Being a mother can be stressful and sometimes the stress starts even before your baby is born. It’s common to worry about how pregnancy will affect your work, or wondering if there will be adequate care and support when your baby is born and even, how you can cope with all the changes that pregnancy and raising a baby will bring. Often we tend to think of stress as being “normal”, but research is increasingly showing that chronic stress can affect your unborn baby.
How Stress Can Affect Your Baby?
Stress can affect the baby in many ways, as observed in various studies:
#1 Premature Baby
High level of stress overtime is linked to premature delivery, which in turn is associated with chronic lung disease, developmental issues and infant mortality. Particularly in the first trimester, stress may affect the production of hormones that regulates the duration of pregnancy and fetal maturation.
#2 Low Birth Weight Baby
Stress is also linked to babies with low birthweight, of below 2.5 kilograms. Medical issues related to low birthweight are sometimes also linked to premature delivery, and low birthweight babies may also have difficulty keeping warm in room temperature or have higher risks of infection.
#3 Lowering of Immune System
As stress reduces the body’s immunity, there may be higher risk of infection that either directly put the baby at risk if it is an infection of the uterus, or increases the chance of requiring antibiotics which have been shown to affect the baby’s gut microbiota. Stress may also lowers the baby’s immunity.
#4 Behavioural Issues
Though inconclusive, there is also the possibility that infants born to highly stressed mothers may be unable to tune out repeated stimuli which in turn affect the baby’s ability to concentrate and learn. Increased fussiness is also observed for babies born to mothers who experienced high stress, particularly during the first trimester.
Dealing with Stress during Pregnancy
Stress comes from many sources and we’ll explore some ways to reduce stress by being prepared (often we feel better when we are doing something!) and relaxation.
Given the many physical changes during pregnancy, it is always good to rest. Some women experience nausea, constipation, fatigue, backache and mood swings.
#2 Baby Care Class
Check with the delivery hospital for baby care class; these classes equip you and your spouse with how to care for a newborn and for some couples, learning to do so allow them to feel more in control of the pregnancy and reduce worry and stress.
#3 Prenatal Class
Another class that you can consider is prenatal class that teaches you what to expect – your body, your baby’s development, labour and breastfeeding techniques. If labour is a source of stress, attending such a class to learn of the different stages of labour and the breathing technique will help to reduce stress.
#4 Planning Maternity Leave
For other mothers who are worried about the work transition during maternity leave, it is best to inform your supervisor and colleagues early. There is no one good time to inform your employer, but generally second trimester should give enough time for your coworkers to prepare.
If you’re stressed about finances to cover the doctor’s consultation, hospital stay and baby’s expenses, it is advisable to discuss finances with your spouse. It is wise to know your available funds and if there is budget constraint, to consider lower cost alternatives such as asking for family’s help during maternity leave instead of engaging a confinement lady or to start asking around for second-hand items that are costly such as baby cot, stroller and electronic breast pump.
#6 Healthy Lifestyle
Eating a balanced diet, engaging in light exercise and getting enough sleep are essential for everyone and even more so during pregnancy. A diet incorporating oily fish (omega-3) may help to reduce the risk of depression.
#7 Relaxation Techniques
You can try prenatal yoga or meditation, or simply finding daily moments to relax. Music, warm bath and me-time also help to reduce stress.
#8 Support System
Your spouse is a pillar of strength for you during pregnancy and parenting. It is important to see your spouse as an equal in this journey – because you’re the one who is carrying the baby or who can breastfeed does not mean you have to do everything. Right from the onset, involve your spouse and ask for help from family and friends.
It has been noted in some studies that the severe stress that affects pregnancy are life or catastrophic events, such as divorce, terminal illness or death in the family, family getting caught in natural disasters or accidents, abuse, depression or the sudden loss of a job or home. On the other hand, the normal stress of job deadlines or getting the day’s work completed is much less likely to create the level of stress that will affect your baby.