The stress that a pregnant woman can feel can harm the health of her future baby in many ways. One study by Children’s National Hospital researchers (2022) showed that stress, anxiety, and depression during pregnancy can harm a toddler’s cognitive development. These conditions essentially alter important features of the fetal brain, resulting in decreased cognitive development, and increased problematic behaviors, in toddlers aged 18 months. When these toddlers grow older, they can have social-emotional problems and they can encounter difficulties when trying to build relationships with others, including their mothers. This is just one of many studies that show that stress can have many long-term effects for both a mother and her baby. It should inspire mothers to prioritize their health and wellbeing during this special time in life.
Stress Travels through the Amniotic Fluid
The secret to how a fetus can feel their mother’s distress, likes in the amniotic fluid. University of Zurich researchers have found that when a mother is stressed for a sustained period of time during pregnancy, the level of stress hormones in the amniotic fluid rises. The unborn child then faces a heightened risk of developing a mental or physical illness later in life—including ADHD or cardiovascular disease. The research also indicated that these stress hormones actually accelerate the growth of the fetus beyond the ideal rhythm of development. The researchers stressed the importance of psychotherapy for women who are exposed to long-term stress.
Pampering is Key
There are many steps that can be taken to make prospective mothers more comfortable and less tense. These include ordering healthy home delivered food, reducing one’s work hours, and enlisting help for tasks such as cleaning the home. Women can also embrace pampering experiences like massages, yoga retreats for pregnant women, and shopping for comforting items like dresses, robes, and slippers. All individuals have their own idea of pampering. For some, it may involve having lunch and catching a movie with a best friend. For another, it may involve having time alone to read a favorite book.
Embracing Holistic Healing Techniques
Women who are extremely stressed can benefit from behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can teach them to reframe negative emotions and adopt healthy behaviors. However, professional therapy can be complemented by holistic approaches like yoga, Tai Chi, and mindfulness meditation. All these activities have been found in numerous studies to lower levels of stress hormones. Studies have also shown that spending time outdoors is a powerful way to eliminate stress in just a few minutes. Women who are expecting a child should aim to get at least 10 to 20 minutes outdoors, so they can recharge their batteries and enter into a calmer, more mindful state.
The stress a mother feels can be passed on to her unborn child. Women who are pregnant should have access to psychological help if they are facing long-term stress. Complementary holistic activities can also be used to lower stress hormone levels and instill a greater sense of calm.
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