Stress in pregnancy: possible effects on the baby and remedies

Stress in pregnancy: possible effects on the baby and remedies
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Try stress in pregnancy it is quite a common occurrence. During pregnancy, in fact, many changes occur - in the body, in the mood, perhaps in the rhythm of the days - which for some women can be stressful, while in other cases the stress can depend on concerns about the health of the fetus, for childbirth, for future life with a baby at home, for work that could be at risk and so on.

"It is not necessarily something negative," says the professor , gynecologist (also specialist in endocrinology) of the University and Policlinico San Matteo of Pavia. "We doctors talk about eustress, a 'good' stress, which helps the organism to face new challenges, new changes if it can be dealt with in a positive way. "In this regard, Nappi stresses that the maternal organism is" programmed "to adapt positively to the stress that it can occur in pregnancy, "because the placenta produces substances capable of intercepting cortisol, the main stress hormone, blocking its effects".

On the other hand, if the stress is really very intense or due to temperament or other reasons, the woman cannot manage it serenely, from eustress she becomes distressed, a "negative" stress that can have effects on health and could have consequences on pregnancy (even if the scientific data on this aspect are still partly controversial).

In this article

  • possible causes of stress in pregnancy
  • possible effects of stress in pregnancy
  • possible long-term consequences for the baby
  • anti-stress remedies

What can cause stress in pregnancy

The causes of maternal stress, both during pregnancy and outside this moment in a woman's life, are obviously very subjective. Some common causes are:

  • annoyances and discomforts related to pregnancy, such as nausea, great tiredness, back pain or other
  • concerns related to pregnancy itself and the health of the fetus
  • worries about what delivery will be like and what it will be like to care for a newborn
  • pressing work commitments or worries about the future of your job

Then there can be more serious causes, usually much rarer:

  • negative life events (such as the death of a loved one)
  • concerns about the baby's health and childbirth that take on proportions beyond "physiology" (it can happen for example if in a previous pregnancy there was an abortion, therapeutic interruption or death in utero, or a very complicated or traumatic birth )
  • natural disasters (earthquake)
  • prolonged stress over time (for example for those who experience situations of domestic violence)

How Can Stress Cause Problems During Pregnancy?

As reported by the site of March of Dimes, a major American non-profit organization dedicated to the health of mothers and children, "the effects of stress on pregnancy are not yet fully understood, but it is possible that some hormones related to stress may play a role. in some complications of pregnancy".

The first - and also the mildest - effect that there may be is that the stressed woman risks experiencing the classic ailments of pregnancy with greater intensity such as nausea, gastric disturbances, back pain, sleep disturbances. 

"Very intense and long-lasting stresses can also negatively affect the immune system - reads the website - weakening it with an increased risk of infections that could cause premature birth. "Warning: this does not mean that all women who experience some stress will have a preterm birth, but that in particular circumstances, a certain type of stress could increase the risk of this complication. 

"In other circumstances a particularly intense stress, especially if it is one physical stress rather than emotional, it could lead to increased maternal pressure, with the risk of complications such as restriction of fetal growth, "says Nappi. 

And again: Stress could interfere with nutrition, leading to skipping meals or, conversely, a eating too much. This could result metabolic imbalances which in turn could increase the risk of gestational diabetes. 

Read also: Diet during pregnancy

Finally, other complications could stem from the fact that high stress could push you towards unhealthy behavior, particularly in pregnancy, such as smoking and consuming alcohol or drugs. 

Read also: Fetal exposure disorders to alcohol and drugs, let's take stock

Can stress in pregnancy cause long-term problems for the baby?

"The most important repercussions, in particular situations of stress and negative maternal response, are those related to conditions such as premature birth and restriction of fetal growth," says Nappi.

Much more nuanced, however, any correlations between stress in pregnancy and mood or behavioral disorders of the child and the adult to come (such as depression, concentration difficulties, autism spectrum disorders). Some studies have highlighted associations in this sense, however denied by other studies for which there is still no definitive answer on the issue. 

Read also: Anxious or stressed mom? The baby's heart reveals it

How to prevent or relieve stress

"The first thing to do is try to have greater self-awareness and of the condition in which you are "says Nappi." On the one hand it is very useful to know that the body of the pregnant woman has the possibility of defending itself from stress, also through a series of mechanisms that induce it to slow down, like the sleepiness of the first months. On the other hand, it is important to try to charge yourself for what you can tolerate, without overdoing it ".

Attention, specifies Nappi: "It does not mean that, for example, one should not work, because pregnancy is not a disease, but that it should be done without an anxiety greater than that which is bearable and with the right breaks. Working without breaks and perhaps without eating for 12 hours in a row means not respecting the rhythm of the eustress ". 

Other tips for dealing with stress in pregnancy

  • follow a healthy diet, try to rest as much as possible and practice a minimum of physical exercise (unless there are specific contraindications)
  • try to follow relaxation activities and breathing practices, such as yoga or meditation. They are also useful in preparation for childbirth. 
  • follow i childbirth preparation courses, which can help you understand what will happen and how to deal with it. If you feel that a group course may not be sufficient or suitable for you, you can contact a midwife for an individual course, to understand even better the changes in your body and your emotions.
  • if you feel like you can't do it anymore, talk to your gynecologist, who can recommend supplements (magnesium, B-complex vitamins) that help counteract natural stress) or, if applicable, a consultation with a psychologist or psychiatrist

Questions and answers

Can Stress in Pregnancy Cause Miscarriage?

While excessive stress is not generally good for you, there is currently no evidence that it can cause miscarriages. 

Does the fetus suffer from mother's stress?

Certainly, messages relating to maternal stress also pass through the placenta in the continuous "biochemical dialogue" that takes place between mother and baby. Whether and to what extent these can affect the psychoemotional development of the fetus, however, remains to be demonstrated. 

  • stress
  • stress. peaceful pregnancy
  • growth retardation
  • pregnancy pressure
  • pregnancy depression
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