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Stress during pregnancy: Here’s how it can affect an unborn baby


Pregnancy is an incredibly transformative period in a woman’s life, marked by both excitement and anxiety. It is essential for expectant mothers to prioritise their emotional well-being. Research has shown that a mother’s stress during pregnancy can potentially impact her unborn baby’s growth and development. We delve into the various ways in which maternal stress can adversely affect the fetus and how to reduce prenatal stress for a healthy pregnancy.

Health Shots spoke to Dr Sakshi Goel, Senior Consultant, MBBS, MS Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital, Delhi, who revealed that stress during pregnancy is one of the most common causes behind premature delivery and even low birth weight.

Stress during pregnancy

When a pregnant woman experiences stress, her body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While these hormones can be helpful in certain situations, chronic stress during pregnancy may lead to an excess of these substances crossing the placental barrier. High levels of stress hormones in the womb can disrupt the delicate balance of the developing fetus, potentially affecting its neurological and physiological development.

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Stress can increase your pregnancy problems. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Side effects of stress during pregnancy on the baby

Here are 3 ways a mother’s stress can affect an unborn child:

1. Impact on brain development

Studies suggest that maternal stress may negatively influence the developing fetal brain. The developing brain is highly sensitive to stress hormones, and exposure to high levels of cortisol can affect the structure and function of the brain. Dr Goel says, “Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can hinder the formation of vital brain structures and connections, leading to long-term consequences for the child’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions.”

2. Preterm birth and low birth weight

One of the most significant effects of maternal stress on the unborn child is low birth weight. Dr Goel says, “Stress during pregnancy is one of the leading causes of low birth weight. Low birth weight increases the likelihood of developmental delays, complications at birth, and health problems in the future. Studies have shown that babies born with low birth weight have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.”

3. Impact on emotional health of the child

A mother’s stress during pregnancy can impact the unborn child in various ways, including mentally and emotionally. Dr Goel says, “The emotional health of the child may also be affected by maternal stress. Research indicates that children born to stressed mothers may be more prone to anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems later in life.” hence, managing stress during pregnancy is crucial for promoting a healthier environment for both the mother and the unborn child.

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How to manage stress during pregnancy?

Managing stress during pregnancy is crucial for the well-being of both the mother and the baby. Here are 7 tips to help ease stress:

1. Prioritise self-care. Engage in activities that bring joy and relaxation.
2. Stay physically active. Regular exercise can reduce stress and improve mood.
3. Seek support. Talk to friends, family, or professionals about your feelings.
4. Practice mindfulness. Meditation or deep breathing exercises can calm the mind.
5. Maintain a balanced diet. Eat nutritious foods to support your health.
6. Get enough rest. Ensure adequate sleep to rejuvenate the body and mind.
7. Limit exposure to stressors. Avoid unnecessary triggers and focus on positive experiences.

Follow these tips and stay happy throughout your pregnancy journey!



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