“High levels of stress during pregnancy put your baby at higher risk for childhood physical, emotional and behavioral problems,” cautions Dr. Susan Andrews, a clinical neuropsychologist. She offers this warning and a range of easy-to-implement stress reduction plans for pregnant women in her book, Stress Solutions for Pregnant Mothers: How Breaking Free from Stress Can Boost Your Baby’s Potential.
If you are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant or you know someone who is, you will want to be familiar with Dr. Andrews’s message: “A mounting body of evidence clearly links too much stress and anxiety during pregnancy to many of today’s major issues of birth and childhood, such as low birth weight and preterm birth, difficulty coping in emotional situations, learning disabilities, attention deficit, and childhood anxiety.”
Why are we just learning about this?
First, the research comes out of a new field of study called maternal-fetal medicine. Second, there are complex interactions, not just one factor that shape a baby’s development. And having a stressful pregnancy does not necessarily mean that a baby will have problems. These are risk factors that are being described, not simple cause-and-effect relationships. Dr. Andrews believes that managing stress while pregnant could be just as important to your child’s health as avoiding smoking and alcohol while pregnant.
Evidence has been building for many years in studies all over the world. Recently, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPC), the longest running and largest medical study in the world, published breakthrough research on the effects of prenatal stress on children. Also known as “The Children of the 90’s,” the study originated in the Avon area of England and involved 14,000 children who are still being followed.
What the study reveals
ALSPC has found that children of highly anxious mothers are two to three times more likely to have problems with attention and behavior than children of moms with low anxiety. So while there’s still more research to be done, it is clearly wise to pay a little extra attention to stress levels during pregnancy. The combination of internal changes and external pressures while pregnant simply means that it is more essential than ever to check in with yourself. Dr. Andrews developed a "Stress Solutions Formula" to determine if your stress levels are high and shows how you can take the necessary steps to reduce the possible effects of stress on yourself and your child.
How much stress is too much?
We all have stress, some of it unavoidable. If too stressed, for example, you may have difficulty becoming pregnant, according to a study in the journal Fertility and Sterility
. People handle stress differently; what adds to yours may not affect me. How you
handle stress and keep your nervous system in balance are the keys. What keeps the nervous system from returning to balance? Dr. Andrews notes the six things that keep us in distress:
- Holding on to hurt feelings and anger
- Thinking all the time
- Worrying a lot
- Resisting taking breaks while working
- Feeling that there is never enough time to finish what you want to do
- Feeling that there is too much to do
Her solutions cover everything from breathing techniques, music, meditation, and exercises to how to get more good old-fashioned sleep. She points out that support comes long before the delivery room and offers ways that the pregnant woman’s partner can help keep stress down, starting with being sure his or her own is in control. Her unique system helps you evaluate and manage personal stress levels day by day, essential for knowing when to implement the stress solutions.
Curious, I followed Dr. Andrew’s method to evaluate my stress level and did not score very well. If it were a test, I would have failed. I’m not pregnant, but I learned reducing stress with the solutions she offers is good for everyone…and based on the new findings, very significant for mothers-to-be and their babies.
Andrews, Susan. Stress Solutions for Pregnant Mothers: How Breaking Free from Stress Can Boost Your Baby’s Potential. Louisiana: Twin Span Press, 2012
Excerpt available at: http://www.StressSolutionsForPregnantMoms.com
Berga, Sarah L., Marsha D Marcus, Tammy L Loucks, Stefanie Hlastala, Rebecca Ringham, and Marijane A Krohn, “Recovery of ovarian activity in women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea who were treated with cognitive behavior therapy.” Fertility and Sterility Vol. 80, Issue 4, 2003, 976-981.