Women who are stressed during pregnancy have a 54% increased risk of delivering prematurely, according to research published in 2016. With prematurity being the number one cause of neonatal death, teaching a woman how to take charge of their stress is not only beneficial to her but could possibly also save her baby’s life.
Here’s what all pregnant women need to know about stress.
Stress impacts your baby’s neurological, physical and emotional development in the womb. We like to believe that babies are protected completely from any outside influences and that the baby will grow and thrive as it is programmed to do. However, fetal development is a dynamic process whereby the baby grows and develops based on the environment it is in - your womb.
Thus, if you experience high or chronic anxiety, the stress hormones that course through your blood also make it into your baby’s blood. This can impact your baby’s nervous system, developing in a way to anticipate high levels of stress as normal. These babies, once born, tend to be fussier, harder to soothe and have difficulty sleeping.
Additionally, the stress that you are under, impacts the blood flow to the baby. Being under stress causes your body to constrict blood vessels, including uterine arteries, physically changing the way blood flows to your baby. This has been shown to impact your baby’s growth, with many women under distress during pregnancy giving birth to babies of low birthweight. Additionally, research has identified maternal stress as a risk factor for stillbirth.
Babies born to women who are stressed during pregnancy are also at risk for developing emotional problems later in life such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and motor delays, as a result of how the baby’s brain and nervous system developed in utero during a high-stress pregnancy.
Don’t try to avoid stress, learn to manage it.
Stress is part of everyday life and cannot be avoided. Additionally, not all stress affects your baby or your pregnancy. The natural ups and downs of day to day life, such as having an argument with your partner, running late to an appointment or feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list once in awhile will not hurt your baby. It’s when your stress is high for many days at a time or there is an underlying tension or anxiety that will affect your pregnancy and baby.
Techniques such as mindful breathing, visualizations and challenging negative thinking can help bring your stress levels down quickly so they don’t impact your pregnancy. Make sure that you stay connected with your social support network, talking to friends and family regularly. If your doctor has said it is safe, light exercise, yoga and being outside in the sun are also excellent tools to manage your stress.
Be honest with yourself about how stressed you truly are. If you recognize that your anxiety is impacting your ability to sleep, eat or enjoy your day-to-day activities, don’t just blame pregnancy hormones. Seek the help of a professional expert who can help you manage your anxiety and help you have a healthier pregnancy.