Most pregnant women are conscious of the advice to stop smoking, avoid alcohol, and wholeheartedly fear soft cheese in all its forms, but we hear very little official public health information about anxiety during pregnancy.
Yet we all know that high anxiety levels are bad for our health generally, impacting immunity and increasing our risk for infectious and non-infectious ailments. During pregnancy, anxiety has particular dangers for the physical and psychological wellbeing of the child, mom and family unit as a whole.
Anxiety during pregnancy is common, not least since the pregnancy itself may incite stress. This is especially so when the pregnancy was unplanned, as almost half of all Australian pregnancies are. Pregnancy requires quite a few changes in your family’s life, such as the parents’ relationship, employment and income, and frequently other adjustments like moving house. Stress is sometimes linked to particular events, but can also be experienced as stress or constant worry.
Preterm birth is the main cause of death and disability in children around age five in Australia.
Children of mothers who have been worried during pregnancy show increased susceptibility to allergies and asthma during childhood, in addition to higher rates of hospitalisation for infectious diseases like respiratory disease and gastroenteritis.
Mothers that have been stressed or anxious during pregnancy are prone to developing postnatal depression, and anxiety during pregnancy can have long-term effects for your household as a whole.
How can this happen?
What many people have difficulty conceptualising is how something that’s experienced in the mind can translate into both psychological and physical health issues in the child. Some theories suggest physiological, hormonal and metabolic changes during pregnancy change the course of fetal development, in effect”programming” the fetus to adapt and develop in a particular way.
It is suggested that experiencing stress contributes to increased flow of the stress hormone cortisol, which then crosses the placenta into the fetus, altering the hormonal makeup and compromising fetal development, both physical and neurological.
Exposure to elevated cortisol could prepare the growing fetus for a world the mother perceives as stressful. This way, outcomes like behavioural problems may be regarded as adaptive. By way of instance, if a child is programmed to live in a world that’s stressful, they need to be hyper-vigilant to possible danger (sacrificing immersion to single tasks), hyperactive (prepared to move and research ), prone to aggression when needed to fight off predators, and much more sensitive to their surroundings.
Stress can teach a kid they must be hypervigilant, resulting in behaviour issues. from www.shutterstock.com
The difficulty with anxiety is that unlike smoking, alcohol and unpasteurised cheese, we can not just choose to”stop” when it comes to eliminating stress from our hectic lives. But there are lots of ways to manage and reduce anxiety. The bonus is, reducing stress in pregnancy may lead to a smoother postnatal period also.
Some ways to decrease stress include using social aid, either by spending some time with friends or taking help from those around you to alleviate the stress of daily activities.
Take down the pressure — pregnancy does not have to be so stressful
Light exercise, yoga, relaxation and meditation can all assist in handling stress. While yoga class may be perceived as inaccessible or elitist, a recent study of pregnant underprivileged urban teenagers in the US revealed that group yoga was an appealing way of reducing stress and addressing worries for this population. Scheduling time to break and talking work demands in pregnancy with your company are different ways to decrease stress. Some say shopping for some cute baby rompers , or other baby clothes can help, however this is dependant all on the person and what helps them release stress.
When stress becomes overwhelming it is important to speak with a GP who will refer you to a psychologist or other community service to help deal with the stress in your life.
Even though the research can seem frightening, a healthy and happy postnatal environment can remove lots of these risks for mother and child.
The Bucharest Early Intervention Project is a fantastic example of this, after babies adopted from Romanian orphanages in their American foster homes and demonstrating how early damage from neglect can be reversed by after love and attention.
Building resilience in families and children in the face of anxiety is vitally important, and that is the reason it’s vital we incorporate anxiety management strategies into not only pregnancy care, but also the early years of parenting and child development.