Relax! Your Baby Will Thank You!
Part 2 of a 2-part series.
Part 1: The Effects of Stress on
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
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.