Pregnancy is something that has been viewed both from a societal and cultural point of view as being central to a woman’s very being or existence. That is of course not true, but the fact remains that the instinct to have babies is a very powerful one hardwired into every woman’s brain.
The very process of getting pregnant is often fraught with anxiety and stress, especially in today’s hard paced and stressful times. When women do achieve the much vaunted milestone of getting pregnant, the euphoria does not really last very long. Instead the fact that they are pregnant makes a lot of women extremely stressed.
A recent UK study discovered that as many as 25% pregnant women have mental health issues during the course of their pregnancy. This is an incredibly high figure and necessitates mental health check-ups for pregnant women. Not doing so can have an adverse impact upon the outcome of the pregnancy, the fetus, and indeed the infant.
It is therefore important that healthcare professional proactively enquire about the emotional and mental wellbeing of pregnant women, both during the course of their pregnancy and the birth of the child. This can be achieved quite easily and seamlessly on account of the fact that pregnant women are in regular contact with their doctors.
The Impact of Pregnancy on Mental Health
While waiting for one’s baby to arrive is certainly an exciting time for women, it is quite naturally also a time of great anxiety. This naturally can lead to some amount of emotional turbulence. The coming of a baby into one’s life is a life altering event and any normal person would feel a fair amount of anxiety.
Then there is the pregnancy itself-the physical and hormonal changes that can be quite stressful. Women who have had a miscarriage in the past might have to cope with additional stress on account of the antenatal tests one might be required to undergo.
As a matter of fact mental health issues can afflict women both during pregnancy and after the birth of one’s child. These issues could be in the shape of depression, anxiety or even bi-polar disorder. One’s propensity for developing any of these mental issues depends upon the following factors:
(i) Previous mental illness.
(ii) A perceived lack of support.
(iii) Relationship troubles.
(iv) History of having suffered
(v) Drug or alcohol induced mental health issues.
It would be a good idea upon the part of the pregnant person and her partner to watch out for the signs of mental health issues that the former may be displaying. These may take the following shape-
• Feeling morose or under the weather for more than two weeks.
• One’s mood impacting one’s ability to carry out one’s routine functions.
• A general feeling of helplessness, ennui and an inability to cope with day to day life.
• Feeling tense and anxious all the time.
• Panic attacks
• Obsessive and compulsive behaviour.
If a pregnant person is displaying one or more of the above signs, it makes eminent sense to bring these to the notice of a competent healthcare professional. This could be GP or the doctor one is routinely seeing.
For someone who is generally coping well with pregnancy, it would still be a good thing to take steps that will keep their mental health shipshape through their pregnancy and beyond. These are as under:
• Not putting too much pressure upon oneself with regard to the pregnancy and taking adequate rest.
• One should avoid doing things like changing a job, moving to another house or anything that may be a cause of anxiety.
• Keeping oneself physically active to the extent suggested by the doctor.
• Eating regularly and eating healthy.
• Be with positive people.
• Abjure the use of alcohol or drugs.
The Impact of a Pregnant Woman’s Mental Health on the Fetus
New research has shown that the state of the mental health of a pregnant woman not only affects the well-being of the expectant mother, but on the fetal outcomes as well. Depression during the course of a pregnancy has been identified as a factor in causing low fetal birth weight or premature delivery.
There are a large number of studies that increasingly corroborate what is known as the fetal origin hypothesis which states that prenatal environmental exposure can have a lasting impact across a lifetime. There is a fresh body of research that endeavors to establish a direct relationship between psychological distress experienced by a woman during pregnancy with fetal behaviour as well as child development. These studies also seek to study the biological pathways that make this possible.
The prenatal period is an extremely crucial time in the development of a fetus from the neurological from point of view. This is on account of a range of exposures that causes changes to the way that the brain develops with long term implications for physical and mental health. Clinical studies have demonstrated that pregnant women, who have chronic exposure to any form of stress-death of a loved one, earthquake, day to day troubles and so on, face significantly enhanced risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children. This may lead to conditions like autism and decreased cognitive ability.
The significance of these findings lies in the fact that some of the risks that is conveyed from pregnant mother to child is not just on account of genetic illness, but also on account of a transformation of a woman’s mood based physiology having an impact on a fetus’s neurobehavioral development. As a matter of fact the impact of anxiety during the course of a pregnancy is known to extend right up to childhood and adolescence.
Is all Stress Bad for Pregnant Woman?
The thing to understand here is that being pregnant is a normal state for a young woman of child bearing age to be in. Just like a little amount of stress is okay in real life, so it is with a pregnant woman. The kind of stress that you can deal with and dissipate does not cause any harm.
But if you are in a permanent state of stress, its impact on you and your baby could be long term. The state of being in stress puts the body into a flight or fight mode. This causes a flood of stress hormones to flow inside your body to help you cope with the threat. This is accomplished by preparing you to make a run for it by making your heart beat faster.
If you are able to deal with the stress the symptoms too shall recede. But if the stress is unending-that’s damaging. Constant and unrelenting stress can alter your body’s stress management system to go into overdrive and lead to an inflammatory response. One should therefore not stress about stress during pregnancy, but view things in perspective.
Stress Is Bad for Development of Baby’s Brain in the Womb
Stress experienced by a woman during the course of her pregnancy can have a detrimental impact on the baby’s brain as early as the 17th week of pregnancy. It appears that maternal stress does impinge upon a developing child to the extent of even having an impact on his or her IQ. Of course more research needs to be carried out to arrive at a definitive conclusion about the extent to which maternal stress of any kind can impact upon the development of a fetus.
In the meantime it is imperative that every step be taken to ensure that pregnant women have no cause to experience inordinate stress. In fact all the people in such a person’s life-family, friends and colleagues should provide her with every support and reassurance. A study carried out on the basis of the measurement of IQ levels of children whose mothers had experienced excessive stress during pregnancy discovered that their IQ levels were 10 points below average. The importance of a stress free pregnancy cannot be emphasized enough.
What to Do To Ensure a Healthy Development of the Unborn Child
Now that it’s evident that stress during pregnancy can impair the healthy development of an unborn child, every precaution should be taken to avoid situations of any kind of stress for the pregnant mother. This means that activities like smoking, drinking and doing drugs that are associated with stress are strictly to be abjured.
Not exerting oneself at work and resting adequately will help one stay relaxed and happy. One should avoid low fat diets as these are known to cause depression and go for food that contains ample healthy fats. Another thing that pregnant women can do to stay happy and relaxed is to listen to music. It apparently also has a positive impact on the unborn child’s mental development.
Staying active and doing light exercises like swimming and yoga helps relax you and keep you in a positive frame of mind and better equipped to deal with your pregnancy. This happy frame of mind has a beneficial impact upon your baby’s development. Staying stress free during pregnancy is definitely something that will definitely aid in the healthy development of your baby during pregnancy and afterwards.