The Worry: You could go into labor early
The thought of a fragile preemie in an incubator, hooked up to a slew of machines, can be haunting to expectant moms. But in reality, nearly 90 percent of babies born in this country arrive full-term. What's more, many babies born prematurely actually arrive between 34 and 37 weeks -- which is considered "late preterm." "Babies born during this time generally do quite well," assures Barbara O'Brien, M.D., a perinatologist and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University's Alpert Medical School, in Providence.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Carrying multiples and already having given birth to a preemie both increase your chances of having a preterm birth (if you fall into either category, talk to your M.D. about delivering in a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit). Doctors advise that all pregnant women, even those who are nowhere near their due date, become familiar with the signs of premature labor (experiencing regular contractions, pelvic pressure, a low, dull backache, or vaginal discharge such as blood or leaking fluid). If you have any of these symptoms, your doctor can give you drugs to try to stop the labor, explains Dr. O'Brien. "We can also administer steroids to help the fetus's lungs develop faster, in case he's born early."
The Worry: Your stress could affect the baby
Because everyone responds to it differently, it's hard to make general statements about how anxiety affects a fetus. "However, the everyday stress of not being able to pay off a credit-card bill or juggling work and family issues won't cause birth defects or preterm labor," says Dr. O'Brien. In fact, having a bad day at work or a fight with your spouse, for example, can be good for a developing fetus. In two studies from Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, children born to women who reported higher levels of daily stress during their pregnancy had a more mature nervous system at birth in one study and were more advanced in mental and motor skills by age 2 than children of less-stressed moms in the other. The researchers think that stress hormones can actually aid organ growth and development.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Research shows that prolonged, severe stress (the kind you might experience during a divorce or with the loss of a loved one) can increase the risk of having a preterm, low-birthweight baby. Even if the anxiety you experience isn't severe, you'll still enjoy your pregnancy more if you can reduce your stress level. "Counseling, moderate exercise, and meditation can all help," notes Dr. Ashton. Other stress-busting strategies to try: massage, light walking, pre-natal yoga, deep breathing, and positive-imagery exercises.