A recent study sheds some light on the way a pregnant woman's stress may affect her baby...but according to the findings, not all stress works the same way.
It's not really news that stress is not a pregnant woman's friend. Pregnancy isn't just tough on your body, it can also play some serious tricks on your anxiety levels—and the thought of becoming a parent? Well, that's the kind of thing that could throw even the most centered person for a serious loop.
But keeping those levels of stress to a minimum isn't just essential to ensuring you have the happiest pregnancy possible, it's also a key to a healthier you and a healthier baby. But a recent study suggests not all forms of stress could increase the risk of health issues for your little one, and that news may help you feel a bit less, well...stressed about your stress.
Researchers from the University of Zurich tested 34 pregnant women who underwent amniocentesis for levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which can be emitted by the mother into the placenta, or even created by the placenta itself. Since the placenta is your baby's source of life in utero, your baby can literally feel your stress during pregnancy through the placent.
They found that while long-term stress does appear to have an effect on babies, short term stress may not, according to the study published in Stress: The International Journal on the Biology of Stress. The researchers didn't find the cortisol levels present in a woman's saliva, which is where you might find higher cortisol levels in a short-term stress situation, in the amniotic fluid during the procedure.
"If the mother is stressed for a longer period of time, the CRH level in the amniotic fluid increases," says researcher Pearl La Marca-Ghaemmaghami, according to a release for the study. "The corticotropin-releasing hormone CRH obviously plays a complex and dynamic role in the development of the human fetus, which needs to be better understood."
These findings should be reassuring for most moms-to-be. Obviously, keeping your life as stress-free as possible is the best way to go if you're pregnant—but that's not always possible. Still, it's comforting to think that the sort of stress you'll encounter meeting a workday deadline, or when you're gearing up for a prenatal checkup, won't reach your baby.
On the other hand, mamas who find themselves facing down situations that come with long-term stress (think divorce, job loss or financial strain) may want to consider this news and work to bring down those stress levels in whatever way possible. That may involve seeking out professional help from a therapist, logging prenatal yoga sessions, or even just indulging in a day of relaxation. And, as always, don't let this news make you nervous! As the researchers point out, creating a loving bond with your baby after birth may neutralize the effects of even that long-term stress.