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Your Stress During Pregnancy Also Stresses Your Baby

Katlyn Joy |29, January 2014


We know we have to eat right, get plenty of rest, exercise and take those prenatal vitamins. We get good prenatal care and stop bad habits, like drinking endless cups of coffee, smoking or tipping back the drinks. But perhaps one of the most important things we should do for our babies is left undone; taking care of ourselves emotionally.

It's perhaps the biggest unwritten rule of motherhood, you must be selfless to be a good mother. I must come last; I am the least priority.

However, maybe when the word gets out that our mental state during pregnancy has an immediate and perhaps a lifelong effect on our children, we may begin to heed our own needs.

A study out in 2012 looked at births of women who had experienced the stress of living near, (within 18 miles) of a major tropical storm or hurricane in the last trimester found that a whooping 60 percent had an infant with abnormal conditions. For instance, many needed a ventilator after birth for up to 30 minutes, or had experienced meconium aspiration.

According to an article published in September 2009 in a clinical obstetrics journal, researchers discussed the link between a woman's stress and depression levels in pregnancy and the neurobehavioral development of her baby.

"Maternal antenatal anxiety and/or depression have been shown to predict increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders in children, and to confer risk for future mental illness. Reports show that elevated levels of antenatal depression and anxiety are associated with poor emotional adjustment in young children."

Researchers found a connection between a mother's psychological state and the unborn child's fetal heart rate, activity level, sleep patterns and movement, leading those conducting the studies to believe a mother's chronic mood may impact the child's central nervous system.

Assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University is a leader in this field of study and says, "Research indicates that even before birth, mothers' moods may affect child development."

Monk and her associates have conducted tests monitoring heart rates, nervous system arousal and blood pressure, studying both anxious and/or depressed pregnant women as well as those without the conditions, and put them through challenging mental exercises to induce a level of stress. All women, regardless of their anxiety or depression or lack thereof, experienced stress. However, only the babies of the anxious or depressed women developed stressful reactions of their own.

"This difference suggests that these fetuses are already more sensitive to stress. Perhaps that's because of a genetic predisposition inherited from the parents. Or it could be because the fetuses' nervous systems are already being shaped by their mothers' emotional states," says Monk.

What This Means to Us

This isn't another thing to measure yourself against and fear failure in as an expectant mother. It's the time to realize how important you are. How well you take care of yourself, address your needs, your stresses, impacts your baby perhaps into the rest of his or her life.

It's a wake up call to Moms everywhere. We have to stop ignoring ourselves. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, don't plaster on a smile and keep the secret, soldiering on silently. If you are worried about taking antidepressants so you choose not to tell your physician about troublesome symptoms, you are missing the point. Your stress will affect your child whether you treat the anxiety or not. Additionally, there are other feasible treatments besides drugs such as therapy, meditation and biofeedback.

On the small scale, it begins with taking charge of your life and learning to say no to the things that are unnecessary and wear us down. You don't have to be a PTA fundraising chair while in your second trimester. You don't have to plan your cousin's wedding while suffering from morning sickness. You are allowed to bow out, without apology. You are occupied, quite literally, while pregnant.

So laugh more, rest when you feel the need, slow down, and tell someone when you are not feeling yourself. If not for you, for your baby.

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