1. Stress can cause early delivery & low birth weight.
The future baby’s well-being is the ultimate concern that accompanies every expectant mother, and these worries can turn into real stress. Paradoxically, the first thing you need to do to have a healthy baby is calm down. Ann Borders, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Evanston Hospital, says that the inability to cope with stressful situations contributes to early delivery and low birth weight.
Stress increases the production of a corticotropin-releasing hormone (or CRH). In mothers-to-be, CRH influences the length of a pregnancy and the fetal maturation. The higher the CRH level, the sooner the labor day comes.
The surprising thing is, it’s the first trimester that matters the most. We used to think that to prevent premature birth, expectant mothers should mostly avoid during the last trimester. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. The pre-term delivery is provoked by an early rise of CRH, caused by stress experienced during the first weeks of pregnancy.
2. It influences the baby’s IQ and brain development.
Scientists have found that high cortisol levels can lower a child’s IQ. Normally, the placenta produces enzymes that break down cortisol, but it cannot cope well enough if the stress is too intense or too prolonged.
They have also confirmed that stress experienced during pregnancy may have an effect on the baby’s brain development. In particular, a study conducted by a Wayne State University team found that maternal stress influences brain connectivity and the organization of neural functional systems, making it less efficient.
These new technologies have also allowed researchers to understand that our brain doesn’t develop from the simplest to the most complicated systems. It turns out that the cerebellum, the stress-response center is one of the first things to develop, making the fetus sensitive to a mother’s stress from the very beginning.
3. It can provoke sleep issues.
Surprisingly, the mother’s mood influences not only fetal development but also sleep. A 2007 study discovered that the expectant mother’s stress influences the baby’s sleep time.
The scientists examined babies ages 6, 18, and 30 months, measuring their sleep time and how often they wake up during the night. It turns out that children whose mothers experienced anxiety during their pregnancy period had sleep issues at 18 and 30 months. This happens because of cortisol that goes through the placenta and affects the brain area that is responsible for the baby’s circadian rhythm.
4. Pregnancy stress may cause problems with the baby’s health.
A 2011 study has confirmed that maternal stress influences a child’s health in general. The results showed a higher risk of an early infection and mental disorders in children who suffered from stress in the womb. There are also other problems, like eye, ear, digestive, respiratory, skin, musculoskeletal, circulatory, and genitourinary diseases. It can also contribute to a child’s development of allergies and asthma.
A link was also found between stress and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The influence of stress, in this case, turned out to be stronger than that of a smoking pregnant mother.
5. It elevates the child’s fear and anxiety levels.
Dr. Elysia Davis from the University of Denver says that a high cortisol level in a pregnant woman makes a child more prone to feeling stress in the future. This shows up almost immediately when the newborn’s blood is drawn by the hospital. These babies show a more intense stress response.
As toddlers, they experience fear when exposed to simple challenges like seeing a stranger entering a room or having a ball rolled toward them. Normally, a kid would joyfully join in the game, but these children freeze or run to their moms to feel safe again.
Mothers also noticed that these children show a more intense level of anxiety at preschool and school age and are more afraid of going to school.
Not all stress is the same.
After reading all this information, you may want to avoid even the slightest stressful situation, hide from the world, and practice meditation day and night, but hey, leave that bubble alone!
Research shows that short-term stress doesn’t harm the baby. To know this, they measured the cortisol levels in expectant mothers’ saliva and the amniotic fluid after a stressful event, and found that short-term stress didn’t influence the fetus at all.
Long-term stress, on the other hand, does lead to an increase in CRH levels in the amniotic fluid, elevating the risk of the consequences described above.
How to deal with stress:
Fortunately, stress isn’t something you can’t cope with. There’s always a way to keep it at bay. Here’s what you can do:
The effect of stress can be reversed.
The research conducted on prairie voles, whose behavior and reactions are similar to humans, showed that stress may be beneficial if the baby has a supportive environment after birth. The cortisol rise the fetus experiences in the womb may promote developmental plasticity. Those subjects who experienced a high-quality of care after birth showed no signs of elevated anxiety.
Another study also showed that love and the strong bond created between a mother and her child was able to reverse the impact of stress experienced in the womb, even in terms of babies’ cognitive development.
Well, what else can we say: don’t worry too much! Your love and support is the main thing your baby needs. Talk to your belly bump, stroke it, sing songs to it — help your body send the fetus signs of your love and care.