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The answer is yes, it can.

We know that high levels of stress and excess anxiety may cause health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease, but when a woman is pregnant, this type of stress can increase the chances of having a premature baby or a low-birthweight baby, and an increased risk of health problems. Let us not forget that during pregnancy mother and baby are in a fusion of body, thoughts, emotions, and energy, and everything that the mother lives is also being lived by her baby. These are imprints that her baby collects to better prepare himself for the world outside.

In this article, you will learn what stress is all about and how it can affect you and your baby.


What really is stress?

Most pregnant women are aware of the advice to eat healthily, quit smoking, avoid alcohol, but we hear very little health advice about stress during pregnancy. Stress has specific dangers for the physical and emotional wellbeing of both mother and baby.

We all have suffered from stress in one way or another, and stress during pregnancy is common, not least because the pregnancy itself can incite some kind of stress, particularly if the pregnancy was unplanned, and also because pregnancy requires a number of changes in life, including in your relationship, your work, and new worries.

Stress is your body's reaction to a challenge or demand and during pregnancy can be experienced as thoughts and emotions that make you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or anxious, with an overall sense of physical or emotional tension.

So believe it or not when you are under stress is because you are seeing something as a life-threatening situation and it causes a reaction on your brain and on your body. In short times, stress can actually be positive, because it is biological and natural when it helps you avoid danger or a difficult situation. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health and influence your baby’s development.


Where does the stress reaction come from?

It comes from millions and millions of years of evolution. Yes, we have evolved but we still have our reptilian brain, the earliest evolve part of our brain, that has the amygdala gland in it, and this gland is essential for decoding emotions, and in particular stimulus that is threatening to our organism. When the amygdala gland is trigered there is a cascade of reactions in our brain and body, and these reactions are called the stress response, or sympathetic response or also a fight-or-flight response.

Stress can come in many ways and can be caused either by physical factors, psychologically,  or even social, and may affect your body, emotions, and relations.


What happens to our body when the stress response kicks in?

When the stress response starts we cut off the more logical part of our brain that helps us to plan, to organize things, to analyze and be more creative - the prefrontal cortex - so that we can have an instant reaction.


And your hypothalamus, which is a very small region at your brain's base, sets off an alarm system in your body. Then, through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located on the top of your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, also called the stress hormones, and then is when the cascade of reactions happen.


Stress response reaction:

   Adrenaline increases the heart rate, elevates your

   Blood pressure increases

   Energy supplies increase

   Cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream and brain,

   Availability of substances that can repair your tissues in case of an accident also increases


It basically alters the immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.

This complex and natural alarm system also influences the brain regions that control mood, and you may feel a tendency towards fear, anxiety, depression, being worried all the time or angry.

This is a very strong biological response and is really meant to be short-term because it was meant for our own survival, but the long-term activation of this stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body's processes.  

This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:

·       Anxiety

·       Depression

·       Digestive problems

·       Headaches

·       Heart disease

·       Trouble in sleeping

·       Memory and concentration problems

That's why it's so important to learn healthy ways to manage your life stress.


Why is stress so frequent in our daily life?

In a lot of our western cultures instead of cultivating an environment of quietness and observation, such as the one we had before in the wild, an environment good and healthy to process all our activities and achieve good levels of performance, for instance the environment that we need at work, at home, especially women that are multitasking all the time, we are living in an environment that is always asking for a quick reaction from ourselves. We are reacting a lot and not saving our natural stress response just for situations where we really need it to survive in a difficult situation. 

The problem is that a stress reaction, which is a very strong reaction both physically and emotionally is a pattern that can actually become a habit.


What can stress do to pregnant women and their babies?

It’s very important for pregnant women to control their stress because the environment that exists outside is provoking a response reaction is the mother's body and mind, in the mother's feelings and thoughts, and whatever is going on with the mother can also be passed on to her baby. 

The baby in the mother's womb is feeling all the experiences and reactions of the mother as it was the baby own experiences, to better prepare himself or herself for life after birth, increasing the chances of survival.


The baby is learning to recognize the mother’s outside environment throught the mother’s inside signals.


We now know that at conception, genetic programs from each parent’s DNA are transmitted to the child’s first cell, but science of epigenetics reveals that during pregnancy, these programs can actually be activated or not, or even modified, according to the quality of what the pregnant mother lives, as well as the quality of her surroundings. When a woman is pregnant, her experience becomes information that organizes the baby's development and gets recorded in every cell.

We now understand that babies are far more sensitive than we thought they were and the responsibility of a mother extends beyond the physical bond and moves into the quality of what her mind experiences, her thoughts, emotions, even her view of the outside world.


So, if the child is born in a stressful survival situation and the more primitive nature of the baby is activated many times during pregnancy, the studies show that the child has a smaller head circumference, a smaller forebrain and a larger hindbrain, larger adrenal glands because the emotional signal that the mother is experiencing is also molding the baby’s body for better chances of survival if the child faces the same environment that the parents are perceiving.

Researchers of the University of Zurich, have discovered that stress can influence the metabolism in the placenta and the growth of the unborn child. If the mother is under stress over a longer period of time, the concentration of stress hormones in the amniotic fluid rises, and the supply of oxygen to the baby can be lower.

Mothers that experience feelings of anxiety, frustration, and depression during their pregnancies lead also to a pooer connection and bond with their babies, influencing labor and all postpartum experience. This is why it is so important for a mother to be well informed, to learn to have the means, the strategies, and tools to bring harmony into her feelings and thoughts for the best start of her baby’s life.

When we practice inner peace during pregnancy, we practice deep breathing and relaxing moments that will help us to come back to ourselves to our body, to be more aware of our needs and connect deeply with your baby. We become more aware of who we are, our emotions and reactions, and are able, at the moment, to make better decisions for us and our baby.


About the Author

Susana Lopes is a prenatal educator, prenatal and post-natal yoga teacher, author of the book “Yoga e Maternidade” and President of the Norwegian Association of Prenatal Education.  She is also a speaker and advocate for pregnant moms and their conscious babies. Her present work includes guiding women to effectively release stress and anxiety from their body and improve their overall health and connection with their baby.