonderful platform for development.
Having eliminated much of the tension with meditation before labour, it will no doubt make any birthing technique even easier to practise.
Expose a foetus to lots of glucocorticoids and you are increasing the risk of obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistant diabetes, maybe reproductive impairments, maybe anxiety, and impaired brain development. And maybe even setting that foetus's eventual offspring up for the same.
Robert M. Sapolsky
What are the consequences?
Evidence suggests that prenatal stress can lead to a considerably higher risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, an unhealthy cholesterol profile, diabetes, and less developed male genitalia and testosterone production. It also hampers brain development particularly in the regions associated with learning and development.
The other concern is that prenatal stress programs the foetal amygdala (the engine of the stress response) into a lifelong profile of stress responsivity that has anxiety written all over it.
The amygdala becomes more sensitive to glucocorticoid release, greater release of a neurotransmitter that mediates anxiety (CRH), and fewer receptors for a brain chemical that reduces anxiety (benzodiazepine receptors).
There is even evidence to suggest that this programming doesn’t just affect the little one in the womb, it can become imprinted into their children as well. Thus it seems Foetal Origin Adult Disease transmits across generations. Scary stuff indeed.