Health Update: Pregnant? Get Your Stress in Check

New research reveals that excess anxiety may have a surprising impact on your baby's health.

Feeling really maxed out at work? Time to take care of it. According to new research published in the journal Early Human Development, women who are anxious or depressed during pregnancy are nearly 40 percent more likely to have babies who develop sleep problems than women who aren't.

The likely link: The stress hormone cortisol, which floods the body when you feel excess stress. "This chemical can cross the placenta, affecting the part of the brain that regulates a child's sleep-wake cycles," says study author Thomas O'Connor, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "We know that child sleep is often an important measure of healthy development, so it's crucial that women pay attention to high stress levels, which can ultimately trigger chronic anxiety and depression."

Of course, some degree of worrying and stress every now and then is totally normal, and a deadline-jammed day or two at the office is certainly not going to mess up baby's well-being for life. But trust yourself: If you're really frazzled or low lately, bring it up with your healthcare provider. (You're seeing her regularly enough these days anyhow.) And know that you're hardly alone: As many as 10 to 15 percent of pregnant women experience symptoms severe enough to warrant a doctor's attention, O'Connor estimates. Your doc can help determine the best way to manage your feelings and whether you may need to talk to a therapist -- or if simple lifestyle changes like unloading your plate around the house or office could help tame your tension.

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