Bringing a new person into the world is not an easy task. Pregnant women generally worry about everything. Are the foods you eat healthy enough? Is it safe to exercise? How will you juggle work and parenthood after the baby arrives? While some stress during pregnancy is normal, just as it is during other times of life; the situation can get worse if stress becomes severe and constant. It can adversely affect you and your baby.
Our body has a ‘flight mode’, which enables automatically when we are stressed about anything. During this process, our body releases stress hormones like cortisol. These are the same hormones that surge when you are in danger. They prepare you to run by sending a blast of fuel to your muscles and making your heart pump faster. If you can deal with your stress and move on, your stress response will recede and your body will go back into balance. But according to Susan Andrews, a clinical neuropsychologist and author of the book Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms: How Breaking Free From Stress Can Boost Your Baby’s Potential "the kind of stress that’s really damaging is the kind that doesn’t let up". In the long term, stress can alter your body’s potential to handle stress, resulting in your body overreact and trigger an inflammatory response.
According to one of the studies, psychological factors do not have a direct impact on the fetus, but when the psychological functioning of a mother is translated to physiological effects, it has an impact on the fetus. Basically, there are three mechanisms through which this can happen.
Firstly, when psychological factors lead to some alterations in maternal behaviors.
Secondly, when it affects the blood flow in such a way that it makes the fetus deprived of oxygen and nutrients.
Third, when the stress-related neurohormones are transported to the fetus through the placenta.
Normally, stress-related hormones such as cortisol are necessary for the development of a baby. But slight variations in the number of hormones reaching the baby can lead to detrimental birth outcomes, especially during the first trimester. It is believed that an increase in the fetal cortisol level can have an adverse effect on the functioning of certain parts of the brain. It can also lead to the impairment of cognitive function at the time of adolescence.
Some of the impact of stress on birth outcome
- Acute stress increases the risk of preterm birth
- Chronic stress increases the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental delays.
Some of the long term effects of stress on an unborn
Maternal stress is not only associated with birth outcomes, but it is also associated with long term effects on the baby. Some of the effects include:
- Women who experience a high level of stress during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with autism. Autism spectrum disorder is a term which is used to describe many developmental disorders. It is characterized by impairments in certain important areas of development. It is associated with a wide range of symptoms such as lack of language development, engagement in the restricted or unusual range of behaviors, and many a time, a child with autism never develop speech.
- Many studies suggest that maternal stress can lead to the development of congenital heart defects. It is defined as an abnormality in the heart that occurs before birth.
When to see a doctor?
It is important for a mother to know when she should visit a doctor. There are certain situations which are not normal during pregnancy. Some of the situations during pregnancy in which, a woman should visit a doctor are as follows:
- Bleeding from the birth canal
- Sharp pain in the stomach
- Loss of consciousness
- Feeling distressed very often
- Swelling in the face
- Baby stops moving
- A headache that lasts for long
How to relax in pregnancy?
1. Seek medical consultation- When it’s getting hard to control your stress, take a step to get medical help for the same. You need to understand that it’s OK to ask others for solutions, which might include meditation, parental yoga, medicines, or just a heart-to-heart talk. There are a number of drugs to relax the mind, you can get them over-the-counter or buy from a reliable online pharmacy after consulting your doctor.
2. Find your peace- Every person finds relaxation in one way or the other. If you feel overwhelmed with your pregnancy, you should take some time out and indulge yourself in activities you find peace in. It could be having a warm bath, a cup of coffee at the terrace, music, reading a nice book, etc. You can also consider it as your last few days of having ‘me time’ as things are more likely to go here and thereafter the baby arrives.
3. Distract yourself- Remember you always wanted to try your hands on painting, but never got enough time due to studies and work? Since you must be having time to kill, try to distract yourself from anxiety and stress by developing a hobby.
4. Get social- There are many women like you out there, who are as nervous and excited about their babies as you are about yours. You can connect with them on various social media or self-help groups and share your feelings with them. Who knows, you get a girlfriend there and your kids share the same bench in school?