We are only now beginning to understand the far-reaching impacts that a mother’s activities, diet, health and emotions can have on the fetus that she carries.
It isn’t just an old wives’ tale that if you are stressed, irritable and depressed during your pregnancy, some of that may impact your developing fetus, and scientists are constantly working to fathom how this works.
It could be stress and anxiety that arise out of stressful situations of life: a relationship problem or a breakup, a bereavement, domestic abuse, infidelity, etc. or there could be everyday stress such as dealing with household chores, older children and their needs or even just the feeling of being overwhelmed by the enormity of impending motherhood.
One may just be worried about the process of childbirth, pain management and recovery. It is natural to feel stressed and anxious, and a feeling of loneliness during pregnancy, even when one has the benefit of a loving partner and a support system.
The negative impact of stress during pregnancy: Risk of certain conditions such as preeclampsia (gestational hypertension or high blood pressure) increases due to stress.
There is also a higher likelihood of complications during labor and childbirth. The baby is also at higher risk of being born with a lower birth weight or preterm.
Some experts also attribute qualities of a child such as being hyperactive, temperamental, poorly behaved or having low self control to stress experienced by a mother during her pregnancy.
The reason why stress can impact a child negatively: Under stress, the human body produces the hormone cortisol, which can cross over the placental barrier to the baby.
This is not the most conducive environment for baby to develop. It is not yet fully understood how and why stress impacts the unborn child so negatively, but we do know that it is important to manage it effectively during pregnancy.
Recognizing signs of stress during pregnancy: Since there is so much at stake when you are pregnant it is important to look after yourself and watch out for these signs of depression, stress or anxiety:
- If you feel weepy or tearful frequently and repeatedly. An occasional crying jag could just be a surge of hormones, but consistently being weepy is not OK.
- Constantly feeling sad, inadequate or unhappy.
- Frequent irritability or short temperedness. Having little or no patience with other children in the house or feeling anger all the time.
- Indulging in risky behavior of any sort.