Stress and Your Baby: Adding it to your no seafood, caffeine and alcohol list during pregnancy
Apparently, your late 20’s is prime time for baby-making... a lot of my friends are expecting! ( Ps: do people you follow on YouTube and Instagram count as friends? Asking for a friend….)
One of the first things my pregnant friends let me know when we plan to hang out is all of the places we CANNOT go to. No sushi, coffee houses, bars, seafood places, etc…Just comes to show how great of moms they already are : )
You know what most of my friends DON’T tell me? Places or activities we shouldn’t do because it might induce high stress. I am pretty sure you are thinking I am weird for thinking I should expect this, or that this is a normal thing to consider!
This might be because, while knowing all of the food and substances to stay away from during pregnancy is extremely important and widely known, there seems to be less awareness about the negative effects that cortisol (which is the hormone released when we experience stress) can have on your developing baby.
However, if you were to type in stress and development on google, you would be AMAZED about the amount of articles written on this topic. Most of them discuss all the negative developmental outcomes linked to high stress during the early stages of pregnancy. For example, mothers with high cortisol levels are also more likely to birth premature and low birthweight babies . Stress during early pregnancy also shapes how the baby will respond to stress after it is born . Children who experienced maternal stress when they were in the womb are more likely to have a difficult or fearful temperament in late infancy, as well as have more anxiety in middle childhood .
Keep in mind that while research does suggest links between stress and negative developmental outcomes, how much stress, the trimester in which stress impacts the baby the most, and other factors, are still unknown. The research on this topic is still fairly controversial, because a lot of different factors contribute to development. Importantly, like all correlational research, these are observed relations, and thus we cannot assume that all stress will cause adverse effects on your baby. It may very well be the case that a third factor (like genetics and environment) plays a key role in stress and developmental outcomes.
However, given that stress might have potential negative effects on your baby, expecting moms might want to be mindful of environments or situations that cause high stress.
While it would be hard, if not impossible, to avoid stress, simply being aware of such situations might help reduce your body’s response to stress. If you are like me, my stomach and shoulders hurt whenever I am stressed out. This is because when you experience stress, your body responds physically. However, most of the time we don’t notice it until it is too late, because we don’t typically tell ourselves to pay attention to our physiological responses. Therefore, trying to be vigilant to your body’s physical responses during a stressful situation will allow you to monitor and control these responses.
For example, if you notice your muscles tensing up, you can try to take a deep breath and relax. If you notice your heart beating faster, you can try to slow it down. But I am sure you are saying “easier said than done, Sara.” And you are right! But that is why, as always, we have listed 3 simple tips you can implement to help with this. PS: this is helpful for pregnant and non-pregnant people!
Tip 1: Monitoring and changing your thoughts
You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that thoughts are a powerful thing. In fact, a lot of our behavior is guided by our thoughts. Therefore, being watchful of the thoughts that cross your mind, and how your body reacts to certain thoughts, can help you reduce stress. Importantly, changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts will prevent your body from reacting negatively.
Tip 2: Slowing down your heart rate
This step might sound weird, but I actually do this a lot when I feel nervous (I have to do a lot of public speaking). Usually, before a presentation, I notice my heart rate speed up, so I begin to count my breathing. This distracts me from the fact that I am stressed. Doing the Valsalva Maneuver, by holding your breath and bearing down, will also quickly slow down your heart rate. When your heart slows down, your brain is no longer in “freak out” mode, and your stress level will likely decrease. Remember, your brain picks up cues from your behavior/physiological reactions, and vice versa!
Tip 3: Exercising
As the bright Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy!” I think you know the rest ;) Indeed, exercising can buffer a lot of negative effects, such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. This is because exercise releases endorphins, an opioid peptide that is said to increase pleasure and reduce pain. Therefore, if you feel stressed out, going on a walk or hitting a class is the best way to combat this!
Have any other tips that relieve stress? Share it with us by commenting below!
Anderson, E., & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in psychiatry, 4.
Angelopoulos TJ. Beta-endorphin immunoreactivity during high-intensity exercise with and without opiate blockade. Euro J Appl Physiol. 2001; 86: 9296.
Bale, T. L. (2015). Epigenetic and transgenerational reprogramming of brain development. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(6), 332-344.
Graignic-Philippe, R., Dayan, J., Chokron, S., Jacquet, A. Y., & Tordjman, S. (2014). Effects of prenatal stress on fetal and child development: a critical literature review. Neuroscience & biobehavioral reviews, 43, 137-162.
Porth, C. J., Bamrah, V. S., Tristani, F. E., & Smith, J. J. (1984). The Valsalva maneuver: mechanisms and clinical implications. Heart & lung: the journal of critical care, 13(5), 507-518.
Schetter, C. D., & Tanner, L. (2012). Anxiety, depression and stress in pregnancy: implications for mothers, children, research, and practice. Current opinion in psychiatry, 25(2), 141.