Side effects of anxiety on pregnant women and babies

Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.[1] A variety of definitions have been used for different purposes over time. Health can be promoted by encouraging healthful activities, such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep,[2] and by reducing or avoiding unhealthful activities or situations, such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices, such as whether to engage in a high-risk behavior, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still other factors are beyond both individual and group choices, such as genetic disorders.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has spread stress far and wide, and pregnant women too have multiple reasons to feel anxious. But you need to control the fears.

It’s a known fact that stress and emotional upheavals are part and parcel of pregnancy. The mood swings can be attributed to the hormones. But let’s admit that while stress has been part of our lives and from the times of our parents and grandparents, it has multiplied manifold. Whether it is to meet professional deadlines, work pressures, getting a kid to school, pick up and drop routines or just the humdrum of fast-paced everyday living, the reasons for stress are real!

The death of a family member or friend, divorce, losing your job, financial problems, health issues, abuse or depression are unusual stress factors, a bit removed from those of everyday life. But they are there. And then there are other disasters like natural calamities and in recent times, the Covid-19 pandemic are other chronic depressive events. Covid-19 has definitely increased stress for everyone, especially among pregnant and lactating girls.

pregnancy and covid-19
Staying away from social media will help you stay sane in the Covid-19 surge. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How does stress affect pregnant women?

Stress causes the body to be in a constant state of ‘fight and flight’. It causes the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine to be released. This causes you to have chronic headaches, trouble sleeping or eating disorders. It aggravates medical conditions like gestational diabetes or hypertension. And it also causes problems for your baby.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, most pregnant women have an underlying fear of contracting the disease. They fear hospitalisation and intensive care. Many of them fear for their unborn babies, of miscarriages, bleeding, preterm deliveries, growth restricted or low birth weight babies and many unfounded but completely understandable fears.

Add to this the stress of being closeted at home and financial difficulties due to the economic effects of the pandemic.

Also Read: Stressed about getting pregnant during the pandemic? Here are some tips from a fertility specialist

stress on pregnant women
Stress may result in preterm delivery. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the side effects of stress on your child?

While some stress factors are good for us and keep us on our toes, chronic stress like that of the seemingly endless Covid-19 pandemic increases problems for the unborn baby as well. It is known to cause issues like preterm deliveries and low birth weight babies.

This stress is also known to cause changes in temperament and neurobehavioral development problems in your babies. Some studies have also found to show a likely association between stress in the pregnant mom and children who grow up to have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, learning disabilities.

Some trials have also shown that stress factors in the first trimester are particularly harmful and can lead to irritability and depression in children born to these mothers.

Remember that the womb is a busy place. There are numerous hormones and chemicals that are being transmitted from the mom to the baby. The stress hormones act on the babies, keeping them in constant fight and flight mode. That is why we are drawn back to the age-old concept of ‘Garbh Sanskar’, which means that our babies are very much what we make them in the womb.

Stressed mothers are likely to get stressed babies. So despite all our fears, we need to try and find ways and means of countering them.

exercise during pregnancy
Exercise to keep the stress at bay. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How must pregnant women counter stress in Covid-19 times?

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Sleep adequately
  • Keep yourself occupied doing things that calm you, keep you engaged and happy
  • Yoga and meditation are always helpful
  • Dissociate yourself from negative influences like people who spread fear
  • Don’t watch too much television or news of the pandemic. Remember that it is good to be informed but harmful to be stressed and fearful
  • Follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour like masking up, maintaining social distancing, avoiding crowded places, hand hygiene and getting the Covid-19 vaccination. These are our best bet today even against highly mutated forms of the virus.

The pandemic will eventually pass or phase out into an endemic like the common flu, but stress and fear will live on through your children . So mommies, stay positive and just chill… this too shall pass!

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