Can too much stress during pregnancy be bad for my baby?

Q: Can too much stress during pregnancy be bad for my baby?

A: The impact of a pregnant mom's stress on an unborn baby is debatable. Some experts believe that prolonged bouts of severe stress (like a death in the family, losing a job, etc.) can negatively impact a pregnancy, causing complications like preterm birth, low birth weight, and even sleep and behavioral disorders in young children.

But will a rough deadline or two at the office, or the occasional spat with your mom or sister, pose these same risks? Probably not. In fact, some studies have shown that the effects of chronic stress on a fetus are minimal, and that an expectant mom tends to suffer much more than her baby does. (Chronic stress can cause a number of physical symptoms like sleep problems, digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension, and high blood pressure, for example.)

The important thing to remember is that we all experience stress, and when you're pregnant it's natural that every emotion can be heightened (thanks to those crazy hormones), including the negative ones. If you're worried about being too tense, start by acknowledging what's stressing you out, then figure out the best way to deal with those issues.

Sometimes it helps to talk to another pregnant woman or mother, who can help put any pregnancy or parenting issues you may be worried about in perspective. Or jot down in a journal thoughts that are keeping you up at night -- sometimes getting them down on paper can make you take a more proactive approach to solving problems. You may also want to consider giving prenatal yoga a go; it's not only relaxing, but a great way to stay fit and healthy. The important thing is to find something that works for you -- even if it's as simple as closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths or taking a quick walk at lunch to clear your mind.

Since every woman experiences stress differently (and what drives you to the edge may be no big deal for someone else, and vice versa), it's important to know yourself and your limits. If you start to experience symptoms you can't shake -- like feeling worried all the time, losing interest in your life, feeling hopeless, sleeping or eating more or less than usual, or having difficulty concentrating -- you should let your doctor know. These could be signs of depression or an anxiety disorder, conditions than affect more than 10 percent of pregnant women, and should be addressed and treated right away.


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