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Your Stress During Pregnancy Can Put Your Baby's Mental Health at Risk Later in His Life
  • Apart from a healthy lifestyle, doctors advise pregnant women or those who want to get pregnant to avoid stress as much as they can. Why? There is much evidence that your stress puts your baby at an increased risk for a range of problems including neurodevelopmental and emotional in nature.

    And now a new study strongly suggests mothers who reported stress during pregnancy had babies with “significantly greater odds of developing a psychiatric disorder, particularly a mood disorder, later in life.”

    The study, published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, used data from the Helsinki Longitudinal Temperament Cohort, a study of a birth cohort of people born in 1975 and 1976 in Finland and were followed until the age of 30. They isolated 3,626 individuals whose moms had completed a questionnaire, which asked about their physical and mental issues, such as sleep difficulties and mood changes. 

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    The results showed that about 82% of moms experienced emotional stress at least once during their pregnancy. Babies born to moms who reported feeling stressed while pregnant were also more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders such as depression.

    The study is part of a growing body of evidence that emotional and mental stress have an effect on the physical body. It can lead to higher blood pressure, for instance, which could affect the women’s pregnancy health overall.

    A 2017 study has shown that a mother under a lot of stress can change the metabolism in the placenta, which then affects the growth of the unborn baby. Arash Ememzadeh suggests on his piece for Psychology Today, it may also influence a baby’s brain development in the womb. He also surmised that stress during pregnancy may also affect the baby’s genes, possibly passed on from the mother.


    In discussing the results of their research, the authors of the Finland study discussed that a stressed mom may not be able to provide “high-quality parenting” and “secure attachment relationships” with their kids, which may be a factor in how they cope with stress themselves and afftec a child’s depression later on.

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    Your takeaway? The study adds weight to the fact the mental health and emotional well-being should be a regular part of pregnant women’s prenatal checkups as the study authors concluded and highlighted by an opinion piece by Vivette Glover, a professor from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at the Imperial College of London.

    Glover, who is an international expert on the effect of the mother's emotional state in pregnancy on the development of the fetus and her child, wrote: “[The Finland authors] are certainly right to conclude that ‘taking care of the emotional and social support needs of women during pregnancy is vital for the mental health and well-being of the next generation.’

    “Their work adds to the literature, which shows that it is important to be aware of, and help with, a broad range of prenatal stress symptoms, not only a diagnosed mental illness. Several studies are showing that the children of women who have high levels of pregnancy-related anxiety, who are worried about themselves or the outcome for their child, are at special risk of altered outcome. Other studies have shown the importance of early trauma, being distressed by daily hassles, as well exposure to a natural disaster, in increasing the risk for neurodevelopmental problems in the child.”

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    While a healthy amount of stress during pregnancy may help you prepare more for the coming birth and your baby, don’t let it disrupt your daily activities. Talk to your baby, have a prenatal massage, go on date nights or a babymoon, and delegate other less important tasks. Don’t wait for the stress to manifest into physical symptoms.

    If you think you’re too stressed, don’t wait for your baby to be born to get better. The first thing you can do now, while still pregnant, is to acknowledge it and recognize you need help from your partner, your family, your doctor, or a mental health professional if required.

    And after your baby is born, ask for mental health check during postpartum visits with your doctor.

    What other parents are reading

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