Make believe courage can have the same effect as authentic courage | Anne Marie McKinley

Parents can have an idealistic idea of pregnancy before that time arrives. One might sail through. Another bears the burden of worries based in real concerns. 

The influences of external and internal factors on the health of the developing fetus and a growing baby have been widely researched. The belief that investing in psychological support for women who have mental health diagnoses and who report symptoms of depression or anxiety in pregnancy has evolved. Midwives on booking are encouraging women to appropriate pathways when symptoms are revealed. The importance of self-regulation, supportive environments, GP input, and psychological care are more prominent now than at any other time in the history of maternity care.

This is a cause for celebration because much can be done in ordinary terms to alleviate symptoms. In therapy or a counselling environment it is important to provide hope. Many women are stressed for very practical reasons, and the addition of becoming aware that this may have an influence on a growing baby in her uterus can add to existing worries and concerns. 

On one hand this feels burdensome. If women experience depression or anxiety in pregnancy they are not on their own. One fifth of women suffer from one or both of these conditions in their pregnancy.

Realistic acceptance of symptoms and a genuine attempt to work at reducing them is a good plan. Developing confidence in yourself to be able to manage symptoms and to believe that your body was designed to hold and manage all kinds of concerns may seem to be a little impossible. 

However, this can generate an opportunity for self-care, stimulated by a desire to create a healthy growing environment for baby. This relates to work done by Dr Daniel Siegel. He asks therapists to listen to another person saying No or reading the word No 7 times. He then asks them to repeat the same exercise but this time repeating the word Yes. His reported on how people feel when they hear each word. Associations with No included anger, a physical restriction in the abdomen, fear or shutting down. The responses to Yes were the opposite, creating a reactive positive state, feeling sensations of freedom, relief or release. (Siegel, 2010).

While we know that both genetics, epigenetics and life circumstances influence baby’s development, it is still important to view pregnancy as an opportunity to influence the future mental-health and wellbeing of baby before birth. 

Chemical changes accompany anxiety responses. Corticosteroids constrict blood vessels. It is possible to give a growing baby a reduced stressful environment simply by being proactive and beginning to allow yourself to believe you are the one who can make this difference (Poulin, 2013).

TED Speaker Kelly McGonigal is worth a listen too. Reference for her book below.

The following are individual strategies which can enable a focused pathway to reduce anxiety and stress. 

1. Be pro-active about moving that adrenaline response along

2. Become body and mind aware.

3. Recognise in a given hour or day how often there is a surge of anxiety of a dip in mood. 

4. Make a plan. Try one or more of the following daily and add extra as resilience grows

  • Offer the mind 30 minutes spaces throughout the day where it can worry or feel these authentic feelings of anxiety or sad and bad. It’s always important to be authentic. Truth is life can be hard
  • Say yes and thank you to your body. ‘You have all I need to do this baby growing thing well’
  • Try breathing exercises for 60 seconds in response to a surge in anxiety or dip in form. Try breathing in for 5 and out for 5. If you add tapping on your knees or collar bone you start to occupy the brain. Your mind slows down, the breath helps you switch system from stress to coping and the tapping helps to move the negative hormones along
  • Gratitude is shown to increase happiness over time. Saying thank you or being thanked gives your body a positive shift in hormones. Find a notebook and make notes every day of what makes you happy. Look for joy is small things.
  • Create times where there are intentional ‘yeses’ or positive times. Stop frequently for 5 minutes. Offer a greeting to your growing baby. Send love through the blood system. Imagine that when you are turning inwards to think about your baby, this sends warmth or love along the neural pathways. Imagine your baby receiving your greeting.
  • Offer yourself five reasons daily to be kind to yourself. Offer yourself a smile and ‘well done’.
  • Make plans to accommodate difficult days. Call a friend. Alternate rest with walks or gentle exercise.
  • Jog on the spot for a few minutes to release energy and stress. Or dance.
  • Speak with professionals if your feelings are overwhelming or persistent.  Medication is often a better alternative to the level of sad or anxiety you may be experiencing. It’s good to talk that out and so it is helpful to speak to your Health Visitor, Midwife or GP for advice. Make sure that others know how you are feeling.

Anne Marie has joined Have you seen that girl? as a regular guest blogger, for the next few months.

Find out more about her and how to get in contact with her HERE.

You can also find all her blog posts, as they are published, HERE on the website.


  • Cute babies

  • The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration

By Daniel J. Siegel  Norton, New York, 2010

  • Guided Mindfulness Meditation by Dr. Dan Siegel