Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Pregnancy

Font Size

Relax! Your Baby Will Thank You!

Part 2 of a 2-part series.
By
WebMD Feature

Part 1: The Effects of Stress on Fertility

Cell phones ringing. Beepers going off. Traffic jams, work deadlines, and laundry piled sky high. These are just a few of the stresses that are routinely a part of most women's lives.

Add pregnancy into the mix -- including some fears and anxieties -- and a woman's body can really begin to feel the effects.

"What many women don't realize is that, in and of itself, pregnancy is a stressful event. Your heart rate increases, your blood volume increases, your weight increases, there is additional stress on ligaments and bones. So just the physical aspects of pregnancy can add to your load," says Calvin Hobel, MD, vice chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

And the recognition of that stress load is important, say experts, particularly in terms of your baby's health.

Different types of stress can increase the risk of low birth weight as well as premature birth.

The Nutrition Dos and Don'ts of Pregnancy

According to the March of Dimes, socioeconomic factors such as low income and lack of education are associated with increased risk of having a low-birth-weight baby. Yet they add that the reasons for the link still remain unclear and are not well understood.

Chronic tension, especially in early pregnancy, may "imprint" similar stressful tendencies onto baby's developing brain.

Effects of Traumatic Events

For example, in a study published in the journal Child Development in 2004, a group of Belgian researchers found an association between women who experienced high anxiety during the early stages of pregnancy and children who exhibited signs of hyperactivity -- including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- 8 to 9 years after birth.

Their theory: traumatic events occurring in early pregnancy program certain biological systems in the unborn child, making the child more susceptible to emotional disorders later in life.

These findings mimic earlier studies, including one conducted at the Imperial College in London. Here, women who reported severe anxiety attacks during pregnancy were twice as likely to give birth to a hyperactive child.

Yet another study published in the journal Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in 2003 found that anxiety-related increases in the mother's heart rate had a direct impact on the fetal heart rate. More specifically, researchers from Columbia University linked changes in fetal heart rate to the mother's cardiovascular activity after experiencing psychological stress as well as anxiety. This, they say, indicates that emotional ups and downs may affect the baby's biology and could hold a key to fetal development. Still, many doctors say this is not quite enough evidence to draw a clear correlation for all women.

"These studies can be difficult to interpret because too many factors can influence the outcome. Right now it's an association we need to pay attention to, but not a cause," says Bruce Young, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Medical Center in New York City.

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

Woman smiling as she reads pregnancy test
Slideshow
pregnant woman with salad
Quiz
 
pregnancy am i pregnant
Article
babyapp
NEW
 

slideshow fetal development
Slideshow
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
Article
 
What Causes Bipolar
Video
Woman trying on dress in store
Slideshow
 

pregnant woman
Article
Close up on eyes of baby breastfeeding
Video
 
healthtool pregnancy calendar
Tool
eddleman prepare your body pregnancy
Video