Pregnancy Stress Can Cause Infant Developmental Delays

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A growing number of studies are confirming that stress is not good for pregnant women. Not only does it increase risks for mom-to-be, but it can also lead to problems for the baby after birth, such as low birth weight, developmental delays and asthma.

In a list of “life stressors”, pregnancy, even an uncomplicated one, is near the top of events that cause a significant amount of stress in our daily lives. Most stress, such as day-to-day job and home stress or daily hassles such as traffic delays, aren’t likely to cause problems for most women. However, “pregnancy-specific anxiety” was linked in a recent study published in the journal Child Development to lower cognitive-development scores in babies at 12 months of age.

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Pregnancy specific anxiety is caused by excessive worry about potential problems with fetal development, miscarriage, or giving birth. Stress can also be related to extremely difficult circumstances such as poverty, racism, traumatic events, or serious family problems such as divorce or domestic violence. The most vulnerable time for expectant moms is in the first trimester.

Researchers from the University of California-Irvine offered a few theories regarding the relationship between pregnancy stress and baby’s health. Women may sense something instinctively that could account for the association, or them may tend to provide less nurturing or stimulating care after birth. Overly high stress levels can also increase heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause negative health effects for both mom and baby. Stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, when present in excessive amounts, can constrict the blood vessels and reduce the amount of oxygen to the uterus. Stress may also increase the chance of interuterine infections.

Following is a collection of advice given to women on how to manage the amount of stress they experience during pregnancy.

• First and foremost “Stop stressing and obsessing about stress”, says Laura Riley, medical director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
• Try a group support program, such as “Centering Pregnancy”, offered at nearly 300 facilities nationwide. A study published in the 2007 journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who received prenatal care in a Centering Pregnancy group had one-third fewer preterm births.
• Enjoy “daily uplifts”. Positive social experiences, such as smiling, laughing, and receiving compliments can go a long way to managing your reaction to daily stressors, according to a 2008 Swiss study.
• Eat a healthy, well balanced diet. Junk food only stresses the body out more. The body needs nutrients to cope with daily stress and to prevent fatigue.
• Get plenty of rest and sleep. Chronic sleep loss can lead to increased stress. Because pregnant women are more prone to heartburn anyway, avoid eating up to one hour before bedtime or lying down. The uncomfortable pressure and pain can disrupt sleep and lead to a greater level of stress feelings.
• Exercise regularly – it is one of the best methods for tackling stress. Just 30 minutes a day of gentle activity such as walking can be a great mood booster. You can also try a stress reduction exercise such as yoga for double the benefits.
• Communicate regularly with your partner and your family. They can help you work through anxious feelings and can provide comfort when you need it most.
• Reduce your workload, if you can. Take care of yourself during this critical period.

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