Severe Stress is Toxic During Pregnancy

A little stress is to be expected when pregnant. But severe stress is extremely dangerous for mom and baby. Not only are high levels of stress and anxiety bad for you—but cortisol, the hormone released and triggered during these times—crosses the blood:brain barrier and the placenta.

High levels of cortisol is now linked to preterm labor, and researchers from the Royal College of London have also discovered that too much of the stress hormone creates life-long harmful effects for your baby. (There are many studies to read, but they are quite difficult with medical lingo…This article by The Guardian is quite good, as is this by Science Daily, explaining how dangerous preterm birth can be. ) Research shows that cortisol in the womb puts the unborn baby at risk for behavioral problems, anxiety, aggression and learning disabilities down the line. And, as mentioned, too much cortisol can trigger preterm labor—which, if too early in pregnancy—can have dire consequences for your unborn child.

When reading studies linking stress with multiple health risks for infants, it seemed clear that women needed some practical information. Just knowing that stress can hurt your baby, can actually cause you even more stress, don’t you think? So with that in mind, I loved identifying the top stressors during pregnancy, with expert advice on how to deal with them. The Fit Pregnancy cover article: “Beat The 4 Biggest Pregnancy Stressors,” is on news stands this month and I can’t recommend a better issue for your Labor Day reading. (And I’m not just saying that because one of my articles is in the August/September issue! I promise I don’t get paid per magazine purchased!!)

It’s not surprising, in this economy, that money and work are the biggest stressors facing pregnant women. If you are expecting right now, or trying to conceive, I don’t have to tell you that the economic climate is poor. Finances are likely your biggest concern. I also don’t need to explain why you might be anxious about telling your boss you are pregnant. Even if it isn’t talked about much— pregnancy discrimination does exist. It may be subtle—such as being passed over for a promotion while you are pregnant. And…it may be NOT-so-subtle, such as a boss suggesting that you likely won’t be able to carry out all your duties after you return from maternity leave. During economic downturns, corporate climates often cool in terms of additional company benefits and perks. (I used to write about careers and work-life balance for The Industry Standard, Forbes Best of the Web and The New York Times as a freelancer.) I recall my heart beating rapidly as I interviewed a pregnant employee of a start-up who had been fired and had to sue for  discrimination. These cases are rare, but it’s clear that mommy discrimination does exist in some corporate cultures. (Here’s a link to a Moms @ Work column I wrote for Fit Pregnancy with interview advice and expert suggestions to avoid mommy discrimination. And “Pregnancy Discrimination Persists” by Maria Vega is great as it outlines your rights as a pregnant worker. )

As one might imagine, stress with money and employment must adversely affect your relationships. So, number 3 is relationship stress—and boy, I wish I had this expert advice when I was expecting both of my boys!

Finally, the fourth stressor is health. Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition, such as cancer, knows what it is like to live with stress. But some of us panic at every pain or flu-like symptom and the panic—itself— can cause cortisol levels to surge. This surge is what you want to avoid. I loved speaking with the exerts who outlined specific ways to lower your stress.

These expert tips are life-savers and I really wish I had them when pregnant with both of my boys. Stress in American culture is just something we have to combat. My time in Italy this summer, as well as my trips to France over the years, make me wonder if the lower rates of  ADD and ADHD among their children has something to do with their more-relaxed culture. This is obviously for another article, but there has be a link between the stress in our American fast-paced lives and unforgiving corporate cultures, and these behavioral conditions we find in so many of our children in America (one in 20). Lets try to reduce those rates. I hope this article helps you and lessens your stress and allows you to bring a bit more joy into your life as you build the life inside you. Write in and let me know if this article helped, or share additional tips to lessen anxiety for other moms-to-be! Finally, additional perks with this issue include a breast-feeding guide, surprising super foods for baby and exercise tips!

One response to “Severe Stress is Toxic During Pregnancy

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