Can your stress affect your unborn baby?

Can your stress affect your unborn baby?

The answer is yes! We all know that high levels of stress can cause physical and mental health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and excessive anxiety, but when a woman is pregnant, stress can damage the mother’s health and influence the baby’s development, because everything the mother experiences and feels is also being experienced by her baby.

Stress is the sum of physical and mental responses caused by certain external stimuli that allow us to overcome adverse conditions in our life and in our environment. This physical and mental response, also called the fight-or-flight response, gives rise to a series of very strong biological events that release the so-called stress hormones. In the short term, stress is even positive, because it is biological and natural when it helps the mother to avoid danger or a difficult situation but when a woman is pregnant and lives under stress persistently, it increases the likelihood of having a premature baby or a baby with low weight at birth, and an increased risk of health problems for both. That’s why it’s so important for the expectant mother to learn healthy ways to prevent and control stress in her life.

Physical reactions in response to stress

• Adrenaline increases heart rate
• Blood pressure increases
• Increases energy supply
• Cortisol increases the amount of sugar in the bloodstream and brain
• Increases the availability of substances that can repair body tissues in case of an accident

It basically alters the immune system responses and disrupts almost all your body’s processes.

Psychic reactions to stress responses

• Influences brain regions that control mood
• Tendency towards fear, anxiety, and depression
• Feelings of frustration and anger
• Headaches and insomnia
• Memory and concentration problems

What can stress do to the mother and her baby?

It is very important for pregnant women to control stress, because the environment outside is causing a response and reaction in the mother’s body and mind, in your feelings and thoughts, and what happens to the mother can also pass
to her baby.

The baby in the mother’s womb is feeling all the mother’s experiences and reactions as if they were his own experiences, to better prepare for life after the birth, increasing his own chances of survival. The baby learns to recognize the mother’s external environment through her internal signals.

Today the science of epigenetics reveals that, during conception, the genetic programs of the mother’s and the father DNA are transmitted to the baby’s first cell, but during pregnancy these programs can be activated or not, or even modified, according to the quality of the mother’s life, as well as the quality of her environment. When a woman is pregnant, her experiences become information that the baby organizes and is recorded in each of the baby’s cells for his development.

Now we understand that babies are much more sensitive than what was thought and that a mother’s responsibility extends far beyond her physical bond, moving to the quality of what her mind experiences, her thoughts, emotions and even her view of the outside world.

Researchers at the University of Zurich have found that stress can influence the metabolism of the placenta and the growth of the baby. If the mother is under stress for a long period of time, the concentration of stress hormones in the amniotic fluid increases, making the liquid bitter and the baby drinks less. The oxygen supply for the baby may also be smaller, so the likelihood of having a baby with low weight at birth increases, and having a child with health problems later in life as well.

The mother who suffers feelings of anxiety, frustration and depression during pregnancy also leads to a lesser bond with her baby, influencing labor and the whole postpartum experience. That’s why it’s so important that the mother to be well informed, learn to have the means, strategies and tools to bring harmony to her feelings and thoughts for the best start of her baby’s life.

When we practice inner peace during pregnancy, when we learn to observe our emotions and reactions, when we realize what initiates our response to stress, we become more aware of our real needs and the influence we have on our baby. The practice moments of deep breathing and relaxation techniques, for example in a yoga class for pregnant women, helps the expectant mother to turn her consciousness to herself, her body, and connect deeply with her baby.

The mother learns to trust her instinct more, to create an environment of love and inner harmony for her and for her baby inside. She becomes more confident, slowing down her life when she needs to, bringing more peace and calm to her routine, dealing better with the adversities of life and making better decisions for both.

Written by Susana Lopes

I am Susana Lopes, mother of 3 children, prenatal educator, yoga teacher for over 15 years, author of the book Yoga and Maternity (in portuguese) and president of the Norwegian Association for Pre-Natal Education.

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