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.