Stress is unavoidable, but so many warn against its negative effects. If you don’t find a way to manage it, chronic stress causes a lot of other problems, like headaches, trouble sleeping, weight gain, and even depression. Under any circumstances, these side effects would be troubling, but it can be even worse during pregnancy.
When pregnant women are extremely stressed for long periods of time, the stress hormone cortisol rises in their blood. Since babies rely on their mother’s blood for nutrients, your little one is also exposed to these high levels of cortisol. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how stress during pregnancy affects development, a number of health problems are associated with high stress during pregnancy.
Stress during pregnancy affects your baby’s overall health
Pregnancy comes with a lot of hormonal and physical changes of its own, and although some stress is normal, if you find yourself stressed out all the time, it can have many negative consequences for you and your baby.
High stress can increase the risk of a preterm birth
Women who feel anxious or depressed during their pregnancy are more likely to have a preterm birth than women who aren’t stressed, according to a study from the Netherlands. Women were between 1 to 3 percent more likely to have a preterm birth when they were highly stressed.
Extreme stress can lower your child’s IQ
A study of 100 babies who had mothers with high stress while pregnant found they had, on average, a 10 point lower IQ than babies whose mothers didn’t suffer from chronic stress. To ensure your baby is healthy from the start and has a healthy development later on in life, follow healthy pregnancy tips and find ways to relieve stress through exercise, meditation, or another safe method.
Stress increases chances your child will have ADHD
While stress is by no means the only cause of ADHD, it may be a contributing factor. A study of over 1,000 British children found anxiety during pregnancy might account for 15 percent of cases of ADHD.
There’s an association between stress and pregnancy and low birth weight
Cortisol decreases the amount of blood that reaches the fetus, depriving it of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow properly. According to Tech Times, it’s normal for cortisol to increase during pregnancy, even as much as four times (it’s a stressful process, after all), but if it increases more than that, it can have a profound impact on your child’s development. One of the most immediate impacts is low birth weight.
Children whose mothers were over-stressed during pregnancy are more likely to develop a mood disorder
Children whose mothers were depressed had an abnormal right amygdala, which influences how they react to stress. In fact, it’s often associated with depression according to Medical Daily. The stress from depression isn’t the only thing that affects later development. Children with low birth weights are also more likely to develop mood disorders like anxiety. Since pregnancy and stress have an association with low birth weight, these children are at risk for other mood disorders as well.
How to reduce stress during pregnancy
Stress might cause a lot of problems, but luckily, most people learn to manage their stress so it never becomes chronic in the first place. If you’re worried about the extra anxiety of pregnancy, here are some ideas to help reduce stress and stay positive and balanced.
- Practice a calming activity like meditation, yoga or tai chi – they direct your focus to stop worrying and teach you to manipulate your breathing so you can calm yourself down if you feel stressed during the day.
- Follow a healthy diet plan – aside from getting all the nutrients your baby needs, healthy eating plans will help keep your system balanced. Sugar and processed foods actually increase the stress hormone cortisol, so choose whole, natural foods.
- Exercise regularly – exercising will bring your energy up by releasing endorphins and work off some of your stress. It may also promote a positive body image, so you won’t stress as much about all the changes going on.
- Get enough sleep – although being pregnant can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle, it’s important to get enough sleep. If you don’t, it can interfere with hormone production, your immune system, and your mood.
It’s common to feel more stress when you’re pregnant, but it’s important not to let that stress become overwhelming or chronic. Focus on the positive things in your life and everything you’re looking forward to. If you find positive ways to reduce your stress, you shouldn’t have to worry about any complications. If you do find that your stress is getting the better of you, speak with your doctor about other options.