Research

Maternal Stress leads to Mental Disruption in the Expected Babies

Stress is never appreciated, not at all. It is associated with a never-ending list of deleterious side effects. Constant stress acts as a slow poison. It not only deteriorates your mental or physical health but also cuts the victim socially off.

In addition, a study published in the journal “Development and Psychopathology” had discovered that stress during pregnancy may cause nervous disposition and weaker resilience to illness among the expected babies.

The study was conducted by the researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). According to the study, when a pregnant mother suffers from stress during her second trimester, it may cause developmental issues with the nervous system of the expected baby. This stress could also slightly affect the baby’s temperament which may lead to the diminished regulation of emotions, less smiling and rare socializing with other kids.

About 151 women belonging with low to middle-income class were employed for the study. All of them were between 12 to 24 weeks of their pregnancy. The research team examined their stress levels throughout their pregnancy and after delivery. The mothers were asked to report the stressful events they had been through during pregnancy e.g. any illness, legal, domestic or relationship issues, housing problems etc.

The stress levels reported in the participants were compared with objective levels of stress in their six-month-old offspring. A short play session was conducted and afterward, the mothers were instructed to look at their babies’ faces without any kind of physical interaction with them. This continued for about 2 minutes and meanwhile, the infants’ cardiac function was monitored.

It was observed that the babies whose mothers were reported to be considerably stressed during their pregnancy were 22 percent more “reactive” to the stress stimuli. These infants were also reported to recover slowly, exhibiting a weaker resilience.

According to first author Nicole Bush, Ph.D., of the UCSF departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, high reactivity towards a stressful condition indicates a decrement in the parasympathetic nervous system’s activity of the infants. It may place the children at a higher risk of wide-ranging psychopathological problems, particularly anxiety and depression. It may also cause externalizing problems, such as disruptive behavior, especially if the family and school environments of the children are adverse.

She also added that some of the children with high reactivity to stress may also develop better social skills and behaviors because greater reactivity can make them more sensitive towards the benefits of positive relationships and experiences. Thus high reactivity couldn’t be termed good or bad in particular.

In addition, the stress test demonstrated that the babies, whose mothers depicted a high level of stress during pregnancy and after delivery, had a difficulty in regulating and managing their emotions. They also exhibited a short temperament and surgency level by eight percent. Surgency accounts for behaviors like,

  1. Laughing
  2. Smiling
  3. Willingness to engage with other people

Bush further extended her explanation; she said that the lifelong impacts of higher reactivity and lower surgency are still unknown. The family and communal environment also contribute to the situation. Positive and healthy environments during pregnancy can add to both the health of an expecting mother and her baby. A healthy and positive maternal psychological state leads to a better physical and mental development of the fetus.

First pregnancy is usually very stressful for ladies. Considering the hazardous effects of stress on the mental state of the baby, mothers should opt for the ways in order to reduce their stress ensuring a good mental and physical health of the baby. They should eat well, do some light exercises and rest adequately. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and trout are found to soothe depression. Working out, exercises like swimming and yoga can also enhance your mood.

Sources

https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2017/11/409146/stress-pregnancy-linked-changes-infants-nervous-system-less-smiling-less

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