Stress During Pregnancy & Impact On Baby

Worried pregnant woman


It’s quite ironic that the more you are told not to stress yourself, the more you are likely to be stressed, because you are wondering what you are not supposed to be stressed about. Stress is an almost inevitable aspect of our lives, especially women. There is always so much that a lady is doing and in the midst of that plenty stress, she might just find herself pregnant, and the stress is further exacerbated.

I remember when I was pregnant for the first time, I was in school, I was a new bride and a student with a dream of doing well in my studies. It was not funny. I was stretched but I was also ridiculously happy and that might have helped a lot to reduce the effect of all the stress.

Coffee was my go-to drink for the times I pulled all-nighters to catch up on my studying, but while pregnant, I couldn’t touch coffee, and I couldn’t read during the day, because I had classes and then I was having plenty of lazy bouts, when all I wanted to do was sleep. How I passed my exams that semester was a miracle, nothing short of it, because I had some really good grades.

Whatever stress I had then was child’s play compared to what I experienced during my second pregnancy. I was so drained at the end of each day that I just wanted to sleep, but that was often when the gymnastics of the babies started. So the cycle continued, I would spend my mornings caring for the older twins, and getting them ready for school, take them there and then go to work myself, till 2pm, when school would close, followed by homework, dinner and the day would be over.

Whenever I had any complaints, my doctor always told me to rest, which is actually easier said than done, but I tried sha. I kept my feet elevated with the help of pillows over night, I tried to catch some shut-eye whenever I could, even when it meant forcing the kids to nap at the same time. Anything to keep the stress levels down.

And I knew why I was doing this. The very first ante natal clinic I attended in my life, close to 9 years ago now, the matron told us the story of a pregnant woman, who had been going through a stressful time, as she was working different jobs at the time, to make ends meet, as her husband was out of work, so she barely had time to even come to the hospital for her clinic appointment.

The stress was too much and whenever, she was advised to cut back, she always had one story or the other, why she couldn’t do that. The matron said the last appointment the woman had attended, her blood pressure was so high, she had been held back and sent to the ward for rest and observation, but this woman, on the pretext of easing herself, had left the hospital and didn’t return until she was brought in two days later, having gone into premature labour.

The end result was that, she spent two months in the hospital. Both she and her premature baby needed intensive care, before they could be released to go home. The very rest she couldn’t find time to have, was what she was forced to have for the next two months. In the end, it was all about keeping mom and child alive that really mattered, not the numerous responsibilities she had, which someone else stepped in to sort out, by the way.

That was supposed to help us prioritise our health and avoid stress particularly while pregnant, but it only put the fear of God in me, because I knew there was no way I could avoid stress totally but not that kind of stress. Thank God, it all worked out well in the end.

The issue of stress while pregnant is debatable. One school of thought thinks that prolonged bouts of severe stress (like a death in the family, losing a job, a failing relationship, etc.) can negatively impact a pregnancy, causing complications like preterm birth, low birth weight, and even sleep and behavioural disorders in young children. 

While research in this area is still in its early stage, and doctors need more time to figure out the exact link between stress and pregnancy outcomes, it’s an important factor for pregnant women to consider, especially if they’re dealing with daily stress, for example, from financial or relationship troubles.

Another school of thought believes stress does not do any harm to a developing foetus or its mom. In fact, a newly released study concluded that a little stress once in a while, might actually be good for the baby.

A new study from Switzerland’s University of Basel found that babies may have their own ways of coping with mom’s stress and even depression.

Researchers observed 100 moms and their babies during and after pregnancy, and concluded that mothers with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva delivered babies with certain epigenetic changes, or gene variations that aren’t passed down from mom or dad. In particular, the babies’ oxytocin receptor genes—responsible for social behavior and stress adaptations—were more easily activated.

“This mechanism could indicate that in these cases, the babies adapt to develop more resilience to cope with future challenges and adversities,” said the study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

This most recent study implies newborns of depressed or stressed moms can more easily react to the hormone, oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) and reap its benefits, making up for what may be lacking on mom’s end.

As said earlier, some level of stress is a normal part of  pregnant life however, when its becoming a regular feature of life, you might find some of these steps help.

  1. Take a conscious step back and focus on your baby



It’s good for you and your baby if you can relax, so don’t feel guilty about it. Take time out to focus on your bump. Chat and sing to your unborn baby. Towards the end of your second trimester, your baby can hear you. This will also help you to bond with your baby when he’s born. Listen to your body and ask for help when you need, so you can rest, no matter the situation.

2. Priorities your needs



Finance and relationships can be major sources of stress for a pregnant mom. For the sake of your sanity, learn to prioritise and deal with only what you can at the moment. The world is not going to end if you don’t fix everything right away, so pull back, when you know you can’t handle it.

Regarding needs, you could make a list of the things you need, tick off what’s within your budget and ask friends and family to help you. You just might be surprised in a nice way with the reaction from people.

3. Prepare for family life



The thought of bringing another person into the world, might be the cause of stress for some people, but be rest assured that parenting is something you learn along the way. No one became a parent when they were born. You have to learn it. And if you have any friends with young babies, you could spend time with them to pick up useful tips. Your mom or mother-in-law would also serve as a veritable source of wisdom.

While these tips might seem common-sensical to some moms (thank God for you), when you are stressed, you are blind to a lot of things other people take for granted.

While hard, it’s important to find a middle ground when it comes to stress, because science has not be able to determine the full extent of the effect of stress on the baby and the pregnant mom, but they agree that there is an effect.

Whatever you do, try to enjoy your pregnancy and stay stress free.




Join the conversation with any of our TTC and Pregnancy Groups here


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