Can your stress affect the health of your baby during pregnancy?

 

A dear friend of mine is 12 weeks pregnant and fighting with one of her best friends. It’s a pretty epic battle in which both have said some hurtful things, not bothered to return phone calls or text messages, and recruited outsiders for support. Neither is willing to see things from the other’s point of view and so the turmoil, upset, anger and tears continue. I can see how much this fight is weighing on my friend and that a great deal of her energy is consumed by it. So much so, that the joy of receiving good news following the 12 week scan was overshadowed by the stressfulness of this ongoing disagreement. 

As I hung up the phone after yet another conversation centred around “the big fight”, I wondered if the stress she’s feeling is affecting her pregnancy? 

We know stress isn’t great for our health, but what about the health of our baby? Regardless of what’s causing us to feel stressed — a disagreement with someone, a demanding career, getting the nursery set up, finding a way to pay the six bills that are all due at the same time, keeping tabs on what you can and can’t eat, juggling multiple after-school pick ups and drop offs, caring for elderly parents, the seemingly endless demands on our time — is there reason for concern?

Research shows that stress can effect the healthy progress of your pregnancy. Stress disrupts the absorption of nutrients and the rate at which you can use them up — a process that’s critical during pregnancy as the provision of specific and sufficient nutrients are essential to the healthy growth and development of your baby. Constant stress also affects your adrenal health, immune system, can cause hormonal disfunction and increased inflammation all of which have been linked to poorer pregnancy health, premature birth, lower birth weight and development problems.

Of course different people have different levels of stress tolerance, and what will cause one person much anguish can leave another quite sanguine. It’s how well you cope that’s critical.

So what are some of the things we can do to reduce stress during pregnancy?

Eat well. A well-nourished body automatically reduces stress levels. During particularly stressful periods, upping the intake of calcium and magnesium (they are nature’s sedatives), omega-3 fatty acids (which help to reduce anxiety and inflammation), as well as activated B-complex vitamins and vitamin C (both are part of our body’s coping mechanism) can be beneficial. 

Exercise is a good way to let off steam and, through the release of endorphins, feel more positive. Whether it’s a high-energy boxercise class, walk around the park or rejuvenating yoga, moving your body is a great de-stressor. 

Mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises are a lovely way to calm the mind, body and spirit. Playing ambient or relaxing music, dimming the lights and lighting some candles, burning relaxing aromatherapy oils*, submerging in a bubble bath, booking in for a relaxing pregnancy massage, getting away for the weekend, or re-charging in nature’s beautiful surrounds can also be effective ways to cope with the stress in your life.

Figuring out which coping mechanisms work best for you is particularly important when you’re pregnant to protect your health and the health of your baby. We’d love to hear what works best for you and invite you to share your stress-busting tips in the comments below. 

* Calming oils appropriate for pregnancy include lavender (not in first trimester), neroli (safe throughout pregnancy), geranium (only use it in small amounts during pregnancy), chamomile (use it only in the last trimester), or mandarin. 

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