Effects of Stress During Pregnancy

In a busy world today a pregnant woman faces a variety of issues that can cause stress. Stress during pregnancy creates an emotional strain on the mother that in turn produces a physiological response such as a surge in stress hormones or increase in heart rate. A mild stress during pregnancy has no effect at all but being under stress for a long time creates problems.

In general stress induces the release of stress hormones in the body. When a pregnant woman is under stress for a long time there is an over production of stress hormones which affects the baby. For example, Cortisol which is a stress hormone, on over production by the mother can raise the set point for blood pressure of the baby. This effect of Cortisol makes the baby suffer from high blood pressure during adulthood. Large amounts of this hormone can even affect the fetal brain and cause structural and functional damages. It can also directly affect the baby by freely crossing the placenta.

A pregnant mother can experience extreme stress during situations such as unhealthy marriage, divorce, physical or mental abuse, disinterested partners, loss of a loved one, loneliness etc. Unborn babies of these mothers are exposed to malnutrition, toxins and a mixture of stress hormones. Babies born out of these unhealthy environments often become under active, hyperactive, temperamental, inattentive, and depressive or even develop autism. Hence it is important to understand that some of the behavioral or physiological problems of a child today may be due to consequences of events that happened years ago.

Maternal stress during pregnancy is responsible for the asymmetry in the coordination of fingers, feet, elbows, ears etc. that results in low I.Q of a child. According to scientists maternal stress can also affect the developing nervous system and lead to problems in the child’s thinking, perception and memory. It can also reduce blood flow through the uterine arteries, thus reducing the amount of nutrients supplied to the baby.

Low level stress which is not harmful is produced by fluctuations in body weight, irregular sleep patterns, improper diet and imbalance in hormones. However, increased amount of stress can lead to mothers suffering from high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, heart problems and susceptibility to cold or flu type infections. Studies show that severe stress can cause an increased risk of miscarriage or birth defects during early pregnancy and premature labor or birth of low weight babies during the later stages. A new research has shown that women who have been stressed out during pregnancy have babies that are likely to suffer from problems such as allergies and asthma.

Though extreme stress can cause damage to both the mother and the baby, it can always be kept at bay. Some of the simple ways to deal with stress during pregnancy are eating regularly, doing gentle exercises such as meditation or yoga and relaxation. Another way of releasing stress is by sharing one’s feelings about pregnancy with their partner or other close ones.