How Stress Affects Your Baby During Pregnancy

With our society’s shift toward more mindful living, you may be aware of how stress impacts your well-being. Yet when you become pregnant, you should also be aware of the affects your stress may have on your baby’s development.

Your body under stress

When you are stressed out, what is actually happening, is that your fight or flight system takes over, causing you to overproduce cortisol, the stress hormone meant to save you from danger. Cortisol then bathes your brain, changing brain architecture temporarily, so that you react quickly and instinctively.

When you feel attacked, either physically or emotionally, you can’t stop to contemplate or use your executive function. So your body, in its wisdom, helps you act quickly to save your hide. This is the same survival system that your primitive ancestors used.

The problem is that today, most of your threats are emotional, and your fight-or-flight system can’t recognize the difference. Therefore, cortisol is called upon consistently and ultimately wears down the body, like battery fluid, doing untold damage, both physically and emotionally. Further, the body under stress uses more and more cortisol and must scavenge for extra cortisol to satisfy your stress needs, and ultimately takes that cortisol from your immunity. Hence, under stress, you are more vulnerable to illness.

And, now that you are pregnant, that same stress is also taking its toll on the baby growing inside of you.

Stress during pregnancy

According to Professor Vivette Glover of the Imperial College in London, stress during pregnancy can increase the risk for early cognitive problems.

For example, cortisol stress hormones can cross the placenta. Therefore, high levels of cortisol in amniotic fluid affects the dopamine production in the brain. It appears that consistent stress to the mother can cause an overly sensitized baby who has a lower stress threshold after birth.

Moreover, a mother’s stress can affect her baby permanently. For example, a receptor for stress hormones can cause a biological change in the fetus, which makes it more vulnerable to stress after birth — this links to hyperactive disorders. Also, a correlation to stress in the womb can lead to later auto-immune problems.

Take time to de-stress

Now that you are pregnant, it’s more important than ever to take the time to de-stress each day. Incorporate healthy daily practices, such as meditation, dream analysis, journaling, confronting self-talk, yoga, and Qigong – all of which can help you self-manage stress and maintain a healthy pregnancy.