The research evidence is growing regarding the effects of stress in pregnancy on both mom and baby.
In 2012, researchers found that rat mothers who were stressed in pregnancy gave birth to smaller pups, had increased adrenal glands and were generally inattentive mothers. In addition, the stressed rat mothers did not experience the 20% increase in neuronal growth that non-stressed rat mothers experienced. The researchers felt these findings support the hypothesis that stress during pregnancy increases the risk of postpartum depression. Read more about this study here.
In 2013, researchers studied data from 511,000 births. They found that fear of childbirth was the second most salient influence on whether or not mothers developed postpartum depression. The fist most influential factor was if there the woman had a personal history of previous depression or anxiety in her lifetime. Read more about this study here.
And the answer is, as always, it depends on the individual. There isn’t a simple answer to the question of how stress affects a woman’s pregnancy. The evidence is clear that long-term, chronic stress during pregnancy can eventually surface as postpartum depression and anxiety. But because each woman has her own individual level of tolerance for stress, it is unknown exactly how much stress is a causative factor for postpartum mood disorders.
First, let’s look at the definition of stress. There are different types of stress: chronic stress, major negative life events and everyday stress.
Research is clear that chronic stress (poverty) and major negative life events (the death of a family member) can have a direct adverse effect on the pregnancy and birth process.
Chronic poverty affects a woman’s pregnancy both physically and emotionally, as she doesn’t have access to good pre-conception healthcare, consistent prenatal care, good nutrition, and good social support. Physically, chronic poverty is a risk factor for prematurity and low birth weight, which can be devastating. Emotionally, poverty is a risk factor for postpartum depression and anxiety.
If a woman experiences a negative life event during pregnancy, particularly during the second trimester, she may experience pregnancy complications, such as prematurity, low birth weight and/ or babies with low birth weight.
But what about the “smaller” stresses? Such as daily work stress? There are many types of stress in a pregnant woman’s daily life, such as partner stress, financial stress, job stress, worries about childcare and anxiety about the pain of childbirth.
With all of these concerns, how much daily stress is too much stress during pregnancy? Well, research show it varies from woman to woman.
The effect of everyday maternal stress on pregnancy has been studied for several decades.
Generally, the studies are composed of small groups of pregnant women and haven’t been consistent with their methods.
In general, you can relax about daily stress and its effects on pregnancy outcome.
On one hand, the research has not consistently found a definite link between “normal” stress and poor outcome in pregnancy.
But, on the other hand, one specialized research team has found interesting results regarding stress and pregnancy. Dr. Dunkel-Shetter’s team at the University of Los Angeles focuses specifically on the effects of stress on pregnancy. They’ve found cumulative evidence that psychosocial stress and daily hassles are associated with prematurity and low birth weight, particularly in African-American women.
In addition, the team finds pregnant women who experience a particular type of anxiety, an anxiety concerning the impending birth and the health of her child, are consistently at risk for preterm birth. Read more about this research here.
So, then, how much daily stress is too much stress for a pregnant woman? After all, stress is a normal part of life.
Don’t get nervous about occasional doubt and anxiety; this doesn’t harm the mom or unborn baby.
But, if you find you are consistently anxious or fearful alot during pregnancy, there may be adverse effects. Low levels of fear and anxiety about pregnancy and the art of birthing make it difficult for a woman to come to a place of trust and relaxation about the birth process. Fear and anxiety before and during the birthing process can feed postpartum depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
The good news is that there are many holistic self-help ways to practice good emotional care during your precious pregnancy!
Holistic Self-Care and Holistic Professional Help
During pregnancy, give yourself the gift of self-care.
BirthTouch® Childbirth Education is professionally run and addresses your emotional well-being by appropriately processing fear and anxiety. A major part of this program is professional-level, personalized, guided imagery and self-hypnosis techniques to invoke the relaxation response. Numerous studies show that 10 – 20 minutes a day of relaxation practices significantly reduce anxiety and depression.
Safe touch has a myriad of evidence-based, proven relaxation and
emotionally comforting benefits. BirthTouch® Shiatsu & Acupressure for the Childbearing Year is chock-full of stress reduction techniques, using positive psychology techniques such as hints on journaling and self-talk and of course, the wonderful partner shiatsu routine!
Aromatherapy is gaining in popularity as the research regarding the efficacy of plant essences for stress management is mounting. Such essences as lavender and rose are known for their calming properties and safety during pregnancy. A good source of pure essential oils is the woman-owned company Mountain Rose Herbs.
Please call me for an on-site or phone consultation to help manage your emotions if your fears and anxiety interfere with your everyday life, such as you are having conflict in major areas of your life (relationships at home, friendships at work and in the quality of work) it’s a sign that you should obtain professional help.
If you have significant life stressors, such as a history of a mental health diagnosis, or if you are introducing a baby into a complex, high-conflict, blended family, or if you have suffered past sexual, physical or emotional abuse issues which are being triggered by the emotional and physical changes of pregnancy, it’s also a sign you should seek professional help.
If you’re not feeling like talking, Reiki is a wonderful, safe method of stress reduction.