The Truth About Stress During Pregnancyby Elizabeth MacDonald
Pregnancy is a stressful time on a woman’s body. The normal physical and hormonal changes can be hard, but the reality is that excessive stress during pregnancy can have severe consequences for the health of your baby if it is not managed.
It’s already known that extreme stress during pregnancy can lead to increased risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. In the later stages of pregnancy, extreme stress can lead to premature labor, premature birth and low birth-weight babies. But more than that, research indicates that prenatal stress can also increase the risk of a baby being born with asthma or allergies, and so many other lifelong challenges.
High levels of stress while pregnant can predict:
- greater behavioral and physiological stress reactivity in fetuses, infants and children
- decreased cognitive ability in infant
Stress during the first trimester of pregnancy alters the population of microbes living in a mother’s vagina. Those changes are passed on to newborns during birth and are associated with differences in their gut microbiome as well as their brain development. (According to research presented in 2013 by the Society of Neuroscience, “features of the mother’s vaginal microbiome were altered by stress, and in turn, changes were transmitted to the offspring’s gut.”)
Increased stress in pregnancy also elevates the fetal heart rate. Research comparing stress to mood changes shows that a bad mood or bad day does not alter the fetus, but stressful situations and lifestyles do.
The brain development of a baby is strongly compromised by maternal stress. Prenatal stress changes normal brain developmental trajectory, alters brain cellular behavior, remodels cerebral structure and morphology, disturbs neurotransmission, and reprograms the vulnerability or resiliency to neurological diseases in later life.
Other Possible Effects of Stress:
Asthma and Allergies: Babies born to mothers who are experiencing extreme stress levels had more immunoglobulin E (IgE) in their blood at birth than babies who are born to mothers with normal stress levels.
Enhanced vulnerability of neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: Studies indicate a close link between prenatal stress and enhanced risk of development of cardio-metabolic syndrome, stroke, neuro-behavioral, neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric pathogenesis in adolescence and/or adulthood.
The most common forms of stress that pregnant women encounter include:
- Relationship Problems
It is vital that pregnant women are given adequate support and reassurance from their family, friends and employers, to ensure they have a happy and healthy pregnancy.
Stress is going to happen. It is inevitable. But how one handles the stress is what seems to be of importance. Working through it before it becomes ongoing and overwhelming will help lower the chances of any maternal stress-related complications.