Pregnancy can be a stressful time, especially for first-time moms. There's a lot of uncertainty and worry about what the future holds. You're worried if you're eating right for two that can quickly go to thoughts like am I going to be a good mom. Would I be able to breastfeed? What if I make a mistake?
If you find yourself constantly worrying, we suggest you take a pause and breathe. Remember, whatever you do can affect your unborn baby. Even the stress you feel can be passed on to your child in utero, as results from a new study show.
The study, published in the journal Stress, shows that physical stress to the mom-to-be can change the metabolism in the placenta and influence the growth of the unborn child. Researchers from the University of Zurich studied samples of saliva and amniotic fluid of 34 healthy pregnant women who are in their second trimester. The moms-to-be also answered questionnaires on how often they feel stressed.
According to the results, short-term stress (thankfully) doesn't have any unfavorable effect on the baby. However, when mom-to-be felt stress for a long period, there was an increase the child's risk for developing a mental or physical illness, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or cardiovascular disease, later in life.
How did the researchers make the connection? When the body is stressed, it releases hormones to cope with higher stress levels, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, explained the researchers. It's the same for expecting women: The placenta, which is the baby's primary source of nutrients during the whole nine months, can also release cortisol. When that happens, a small amount of the stress hormone enters the amniotic fluid and alters fetal metabolism.
What do increased levels of the stress hormone mean for the unborn baby? Technically, the hormone is not entirely bad for the baby. CHR is attributed to helping accelerate the growth of the fetus and improve its chances of survival in case of a premature birth. However, as with anything in excess, increased levels of the hormone could negatively affect how the baby's organs mature and develop.
The study may be small, but it supports past studies' findings that link pregnancy conditions to various mental or physical conditions after birth or later in life. "The corticotropin-releasing hormone CRH obviously plays a complex and dynamic role in the development of the human fetus, which needs to be better understood," Pearl La Marca-Ghaemmaghami, psychologist and program researcher, said via a press release.
"A secure bond between the mother and child after the birth can neutralize negative effects of stress during pregnancy," La Marca-Ghaemmaghami added. However, don't wait for your baby to be born to get better. Pregnant women who are exposed to longer-term stress situations should immediately seek support from a therapist or psychologist to get help and be able to handle the stress better.