Your health and your baby’s health are a top priority during pregnancy. Eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising are all important considerations. Have you thought about ways to keep your nervous system healthy?

Hillary Rowenhorst, DC, explains in this interview why keeping your nervous system healthy and reducing stress are important.


Q: Why is keeping your nervous system calm and healthy important during pregnancy?

HR: Maternal stress as early as the second trimester can influence the developing baby's nervous system and affect their temperament and emotions as they grow. A study following women between their 12th and 24th week of pregnancy compared stress levels.

The infants of mothers with the highest number of these stressful life events were more reactive than those with the lower number of stressful events during pregnancy. The less stressed babies also recovered more quickly from a stressor, which meant they had greater resiliency.

The babies with higher stress levels were less likely to engage with the outside world, laugh, and smile. They also had more trouble managing emotions and soothing themselves.

Q: It is impossible to avoid stress when pregnant. But is it possible to change the way the body responds to stress during pregnancy and make it last?

HR: Yes! Let’s start by understanding the two parts of the central nervous system – the parasympathetic and sympathetic– located in the spine.

  • The parasympathetic nervous system allows the body to rest and digest food by tempering heart rates and stimulating the intestines and glands.
  • The sympathetic nervous system is the body’s reaction to a stressful or dangerous situation. This is what we all know as fight or flight.

    In the first trimester of a healthy pregnancy, the body’s sympathetic nervous system decreases in activity, and parasympathetic activity increases. By the third trimester, the sympathetic nervous system activity increases, and parasympathetic decreases and returns to normal about three months after delivery.

    In chiropractic care, the field I work in, we focus on the pelvis during the prenatal lifestage. The parasympathetic nervous system is located in the lower part of the spine and the pelvis. When we adjust the pelvis and the lower spine during pregnancy, we help the body activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows for better sleep and healthy digestion.

    When we adjust the middle spine, where the sympathetic nervous system is housed, the central nervous system can better find homeostasis to reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline and lower the risk of stress in the mother and the baby.


    Q: So, the parasympathetic system is about growth and development?

    HR: True. Adjusting the mom's pelvis brings her back into a place of rest, digestion, and nutrition where the baby can develop properly. It’s unhealthy for the body to be in a growth and protection mode at the same time.

    And if you're stressed out, the body is in sympathetic dominance, so it wants to fight and flight all the time. This means that any stressor -- no matter how small -- can stress the body a lot easier. A chiropractic adjustment allows the body to rest and relax, so it is not swinging into sympathetic overdrive.

    If the mom were truly in danger, we want that adrenaline to kick in. But we don't want to live our life where we're always like on alert that something is wrong. This will directly impact the baby because it is affected by the mom's nervous system.

    When the mom is able to rest, digest food, calm down, and relax, the baby can also feel that relaxed state. In order to grow a healthy, happy baby who can regulate its emotions, it is important to have a balanced nervous system.


    Q: What do you do when you see a stressed mom in your office?

    HR: I am always talking about stress management during pregnancy. We used to think it didn't matter if the mom was stressed out or not. But now we can see that it matters.

    I see a lot of pregnant women in my office, and a lot of them come in with the stress of the day. Maybe they have other kids they have to take care of, and they are just really bogged down with everything -- the demands of growing a baby and life in general. After I adjust them, they comment on how they just float out of the office. It's like everything that they were stressed about just went away. And that's because adjusting the pelvis, it instantly affects the nervous system and gets them in a restful and relaxed state.