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Health & Pregnancy

Relax! Your Baby Will Thank You!

Part 2 of a 2-part series.
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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.

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