Stress During Pregnancy Increases Risk for Preterm Birth, Gestational Diabetes, Depression

September 25, 2016 | Wellness Resources

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 Stress During Pregnancy Increases Risk for Preterm Birth, Gestational Diabetes, Depression
Pregnancy is typically a very exciting time in a woman’s life. The anticipation of meeting your baby for the first time and helping them develop into a happy, healthy child is definitely a cause for celebration!

However, bringing a new life into the world can come with some amount of stress. Hormone levels are fluctuating, your body is changing, not to mention you are dealing with life’s everyday stressors of managing relationships, work and home environments.

Obviously, making sure that your baby gets a healthy start in life is one of your biggest priorities. Research points to the fact that that taking care to manage stress levels throughout pregnancy is one of the most important things a mother can do to set their baby up for developmental success.

The Negative Effects of Stress on Baby

A recent study investigated the connection between a mother’s mental and physical stress levels and the likelihood of preterm birth. A group of healthy women were followed throughout their pregnancy. Perceived stress and anxiety levels as well as measurements of the stress hormone, cortisol, were monitored throughout the first, second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The study concluded that women with higher stress levels in the second trimester had corresponding elevated cortisol concentrations, which strongly predisposed them and their child to preterm birth. Therefore, being able to properly identify and resolve possible early pregnancy stressors may diffuse a woman’s physical response of cortisol output to stress and ultimately help prevent preterm birth.

What is preterm birth and why is it significant? Preterm birth is the birth of an infant before the expected 37 weeks of pregnancy. During the final weeks and months of pregnancy, a baby goes through important growth and development. Many organ systems, including the brain, lungs, and liver need the final weeks of pregnancy to fully mature. Preterm birth is one of the greatest contributors to infant death, with most preterm-related deaths occurring among babies who were born very preterm (before 32 weeks), and is also a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children.

Other negative repercussions associated with maternal stress include low birth weight, intrauterine growth restriction and increased risk of children developing asthma later in life. Furthermore, excess amounts of the stress hormone cortisol reaching the fetal brain during periods of chronic maternal stress could alter personality and predispose the child to attention deficits and depressive tendencies in the future.

Maternal Stress during Pregnancy Also Negatively Affects the Mother

The role of stress exposure during pregnancy in the development of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) was also recently investigated. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that is first seen in a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes prior to pregnancy. Blood sugar that is not well controlled in a woman with gestational diabetes can lead to problems for the pregnant woman and the baby including low blood sugar, preeclampsia (high blood pressure), and higher likelihood of requiring a c-section to deliver the baby.

The study assessed 203 pregnant women, monitoring both pregnancy-related and everyday stressors, anxiety, depression, and amount of sleep. All women underwent routine screening for GDM with an oral glucose-tolerance test at 24-30 weeks of pregnancy and cortisol levels were measured using fasting and bedtime saliva samples.

Overall, the study demonstrated that some indicators of stress exposure were associated with increased fasting glucose concentrations, a predisposing marker for gestational diabetes. More anxiety and depressive symptoms, a higher general level of distress, and a shorter duration of sleep were related to fasting glucose in pregnant women diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus. These stress indicators represent important risk factors for GDM development and identify techniques for stress management during pregnancy as viable options for prevention of the disease.

Bridging the Nutrient Gap to Manage Stress During Pregnancy

Even a pregnancy that is running smoothly is a huge metabolic demand on your body, in essence a form of stress in and of itself. Trying to do too much or having to deal with emotional tension or pressures can add to the basic stress placed upon your body during pregnancy. This is extremely undesirable as pregnancy-related emotional stress negatively impacts both the mother and future development of the child.

Women who know they are stress sensitive should do everything in their power to set the stage for a pregnancy period that is as stable and as stress-free as possible. Getting regular refreshing exercise such as walking or yoga help stress relief. Life-related planning and preparation can help keep stress to a minimum, thereby promoting a healthy pregnancy and an environment in which you and your baby can thrive.

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