Pregnancy and stress: do the two go together? More than 30 percent of all pregnant women suffer from anxiety and depression. In short, we call this stress. Long-term stress in a pregnant woman can have adverse effects on the baby. But a child can also experience problems later in life if his mother was stressed during pregnancy.
What is stress?
Stress is a state of mental negative tension. This arises when I come under mental pressure. When stress occurs varies: one person can handle more than the other. Stress is a normal reaction of the body and has a useful function. When we become stressed, adrenaline is released. This ensures that the heart rate increases, breathing accelerates, oxygen-rich blood flows to the muscles and we become alert. All these reactions ensure that we are able to fight or flee. Stress is therefore nothing more than a survival mechanism. After a few minutes, cortisol is even produced by the adrenal glands, which increases metabolism.
Nowadays we have to deal with a lot of unnecessary stress and fight or flight is no longer necessary. This ensures that the stress hormones remain in the body for too long. This is already harmful for normal people, but it has even more disadvantages for pregnant women.
Pregnant and stress: how unhealthy is this?
Stress is not harmful to health for a short period of time. But when we stress too often and for too long, a lot happens in our body that can have adverse consequences. Pregnant women are extra sensitive to stress. The hormones that arise during pregnancy affect emotional thinking and can cause too much worry or too much stress. A great involvement with the unborn baby, something that is often seen in pregnant women, makes them more sensitive to stress.
Stress during pregnancy is not harmful to the child when it comes to cardiovascular disease. This was previously thought, but has now been negated. It is known that children whose mothers experienced great stress during pregnancy are more likely to develop behavioral problems around preschool age. This concerns ADHD, anxiety disorders or other psychological disorders that influence behavior. This mainly concerns long-term stress.
Miscarriage and premature birth
Stress causes a lower birth weight and increases the risk of premature birth. Stress is therefore just as harmful as smoking during pregnancy. In the first three months of pregnancy, stress can contribute to a miscarriage. Stress puts us on alert, ready to fight and flee. If this condition continues for too long, the body will react more quickly when the fetus is not well. This causes a miscarriage to occur more quickly.
Stress during pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth and increases the risk of having a child with behavioral problems. This does not mean that every pregnant woman with stress will also have a miscarriage or premature birth. The chance of a miscarriage is approximately 10 percent for everyone. During stress, this risk increases when the fetus is not in good condition.
The risk of premature birth or lower birth weight is increased up to three times. This partly depends on the period in which the stress occurs. Early in pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, while stress late in pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth. Stress during mid-pregnancy has fewer adverse effects, provided it does not continue for too long. The risk of having a child with behavioral problems increases with stress during pregnancy: it does not matter in which trimester the stress arises. However, it appears that the risk is slightly increased during the first three months.
Abdominal pain caused by stress
Stress also often causes stomach ache. This is because the metabolism is increased during stress, resulting in abdominal pain and diarrhea. This abdominal pain has nothing to do with a threatened miscarriage, but it is logical that women are afraid of this. As long as there is no blood loss and increasingly severe cramps, there is not much to worry about. The complaints often disappear by relaxing. Stress that does not go away needs to be discussed. Fear and uncertainty that something will happen to the pregnancy are best discussed with the midwife. This can reassure the woman in most cases. It is important to remove the stress factor. What causes the stress? Discuss this and, if necessary, seek help from others. Not every situation can be avoided, but it can be dealt with.