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How Does Stress during Pregnancy Affect the Baby?

pregnant woman depression

We all go through stress at some point. But when it becomes excessive and goes on for too long, it becomes a cause for concern, for example, in pregnant women.

When a woman undergoes chronic stress (not acute) for long periods during pregnancy, the surge in cortisol can affect the unborn baby's development through the amniotic fluid.

The high level of stress hormone during pregnancy can affect the baby's brain development, predisposing the child to psychiatric conditions later. Such stress has also been associated with a higher level of preterm birth.

Research shows that stress during the second trimester of pregnancy may affect the baby's temperament and ability to regulate emotions. system, putting them at risk or  

The Stressful Challenges Expectant Mothers go Through

Most women often have to go through pregnancy with so much on their plate. The strain of carrying on their daily tasks while being heavy, combined with the thought of caring for their child, can make expectant mothers always feel on edge.

Sadly, if a pregnant woman is continually stressed for long periods, it puts their baby at risk of ADHD and other cardiovascular diseases.

Although the mechanism of how stress affects the unborn child isn't clear at present, it seems to be through the amniotic fluid, the fluid surrounding the fetus. Typically, the stress in the mother can change the placenta's metabolism and influence the growth of the fetus. This was discovered in a research conducted in Zurich.

How Stress Hormones Affect the Growth of Fetus

When under stress, our bodies release stress hormones, such as cortisol, to handle the chaotic, mental environment. Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) is another hormone that increases during stress.

The placenta, which supplies nutrients to the unborn child, also secrets CRH when the pregnant woman undergoes stress. Consequently, minimal amounts of CRH enter the fetus through the amniotic fluid. Studies show that the hormone boosts the growth of the child.

This secretion of stress hormone into a fetus isn't naturally a bad condition; it's a design that aims to protect the baby.

However, unfavorable conditions may occur at any time, causing premature delivery. In such cases, the stress hormone is released into the baby, expediting development and boosting their chances for survival.

Unfortunately, this increase in stress hormones can negatively impact the development of fetal organs during the baby's accelerated growth. And this only happens when the stress hormone is released for extended periods.

What bout Short Bouts of Stress During Pregnancy?

Short-term stress during pregnancy does not affect the unborn child. That's because the stress hormone released into the amniotic fluid is minimal and of very little consequence.

The research compared the cortisol levels in 34 pregnant women's saliva and the CRH in the amniotic fluid. The conclusion was that amid short-term stress, the fetus remains protected.

On the other hand, the CRH in the amniotic fluid increases significantly when the stress goes on for long periods. As s result, the effect on fetal growth becomes evident.

Why Moms Must Prioritize Stress Management During Pregnancy

Although short-term stress may not necessarily affect your unborn child's development, stress can significantly affect you the mom.

Research shows that mothers who were exposed to stress during pregnancy had worse postpartum depression symptoms.

The good news?

Pregnant and new moms can get help from loved ones to reduce their stress levels so they can keep themselves and their babies safe.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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