Did you know? The stress and anxiety of the mother can have a significant impact on the child’s health. What are the effects of the stress and anxiety of the mother during pregnancy on the baby she is carrying? How does prenatal maternal stress affect the baby?

Sometimes mothers-to-be have higher levels of stress. Unemployment, family or marital problems, bereavement, accidents … these distressing events can have real repercussions for the pregnant woman and her fetus. It is the same during acute stress caused by a natural disaster, a war … Works show that these anxieties are actually associated with complications of pregnancy: premature delivery, stunting, low birth weight.

Prenatal maternal stress can have lasting effects on the child, including his or her state of health, the development, and function of the immune system and cognitive development.

Stress can vary in intensity from mild stress to anxiety, anxiety, and depression. It can be caused by factors as minor as the daily hassle or as major as dysfunctional relationships or adversity.

More than a quarter of women of childbearing age report high daily stress. This can become a health problem for pregnant women because those who work in a stressful or noisy environment are 70% more likely to give birth prematurely.

Modern life can be stressful. There is a need to identify ways to help pregnant women and new mothers manage their stress, as this can improve their health and, ultimately, that of their children.

It is therefore right that Weddingincana.com has found it necessary to share with you this article.

Acute stress is defined as sudden stress in a person’s environment. Certain life events, such as the death of a spouse, a war or a natural disaster, provide conditions very similar to those obtained in the laboratory.

In order to fully assess the effects of prenatal stress, it is important to understand the difference between objective stress and subjective stress.

Objective Stress

Objective stress refers to a measurable amount of hardship faced by a person. Here are the factors that can contribute to stress:

* Number of days without electricity after a storm

* Losses incurred (financial or personal property)

* Changes in daily life

* Possible threats (general security)

* Duration of the event

Subjective Stress

Subjective stress quantifies the individual response to a traumatic event. Subjective stress can be assessed by questionnaires that determine the psychological response to events.

I – Studies on the Effect of Stress and Anxiety During Pregnancy

Studies exploring the effects of prenatal maternal stress on the unborn child have been developing for about 40 years. Initially centered on the perinatal period, research now explores the longer-term effects on cognitive and psycho-emotional child development.

On the cognitive level, the results show the effects of prenatal stress on the intellectual, linguistic and attentional capacities of the child.

On the psycho-emotional level, the impact of prenatal stress on the temperament of the child as well as on the psychopathological risk was highlighted.

It appears that the timing of the stress has a significant impact on the effects it will have on the child to come, effects that may also vary depending on the sex of the fetus. Some physiological and programming assumptions of fetal development may partly explain these results. However, other variables may weight the effects of prenatal maternal stress on women and on child development.

Prenatal maternal stress affects the development of the fetal brain. The activity and sensitivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis can thus be integrated into the theory of fetal programming (Barker’s theory). Thus, a high risk of declaring a psychic illness can be preprogrammed, and it may then occur in the future.

II – Prenatal Maternal Stress

No doubt prenatal maternal stress has effects, influences on the baby. These impacts range from the fetus to birth. In the following lines, we will see more.

1 – The Psycho-Physical Development of the Fetus Is Affected by Prenatal Maternal Stress

The stressful experiences experienced by the mother during pregnancy affect the baby from the first months of conception and may even lead to developmental problems.

Studies have shown that cortisol secreted by the adrenal glands to help in an emergency can be present in the amniotic fluid, a substance in which the fetus bathes throughout its intrauterine life. By getting bigger, the baby is more and more in contact with the cortisol present in the liquid. The high level of prenatal maternal stress has been shown to affect brain function, intelligence, and child behavior. In the long term, cortisol causes fatigue, depression and makes people more vulnerable to the disease.

Harmful Effects on the Brain and Development

Researchers Vivette Glover of Imperial College in London and Pampa Sarkar of Washam Park Hospital, Berkshire, England, in a study published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology, measured cortisol levels in 267 pregnant women. The stress experienced by a woman during pregnancy can affect her baby to be born as early as 17 weeks after conception, with potentially harmful effects on the brain and development.

The scientists took blood samples from the 17-week-old pregnant women and the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby in their uterus. This fluid is produced primarily by the fetus and provides valuable information on the baby’s exposure to several substances, including hormones. The researchers found a correlation between the level of cortisol present in the blood of mothers and that detected in the amniotic fluid. Research shows that the fetus is exposed to cortisol secreted by its mother. The larger the fetus grows in the uterus, the higher the level of cortisol in the amniotic fluid tends to be as high as that detected in the mother’s blood.

This study is the first to prove that fetuses respond to stress hormones immediately during pregnancy. Previous animal research has shown that a high level of prenatal maternal stress can affect brain function, intelligence quotient, and offspring behavior. Researchers say new studies are needed to better understand the impact of stress on the development of the fetus and baby.

2 – Prenatal Maternal Stress Is the Cause of Baby Sleep Problems

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (USA), published in the journal Early Human Development in 2009, expectant mothers in anxious or depressed mood increase the risk of their baby suffering from sleeping troubles. The quality of sleep in a newborn has a significant impact on its health and development.

This study is based on the follow-up of 14,000 pregnant women living in Avon, England. They answered a questionnaire about their state of anxiety and depression during their pregnancy. After the birth of their child, they then reported to the researchers how long their child slept, how often he woke up and what types of sleep problems were encountered (nightmare, refusal to sleep, sleep problems, etc.). And this when their child was 6, 18 and 30 months old.

Disturbed Sleep at Children

The results show that among mothers who were anxious for 18 weeks during their pregnancy, 40% of them had an 18-month-old baby who refuses to go to sleep, gets up early and tries to get out of bed. These problems have even persisted until the age of 30 months. A similar effect was found in depressed pregnant women.

Studies also show that this stress, associated with high exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol, can disrupt the formation of nerve cells in the child included in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. These act as a signal system that regulates the baby’s internal clock. This system helps to properly regulate the daily rhythms of awakening, sleep, and even hunger.

3 – The Prenatal Maternal Stress Would Have Effects on the Brain Structures of the Baby

Exposing a pregnant woman to stressful situations can affect the cognitive, behavioral and physical development of children. In addition, there may be an increased risk of mental health disorders, such as autism and depression.

Suzanne King’s research team at the Douglas Institute has conducted a research project that shows that objective stress harms the developing fetus more than subjective stress.

The Ice Storm Project began in 1998 when Quebec was hit by one of the worst ice storms in history. Its main objective was to study the developmental consequences of prenatal maternal stress in children, particularly at the cognitive, behavioral, motor and physical levels.

The stress response involves various organs and systems of the body: from the brain to specialized organs, such as the adrenal glands that line the kidneys.

The process starts when a stress pattern stimulates the brain, which evaluates the threat and triggers an appropriate, physiological and behavioral response. The adrenal glands release corticosteroids into the bloodstream, such as cortisol and glucocorticosteroids. Triggered under stress conditions, corticosteroids are molecules that provoke an “attack or flight” reaction.

Cortisol Has a Direct Effect on the Fetus

Cortisol is the link between prenatal maternal stress and infant fate. Prenatal maternal stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol in the mother. It is believed that this molecule has a direct effect on the fetus. In addition, since there are a linear relationship to maternal and fetal cortisol levels, relatively small increases in maternal cortisol result in relatively high levels of cortisol in the fetus.

The researchers followed pregnant women and their children during and after the storm. Children who had been exposed to high levels of objective prenatal stress had lower cognitive and linguistic skills compared to children born to mothers who had been exposed to low levels of stress. This trend was observed at the age of 2, 5 ½ and 8 ½.

The first two trimesters are the most sensitive periods for prenatal stress. Two periods are particularly critical:

* At week 10, the embryo becomes a fetus and begins to move. Vital organs are now firmly established. During this period, the brain produces about 250,000 neurons every minute. This is called neurogenesis.

* From weeks 24 to 30, the cellular connection between neurons multiplies. Guided by chemical signals, the nervous processes locate their target and make contact. Communication begins between the neurons. At birth there is an initial overproduction of nerve connections; those that are not used degenerate. This is called synaptogenesis.

High objective prenatal maternal stress is associated with lower intellectual and linguistic functioning in children at 2 years of age. This effect was observed only in children who were exposed during the first or second trimester.

4 – Stress Passes Through the Placenta

Two US studies by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, presented at the San Diego Neuroscience Annual Meeting in March 2013, shed new light on the transmission of mother-to-child stress.

Vaginal bacteria and a placenta-specific protein could communicate the mother’s stress to the baby and increase the risk of neurological disorders, such as autism or schizophrenia.

The authors of the first study, led by Prof. Tracy L. Bale, showed that early prenatal stress disrupts the levels of lactobacillus, both in the mother and in the child, a bacterium that produces lactic acid chemistry of the nervous system. Too high levels would have an impact on the neurological development of the brain.

Researchers in the second study has shown that a protein present in the placenta, OGT (O-linked-N-acetylglucosamine transferase), can also affect the child’s brain development, depending on its concentration, more low in stressed moms.

5 – Stress and Pregnancy: Risks of Asthma for the Baby

Scientists from Bristol presented a study at the European Respiratory Congress 2008 that links stress during pregnancy to the risk of having a child with asthma.

To assess the effect of stress before the child was born, the team relied on a large cohort of pregnant women living in the former county of Avon to deliver between April 1, 1991, and December 31, 1992. A total of 5,810 mother-child pairs were selected to explore the links between prenatal maternal stress and childhood asthma.

Maternal anxiety was assessed by self-questionnaires completed at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. The women were thus divided into 4 groups of increasing anxiety. Infantile asthma was sought around the age of 7.5 through questionnaires submitted to the mother. Clinically, a search for bronchial hyperreactivity and skin tests (to determine whether allergic asthma and allergens) were performed. Asthma was found in almost 13% of children.

But this proportion rises to 17% if the mother was stressed at 32 weeks of pregnancy and at 14% for stress at 18 weeks. The link between asthma and prenatal stress is even more obvious when the expectant mother is part of the group of the most anxious mothers: the risk of asthma can then increase of + 65% for maximum stress at 32 weeks, and + 53% for high anxiety at 18 weeks of pregnancy.

Scientists point out that studies conducted in animals have shown that prenatal stress causes disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis – which controls the hormones associated with the body’s major functions – and the immune system. According to them, these upheavals predispose the offspring to inflammation of the airways and bronchial hyperreactivity, that is, to suffer from asthma.

6 – Prenatal Maternal Stress Could Influence the Intestinal Microbiota of Infants

A study conducted by the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at the Radboud University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology in March 2015, shed some light on this link between the stress of pregnant women and the microbiota (intestinal flora) of their babies.

According to the study’s authors, infants of mothers who have experienced high levels of stress for long periods during their pregnancy are more likely to have intestinal disorders and allergic reactions.

Scientists recruited 56 pregnant women and assessed the mother’s stress level through a questionnaire and saliva analysis to measure cortisol levels. Researchers then collected stool samples from infants 7 days to 4 months after birth to examine their microbiota.

There is a correlation between pregnant mothers with high levels of stress and the composition of the microbiota in the gut of newborns. These children had relatively higher concentrations of Proteobacteria bacteria, which would contain more pathogens (Escherichia, Serratia, and Enterobacter) and fewer lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, Aerococcus, and Bifidobacterium.

Experts believe that this sum of factors is linked to higher risks of inflammation. This atypical colonization model was also linked to a greater presence of gastrointestinal symptoms and allergic reactions. They also noted that despite its ability to increase the proportion of beneficial microbes in the gut through the prebiotic content of milk, breastfeeding was not enough to protect the infant from the negative effects of her mother’s stress.

Researchers speculate that cortisol may interfere with bile production, which in turn will affect intestinal bacteria. They also point out that this stress hormone could cross the placenta and increase the cortisol levels of the fetus, thus affecting the development of the gastrointestinal tract.

The results suggest that there is a possible mechanism by which prenatal maternal stress influences fetal development. But it remains unknown to this day and its understanding would require further research. The findings could pave the way for new bacterial interventions to improve the health and development of newborns from stressed mothers.

III – How to Manage Stress During Pregnancy?

While it is not always easy to contain anxiety, some steps can be taken to limit its effects. Above all, it is essential to have a healthy lifestyle that can help you feel better and in better shape.

1 – Possible Interventions in Prenatal Maternal Stress

Favoring a relaxing environment can reduce a pregnant woman’s exposure to acute stress. Some interventions may moderate the response that a pregnant woman might have during a crisis. These interventions aim to lower the level of anxiety and provide the feeling of control of events.

Crisis interventions may include therapy, problem-solving with counseling, use of self-help groups, training sessions, and psychotherapy.

2 – Take the Time to Rest

Keep time for yourself. At work, try to elevate your feet and really relax during the lunch break. Once home, limit housework, if possible.

If you feel exhausted, go to bed early. The body works hard to feed the developing baby and needs maximum sleep.

3 – Eat Well

It is important to eat well, for the mind as for the body. A healthy diet rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals helps you feel good.

Tryptophan, the essential amino acid, increases the level of melatonin and serotonin in the brain. These chemicals help to sleep well and increase the feeling of well-being. Tryptophan is found naturally in many foods, including nuts and seeds, which are easy to snack on.

4 – Exercise

Exercise can really affect mood. It is quite safe to exercise during pregnancy as long as you do not choose too intensive activities. Swimming is ideal, it tones the muscles while preserving the joints.

Try to incorporate exercises into everyday life. At work, get up and walk regularly, especially if you are sitting all day at a desk. Take lunch to get some fresh air, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.

5 – Relaxation Method: Benefits of Prenatal Massage

The prenatal massage is specially designed to accompany the pregnant woman from the 4th month of pregnancy, after stabilization of the fetus.

Stress hormones such as cortisol are present in the blood and cross the placental barrier. Prenatal massage allows the future mother to regain serenity and promotes the decrease of these hormones.

It is important to seek the advice of the midwife or doctor to ensure that the massage is safe for the expectant mother and the baby.

Little Tips

* Avoid eating too much weight before going to bed.

* Take care of yourself and relax as much as possible before the night, taking a good bath, for example.

* Take time for rest and relaxation during the day.

During the last semester:

* Improve the comfort of nights by investing in a nursing pillow, which will help stall the belly for softer sleep.

* Drink milk or infusions made from linden or verbena.

* Practice relaxing activities like yoga.

* Make 2 naps of 20 minutes a day.

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