How Your Pregnancy Stress and Size at Birth May Impact the Rest of Your Life

A new study says being born small and getting too stressed out during pregnancy are two important risk factors for women's long-term health.

Stress During Pregnancy Bad For Overall Health SpeedKingz/Shutterstock

It's pretty normal to feel stress during pregnancy; after all, your entire life is about to change forever! Oh, and a bunch of things you're used to doing without thinking twice (drinking wine!), are suddenly off-limits. But it turns out being stressed out while pregnant may cause long-term health problems for women, according to a new study in The Journal of Physiology.

Researchers at The University of Melbourne in Australia say excess prenatal angst can result in adverse adrenal, metabolic and cardio-renal health effects long after baby arrives. Another risk factor? Apparently being born small is also potentially problematic.

"We know that women born with a low birth weight do not adapt as well to pregnancy and have higher risks of developing various complications, and experiencing stress can also induce these complications," study leader Jean Ni Cheong said in a press release, adding, "But little is understood about how experiencing stress during pregnancy and having been born with a low birth weight affect mothers for the rest of their lives."

For this study, researchers used a rat model, restricting oxygen, nutrient and blood supply during pregnancy so that offspring would be born with a low birth weight. Then, when the low-birth-weight female rats became pregnant, researchers induced stress that a human woman might experience during her pregnancy. No, the rats didn't try on unflattering maternity clothes.

"We found that stress and low birth weight can independently affect cardiovascular, kidney, adrenal and metabolic health of mothers long after the pregnancy," Cheong explains, adding that having both risk factors did not lead to more severe outcomes.

The takeaway of the study? As Cheong says, "By identifying individuals at higher risk of developing complications during pregnancy and therefore long-term diseases, appropriate interventions can be implemented to improve outcomes."

So although you might not be able to completely control your stress levels during pregnancy, and you certainly can't control how big you were when you were born, alerting your doctor to these risk factors will help you to achieve better long-term health.