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Stress during Pregnancy
Dr P Lakshmi Reddy
One gets stressed, many mothers point out, simply because there are many things to get stressed about! Like the baby’s health and well being, and yes, the delivery. Women also worry about managing the baby after the birth, the financial involvements and maintaining the work-life balance, if at all she would still be working.

Stress can be acute or chronic, short term or prolonged, physical or emotional. The bottom line though, is simple and straight forward: stress that harms the mother generally harms the fetus.

When the mother is stressed, several biological changes occur, including elevation of stress hormones and increased likelihood of intrauterine infections. High levels of stress causes fatigue, sleeplessness, anxiety, poor appetite, over eating, headaches and backaches. When a high level of stress continues for long, it may contribute to serious health problems such as hypertension, heart disease and infections. Some studies have also shown that stress during early pregnancy has a greater risk of miscarriage and birth defects such as cleft lip and facial anomalies.

When you are stressed, the brain secretes a corticotrophin releasing hormone. This in turn triggers the release of glucocorticoids such as cortisol. High cortisol levels increase the risk of miscarriage, fetal growth retardation, premature birth and post natal developmental delays, learning and attention difficulties, anxiety and even autism. If the mental stress during pregnancy is acute, it could even develop into schizophrenia. Chronic stress can lead to increased cortisol levels which suppress the production of progesterone which is crucial for maintenance of pregnancy. When progesterone levels are low, it results in pre term delivery.

There is a lot of evidence to support that negative experiences that cause stress disturb the baby’s immune system. Babies born to mothers stressed during pregnancy are found to have a higher risk of asthma and allergies. Prenatal maternal stress may affect the weight of the baby and may cause further problems.

Frequent air travel during pregnancy is certainly a cause of stress as exposure to cosmic radiation at high altitudes and low humidity in the cabin may cause dehydration and other effects. To conclude, the mother’s physical and mental wellness during pregnancy can affect not only the outcomes of her pregnancy but also the well being of the child later in life. The mother’s relationship with her baby starts from the time of conception. If the pregnant woman is happy and stress-free, so will be her baby. The best way to avoid stress is to lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle. There are various ways of avoiding stress by practicing relaxation, breathing exercises and meditation. Meditation reduces blood pressure, stress levels and increases concentration. Breathing techniques help you to relax during pregnancy. Yoga during pregnancy not only helps

you to tone your body but also assists you in labour. Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of stress in pregnancy: a 20- minute-nap in the afternoon and sound sleep at night will make a pregnant woman feel fresh and energetic. Join ante natal classes so that you get a chance to talk to other pregnant women and share your thoughts.

Don’t hesitate to ask for your colleagues’ help, if you are drained out. And since travelling to work can also be stressful, it will be good to explore the option of working from home, if possible. Because remember, our bodies react to stress in exactly the same way whether or not we have a good reason for being stressed. The body doesn’t care if we’re right or wrong. Even in those times when we feel perfectly justified in getting angry - when we tell ourselves it’s the healthy response - we pay for it just the same.

The mother’s physical and mental wellness during pregnancy can affect not only the outcomes of her pregnancy but also the wellbeing of the child later in life
Dr P Lakshmi Reddy is Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Apollo Health City, Hyderabad.
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