Life is stressful, and so is pregnancy, and parenthood. It seems never-ending, and that things will never be easy. In some ways many of us become used to a stressed-out and manic existence, rarely taking time out from the grind, or consuming thoughts to take some much needed self-care.
How many people reading this would be surprised to read that stress negatively impacts their family, from the time mom and dad try to conceive, to potentially the rest of this child’s life?
It’s not surprising. Many experts believe that chronic stress, particularly during pregnancy and infanthood may be doing more significant damage than we may think. No matter how healthy mom eats and how many negative foods she cuts out of her prenatal diet. And now here we’ve gone and added yet another item to the endless list of things that cause stress.
Severe stress can manifest itself in many different ways, and be attributed to a variety of sources. Stress can come via negative life events including: illness, loss of a job, death in the family, divorce, catastrophic global events (natural disasters, global events), financial stressors, depression, racism, pregnancy related stress, post-traumatic stress, or abuse.
Since mom is attached to baby from inception onwards, it shouldn’t surprise us that what impacts her also has an effect on the child, it just seems to be more influential than many have originally thought. These are the 15 ways that stress impacts baby, and what moms can do to mitigate some of the risks associated.
15Stress Can Increase In-Utero Infections
You know how that cold comes the week of, or the week following, that big presentation? That’s a pretty good example of how stress impacts our bodies. The same thing happens during pregnancy; pair that with a suppressed immune system and you have the perfect cocktail for infection.
Dr. Wadhwa says, "When the mother is stressed, several biological changes occur, including elevation of stress hormones and increased likelihood of intrauterine infection." Chronic stress has been coined as one of the Western world’s most prominent health problems, and it’s believed that stress can be attributed to anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of American visits to their primary care physician visits.
In fact stress is such a huge issue for the population in general that there is a new medical field called “psychoneuroimmunology” that looks at the impact psychological stress has on the human immune system.
14The Child Will Be More Prone To Stress
In studying the impact of prenatal stress on a child, Dr. Wadhwa says. "The fetus builds itself permanently to deal with this kind of high-stress environment, and once it's born may be at greater risk for a whole bunch of stress-related pathologies.”
Another study that looked at the impact of cortisol, which naturally increases during pregnancy, discovered that women with above average levels of cortisol before pregnancy gave birth to children who had a heightened sensitivity to stress when compared to other babies.
The same babies showed increased anxiety compared to other children when they were toddlers as well, at when they were aged six to nine MRI scans showed that the portion of the brain, known as the amygdala, that is associated with response to frightening stimuli was larger than average.
13Stress Can Impact Brain Development
The way a brain develops can be subtly different because of chronic stress. These changes may also lead to behavior issues for a child as they grow up. While research surrounding this is still quite new, it’s something that is important to be monitored and studied.
Researchers often want to assure expecting moms that this isn’t just another item for them to worry about, or add to the laundry list of concerns, dos and don’ts of pregnancy, but as a signal that pregnancy is an important time to look after yourself, and your own health first.
Feeling guilty about being stressed is not the result anyone is looking for here, but by developing better coping habits to deal with stressors women and their children will be less likely to suffer from the after effects of chronic stress during pregnancy.
12Stress Is Linked To Infertility
Opinions vary among experts as to whether or not stress can impact a person’s ability to conceive. Since high levels of stress can impact estrogen, progesterone levels, and alter a woman’s menstrual cycle odds are that someone who is using manual cycle tracking methods may have a harder time conceiving.
Irregular periods can also lead to disappointment when a woman thinks she may be pregnant and her cycle is simply shifting.
Dealing with infertility in and of itself and the disappointment associated with month after month of negative pregnancy tests, and the physical and emotional strain present among those who are seeking fertility treatment takes a dramatic toll on everyone involved. While not all doctors agree about stress causing infertility, others may see this type of situation as a vicious cycle for people who are hoping to conceive.
11The First Trimester Stress Has The Most Impact On Baby
The first trimester is the time period during pregnancy when a woman is most likely to miscarry, and this in and of itself can be a cause for stress among many expecting woman. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that the first trimester is the time period of pregnancy when stress has the largest effect on mom and the baby.
The research group also looked at the second and third trimester, but discovered these time periods weren’t nearly as susceptible. The results also suggest how stress may impact baby even before a woman knows that she is expecting.
Their findings care of mouse test subjects found that this is an important time period surrounding environmental impacts such as stress, infections, and malnutrition. So a little extra focus on getting more sleep, some stress busting physical activity, and a lot more nutrition is a good bet for anyone who is trying to conceive.
10Stress Can Cause Preterm Birth
The most known impact of maternal stress throughout pregnancy is pre-term birth. This knowledge has evolved over the course of nearly 20 years of both animal and human research on the subject.
New studies by Dr. Wadhwa and team points towards a direct correlation between high levels of stress and pre-term birth with one in 10 women delivering her child before 37 weeks of gestation and as many as one in eight women in the USA have their babies prematurely. The earlier a child is born, the greater their risks for complications.
The risks for pre-term babies throughout their lives include lung disease, breathing problems, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, learning disorders, and even infant mortality. Some other research suggests that babies who have undergone significant stress during gestation are more likely to develop certain health issues as adults including diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.
9Baby Could Have A Lower Birth Weight
Birth weight is so much more than a statistic on a birth announcement, it’s highly critical from a medical perspective. There is a wide range of what is considered normal and what is considered low (less than five lbs and eight ounces when born after 37 weeks).
Many children are simply born small and don’t experience any complications related to their size, whereas others didn’t receive adequate nutrition in-utero, or were born too early. Risks for babies with lower birth weight include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and such children will be closely monitored to make sure they are growing and gaining weight at a healthy rate.
Here’s where stress comes in; stress hormones including epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol can cause a person’s blood vessels to constrict, which can also include the blood flow to the umbilical cord making it difficult for the baby to get all of the nutrients they need.
8Stressed Moms Are More Likely To Hurt The Fetus Unintentionally
Different people cope with stress in different ways. A lot of the time when we’re on deadline or dealing with a family emergency we put our own needs on the backburner. This means we sleep less, rely on take-out more often, skip our daily exercise, and double down on caffeine during the day and sometimes wine in the evening.
Some people will smoke or take drugs to relieve some of their stressors, which is problematic for all people, particularly those who are pregnant. Pair this behavior with an unknown pregnancy during the first trimester, when the body has an elevated risk for impact from stress and things get even dicier.
Practicing some simple meditation, sipping on some herbal tea or lemon infused water, or taking a much needed nap is a good idea for both mom and baby.
7Moms Chances Of High Blood Pressure Or Preeclampsia Increase
Preeclampsia is often seen as a rarity that happens in pregnancy only affecting two percent of healthy expecting women in their twenties, but that number increases in mothers who are expecting in their 40s. While many believe that stress is not a significant contributor to instances of preeclampsia, other evidence says differently.
In a study conducted by the University College Cork, the blood pressure was monitored of 1000 healthy women who were divided into three groups: 1) working moms 2) those who decided not to work during pregnancy and 3) unemployed. Women who were working during their pregnancy were nearly five times as likely to develop preeclampsia compared to those who weren’t.
This is not enough evidence for concern, however it should be noted that women who had physical based jobs (and not office jobs) had the highest blood pressure.
6Stress Can Lower The Baby’s IQ
Want a baby who is on the honor roll? Consider lightening your stress load to ensure your baby gets all of the IQ points they can by practicing stress reduction.
A study that measured the IQ of over 100 toddlers and infants of moms who had undergone considerably significant levels of stress during their pregnancy had lower IQs to the score of around 10 points below average compared to those who had normal stress levels throughout pregnancy. Many of these children also suffered from attention deficit disorders as well as anxiety concerns.
The women who participated in the study usually attributed their pregnancy stresses as related to relationship problems with a partner. If relationship woes are stressing you out during pregnancy, talk to your partner, and consider getting counseling for the sake of the relationship, yourself and baby!
5Children Are More Likely To Be Depressed
A study presented at the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience found that fetal programming is linked to adulthood disease, such as depression. The study found that there is a key enzyme they believe is responsible for this programming.
Professor Megan Holmes said, "The stress hormone cortisol may be a key factor in programming the fetus, baby or child to be at risk of disease in later life. Cortisol causes reduced growth and modifies the timing of tissue development as well as having long lasting effects on gene expression."
It is hoped that this study, and ones showing similar results will help evolve healthcare to support preventative methods for expectant mothers in stressful environments such as abuse, malnutrition or bereavement, as well as create additional supports for children subject to this environment and screening for mood disorders.
4Stress During Early Childhood Impacts Insulin And More…
Remaining stress resistant during pregnancy isn’t enough. The stress a child encounters in the first few years of their life can last for a lifetime or at the very least into their teenage years.
A study found that when parents were under extreme stress during the first several years of their child’s life it impacted some of the child’s genes, specifically those involved in the production of insulin and brain development. This had impact on the child over a decade later, during adolescence.
Both maternal stressors during the infant years and paternal ones during preschool were the most linked indicators towards these genes. An expert on the subject, Michael Kobor says, “This literally provides a mechanism by which experiences ‘get under the skin’ to stay with us for a long time.”
3ADHD And Autism Spectrum Disorder
Many parents can relate that when they’re on edge about something, their child is much more likely to act up, often at the worst possible time. Children are linked to their parents and feel their pains as well as more joyful moments. Our little sponges pick up more from us than we’d like; whether it’s that F bomb dropped because of a stubbed toe, or that sinking feeling that everything is not okay.
In addition to depression, addiction and mood disorders, some even believe that extreme parental stress can be linked to ADHD and autism, particularly during pregnancy, although other researchers remain skeptical and believe more research needs to be conducted before a solid and consistent link is found.
When the brain develops differently in a response to the stress present it is called Predictive Adaptive Response.
2Stress Can Cause Sleep And Behavioral Issues In Young Children
Many people wonder what little kids even have to be stressed about, but stress, just like anything else can begin at a very young age. By recognizing the signs of stress in your child you can help them better cope and provide them with the life skills they need to survive and thrive.
It’s hard for toddlers and younger kids to express themselves verbally, so look for changes in behavior. Sudden irritability, moodiness, and withdrawal from activities they normally enjoy, crying, clinging too much to a parent, or eating and sleeping pattern changes should be noted. Stress can also rear its head in terms of feeling sick.
A sudden increase in headaches or stomach aches could be directly related to stress. Take the time to listen to your child and help them talk out these emotions. If you are worried that your child’s stress is getting out of control don’t hesitate to reach out for help!
1But, Social Grooming Can Help
Creating a safe and low stress environment and safe space for your family is an important priority. This space begins with relationships with friends and other family members. Helicoptering a child is going to increase their stress. Being nearby with a support network on the sidelines when they need it is the best way to provide them with the freedom to be children and to develop.
When parents are social and enjoying themselves, kids will often mirror this behaviour. If a child (or animal) senses that mom or dad is happily spending time with friends and family their brain signals that it’s not a fight or flight situation and they’ll be free to develop in other ways instead of raising their defence mechanisms.
A little extra unwind time for the entire family is a safe and enjoyable way to socialize your children into taking time for themselves, after all you are their best teacher.
Sources: Science Daily, WebMD, Parents, News Week, The Guardian, Fit Pregnancy, Forbes
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