Stress During Pregnancy Really Isn't Good for the Baby

Jenny Benjamin

yoga momIf you're like most mamas-to-be, your pregnancy has been full of exciting moments -- hearing your baby's heartbeat for the first time, seeing his or her little face and hands and feet on the ultrasound, feeling that first kick. But unless you've got some Buddha-like powers of calm, you've likely had your fair share of nervous moments over the last several months as well. You probably share any nagging concerns with friends and family, and while some will be sympathetic and assure you that all is well, others may say things like, "Relax, don't worry, that kind of stress isn't good for the baby." Oh, wow, way to now add guilt to my already snowballing anxiety.

Well, a recent study has found that repeated stressful events during pregnancy can lead to increased behavioral problems in your children. Okay, so in order to have a healthy, well-adjusted kid, I guess we pregnant chicks should just check out and move to an ashram?

Because here's the problem: life happens, even while you're pregnant! You may stress about job security with your impending maternity leave coming up, financial worry may creep in as you start prepping for another little mouth to feed, your relationship may hit some bumps as you navigate your impending roles as parents-to-be. And that's just the day-to-day stuff. Many of us pregnant ladies -- myself included -- will have to deal with larger life issues like a death in the family, a job change, a necessary move.

And let's be honest: your pregnancy alone is likely to bring its own share of stresses, especially if you've had previous losses or are having a high-risk pregnancy. I'm a worrywart by nature, I had a miscarriage last year, and because I'm carrying identical twins, my pregnancy has to be monitored more closely. So, hell yeah, I get a little nervous every time I go to the doctor, or feel a strange, new sensation that I don't recognize. Honestly, any woman who says she got through her first pregnancy without one moment of fear or concern or stress probably has some kind of postpartum amnesia. My best friend, who is about to have her third healthy baby, still breathes a sigh of relief after every doctor's appointment.

That being said, I get it. I realized early on that worrying wasn't going to do my little guys any good. So, I started taking prenatal yoga, I resolved to stay away from any scary or alarming pregnancy articles on the Internet, and I adopted an all-is-well attitude, believing that a positive outlook would yield positive results. So far, it's working and I've been able to stay relatively calm throughout my pregnancy -- a big step for someone like me, and a mindset I hope continues once I become a mom, when it will matter even more. In fact, the study's lead author, Dr. Monique Robinson, points out:

Regardless of exposure to stress in the womb, a nurturing environment after birth can provide the child with enormous potential to change their course of development. This is known as "developmental plasticity," which means that the brain can adapt and change as the child grows with a positive environment.

Sure, someone who tells you to "just relax" during your pregnancy is probably right -- it is better for your baby. But you can't beat yourself up when stress sneaks up on you. Still, it's worth it to develop some strategies to help chill out, not only for these nine months of pregnancy, but for your life as a mom. I imagine that your stress and concern and worry only increase once your children are out of your womb and in the world, right?

What are your methods for staying calm, both during your pregnancy and as a parent?

Image via lululemon athletica/Flickr

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