Moms worry about everything, especially during pregnancy when everything she does or eats seems to revolve around the baby. But are you worried that your worrying will affect your child?
A new study reveals that a low level of stress during pregnancy does not harm your baby, but, in fact, may be beneficial to early development. Moms-to-be who cope with normal levels of depression, anxiety or other forms of stress seem to be more likely to have children who are more advanced in mental and motor skills by age two.
"There's a lot of interest in the affects of stress on pregnancy," said Dr. Janet DiPietro, study author from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, "and this is not what other people expect."
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In the study, DiPietro and colleagues surveyed 137 women who were having normal pregnancies about their stress and anxiety levels. Those women who had more negative feelings about being pregnant were more likely to have children who scored lower on these behavioral tests.
However, women who reported a moderate level of stress between weeks 24 and 32 in their pregnancy were more likely to have a child who performed better on mental and motor tests than women who reported no stress.
This contradicts the common notion that any worrying by mom is somehow transferred to the baby negatively.
DiPietro emphasized, however, that extreme stress is dangerous for both a pregnant woman and her child. The women in this study did not have any major mental health problems or anxiety disorders. Moderate stress, like that reported by the women in the study, would include mostly the stress that is a natural part of a demanding lifestyle, such as work, family and at home responsibilities.
The reason a little stress is beneficial, however, is still unknown. Stress is known to cause the body to produce certain chemicals, which does influence organ growth and development, wrote DiPietro in Child Development. However, there may be something much simpler at play.
"It may be that women who are stressed during pregnancy push themselves more, and maybe they also push their children," said DiPietro.
In other words, a mother who reports some degree of stress during pregnancy may simply be the type of person who is more likely to push themselves to achieve. Whether this determination is passed on genetically to a woman's child or the mom herself pushes her infant to learn, is unknown, but poses a reasonable explanation for the findings.
It's also important to realize that too much stress can be a bad thing, so DiPietro reminds all expectant mothers that they shouldn't seek out stress thinking they'll have a healthier child. "If you're so stressed and anxious that it's affecting your ability to live your life, that will trickle down once your child is born," she said. Getting adequate rest even in the middle of a busy schedule is important to prepare you for childbirth.
But, "you don't have to worry about worrying," DePietro added.