Fitness Magazine

How Mother’s Stress Affects the Fetal Brain

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

How Mother’s Stress Affects the Fetal Brain

Prenatal Yoga by Melina Meza

Chronic stress is a world-wide problem. Irrespective of the country, when you compare the statistics of chronic stress and its adverse effects, the numbers are nearly similar world wide. Within the USA (see Stress a Major Health Problem in The U.S., Warns APA) , nearly 33% of Americans are living with chronic stress and 48 % percent of Americans believe that their stress has increased over the past five years. Seventy two percent of adults report that money is their single cause of stress. And 50% of Americans report that chronic stress has a negative impact on both their personal and professional lives. Chronic stress causes the body to overreact resulting in two main events:
  1. overproduction of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline
  2. an inflammatory response
Both these events in turn disrupt almost all of the body's processes putting the individual at increased risk of numerous health problems, including: anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, insomnia sleep problems, metabolic disorders, and memory and concentration impairment. 

In addition, there’s a very serious issue that is the focus of Stress a Major Health Problem in The U.S., Warns APA: what about a mother who is chronically stressed and who is also pregnant? There is some data to show that chronic stress in pregnant women and poor coping skills to deal with it may be associated with lower birth weight of the baby or delivering pre-maturely. Some women deal with stress by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs, all of which lead to pregnancy problems. Data also indicates that chronic stress can affect the baby’s brain development or immune system. Chronic stress especially during the first trimester of pregnancy may also contribute to differences in brain development that might lead to behavioral issues as the baby grows.In a study Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression & Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development published in 2011 in The journal of child psychology and psychiatry, researchers followed 116 women throughout their pregnancies, testing their levels of cortisol. Testing took place every month in the second and third trimesters. After the babies were born, the researchers measured each infant's cortisol after a routine blood draw from the foot, and also recorded each baby's response to the blood draw. Researchers found that the greater the exposure to mother’s cortisol in the womb, the larger was the infants' own cortisol spike in response to a blood draw. These cortisol-exposed infants also calmed down less readily after the blood draw ended. Furthermore, researchers also found that the rostral anterior cingulate are of the brain is thinner in the children exposed to high levels of stress hormones in the womb, compared to children of a similar age who were not exposed to the stress hormones. (The rostral anterior cingulate region is associated with emotional regulation, and the children with the thinning were generally more fearful and anxious.) According to How the First 9 Months Shape the Rest of Your Life, omen who suffered from severe emotional issues give birth to children who had a higher risk of developing depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety, suggesting that the intrauterine environment is another pathway by which emotional and mental illness is passed down in families.Soon–to–be mothers need to cultivate good stress management techniques. And, interestingly, all of the literature searches on stress management for pregnant women unanimously describes the positive impact of yoga, meditation, and guided relaxation in alleviating stress. The Mayo Clinic has detailed information for pregnant women on how to deal with stressful situations through yoga (see Prenatal yoga: What you need to know). And even a short session of yoga provides numerous benefits, including the rejuvenation of the body and mind. At the cellular level, yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques destresses the mind and body by:

  • releasing brain chemicals that contribute to a feel-good response and ward off anxiety and mental stress, 
  • normalizing blood pressure and stabilizing the heart beats
  • reducing anxiety and depression
  • improving the ability to sleep by de-activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal stimulus (HPA) and lowering the hyperarousal phenomenon 
Thus, when it comes to pregnancy, yoga not only helps to deal with stresses of all kinds, it also enables the mother to move toward equanimity by stabilizing her mind, body, and spirit for motherhood (see Yoga for Pregnancy.). Making the commitment to take care during the nine months through a gentle asana, meditation and relaxation techniques may seem to be a huge undertaking, but remember, not only does it empower the mother—it keeps the baby free from the mercy of stressful forces. And if you’re a future father, grandparent, or family member of a pregnant woman, encourage the future mother to take prenatal yoga classes and consider practicing stress management yourself so you can provide the most calm and supportive environment possible for mom and baby.

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