The Effects of Stress During Pregnancy: Second of a Series

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Yesterday, we reviewed the research on the effects of stress on pregnancy. As was mentioned, the results can leave one feeling confused and more stressed! Despite this, there is a general trend in the research that does allow for a some relatively straightforward truths. The main question is, does stress negatively effect pregnancy? The answer is, yes, if the stress is unusually intense. That is, intensely stressful experiences like the death of a loved one, abuse, or trauma, tend to be associated with premature birth or low birth weight. These outcomes have, in turn, been linked to difficulties later in life for some children (e.g., learning disabilities). However, it is also true that these types of experiences are difficult to avoid. Given this fact, it begs the question, what benefit is gained from knowing that intense stress can negatively effect your pregnancy? While we cannot control traumatic events in our life, we can turn to resources both internal and external in response to these stressors. Stress reduction techniques are within our control and have been proven to be effective.

The answer to our question also leads us to another common wisdom gleaned from the research. If you are pregnant and are under low or moderate levels of stress,  there is no need to worry - it will only make you more stressed! Pregnancy, by its very nature, typically brings with it low to moderate levels of stress. And rightly so. For the majority of us who live in a modern urban atmosphere where we feel as though life is within our control, watching nature take over our body to produce life can be anxiety provoking. Miscarriages, morning sickness, birth complications, childbirth, and birth defects, are just some of the fears expecting parents have to deal with. If these very common stressors were the cause of significant pregnancy complications then nearly everyone could expect negative consequences. Fortunately, this is not the case. While the average stress that accompanies pregnancy need not, in and of itself, be a source of worry, dealing with this stress will make for a more pleasant and rewarding pregnancy. Therefore, here again, stress reduction techniques are recommended.

Although intensely stressful experiences are typically outside of our control, there are situations where the knowledge of negative consequences for the developing baby can help spur people to a health promoting action or reaction. For example, a woman being abused by her spouse has the option of leaving either before becoming pregnant, while she is pregnant, or after giving birth. Obviously the earlier  an abused woman leaves the better it is for both her and her baby. However, the obstacles to leaving an abusive relationship are many (e.g, financial, social, familial). Women need to reach out to find the support and resources that will help them facilitate a change. Self-respect and self-protection should be enough motivation for women to leave abusive relationships. The research on the effects of intense stress on pregnancy simply provides another reason.

Visit us tomorrow for the third and last part of our series on Stress and Pregnancy when we'll take a closer look at stress reduction techniques.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.