How does stress affect my baby?

Posted by | October 03, 2019 | LENS, Lifestyle, Pregnancy Medicine | No Comments

How does stress affect my baby?

Not all stress is created equal. Some stress is psychological and other stress is physical. Stress is a continuum as it can vary from everyday occurrences to life-threatening events. Many expectant mothers “stress out” about preparing for their new baby. Although, it is annoying, this stress is generally harmless.  Most physical stress, such as the enlarged abdomen of a pregnant woman is quite common and also generally harmless.  Still yet, if pain, depression or trouble sleeping accompanies stress, it should be monitored and reported to a doctor. Extreme stress is harmful as it can lead to high blood pressure and damage to major organs.

Stress can be measured by elevations in the stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. As well, stress typically leads to increased cortisol production.  Prolonged exposure to these stress hormones affect the nervous system and immune system and have been implicated in excessive abdominal weight gain.  Stress hormones act by constricting blood vessels and reducing oxygen in the blood.  In conditions of chronic stress, heart disease, diabetes and stroke may result. Even in short bouts of stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue and restlessness may occur.

In pregnant women, elevated stress hormones decrease the oxygen and nutrients to the organs surrounding the baby, increasing the risk of miscarriage and pre-term labor.  Specifically, the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) that tracks fetal development and pregnancy progression, are released at increased rates during periods of excessive stress. The CRH production might best explain how stress leads to premature labor and stunted fetal growth and development.

Pregnant women should monitor their stress levels and reduce or eliminate excessive stress. Research shows that personality-based coping strategies are particularly useful for relieving stress. Women with hope and optimism fare much better than women laden with guilt and anxiety.  Additionally, eating nutritious meals, exercising, getting the proper amount of sleep, and educating oneself about unknowns that pose a threat also significantly reduce stress. Pregnant women can avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking practice stretching and breathing exercises to reducing stress.  Also, with adequate education about the pregnancy-, childbirth- and childrearing experience, most stress can be alleviated among expectant mothers.


Dr. Gareth Forde

About Dr. Gareth Forde

An obstetrician-gynecologist, a clinical professor, a researcher, and a father of five—and he delivered them all! He speaks and publishes extensively on maternal and child health issues, where he emphasizes the role of a healthy maternal lifestyle, good nutrition, and breastfeeding on infant development. He chose the field of obstetrics because it is a celebration of life, a happy and exciting profession. “Children are a blessing and they bring joy and laughter to the world,” he says. “I cherish my work, as a doctor and a dad.” The study of genetic imprinting is a major focus of both Dr. Forde’s research and medical practice. This looks at what happens in the womb, how the genes a baby inherits are expressed (turned on and off), and how this influences the child’s health after birth. “This field holds great promise, shedding light on many unsolved mysteries in health and disease from infancy to adulthood,” he adds. Dr. Forde grew up in London, England and Orlando, Florida. He received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School and is currently pursuing a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the University of California, Irvine. Prior to this, he practiced with Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners, a consortium of Saint Mary’s Health Care, Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University, and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine—where he was a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. He also has a master’s in molecular and cellular biology from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University; a Ph.D. in environmental science (computational chemistry) from Jackson State University; and a post-doctoral fellowship in biophysics from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York.”