Pre-pregnancy stress can lead to underweight in newborns

Pre-pregnancy stress can lead to underweight in newborns

Mothers should urgently avoid stress before their pregnancy to protect their child
An elevated stress hormone level before pregnancy can lead to newborns having a low birth weight. Thus, the stress of expectant mothers can have a direct impact on the weight of their child.

Stress is responsible for many illnesses. However, not only the stressed person seems to suffer from the effects. Scientists from the University of California have now found in an investigation that stress in mothers-to-be can cause their babies to have a lower birth weight. The researchers published the results of their study in the journal "Health Psychology".

High cortisol levels and chronic stress trigger various illnesses
The concentration of the stress hormone cortisol is particularly high in the morning and decreases during the day. But some people have a low level of cortisol in the morning and experience only a smaller decrease during the day, the researchers explain. This abnormal pattern has been blamed for a number of conditions associated with chronic stress or previous trauma. Some of them include cancer and hardening of the arteries. In addition, the weight of the baby can be influenced, say the doctors. The same cortisol pattern that has been linked to chronic stress could make newborns weigh less at birth, says study author Christine Guardino of the University of California. She and her colleagues examined 142 pregnant women for their study. To assess women's stress, the researchers analyzed blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cortisol levels in saliva and other factors.

Fetuses from stressed mothers can get less nutrients and oxygen
In the United States alone, more than 300,000 low birth weight babies are born each year. These babies are at increased risk of developing health problems and a low birth weight can even lead to death. An increased concentration of cortisol in mothers-to-be can lower blood flow to the fetus and thus reduce the supply of oxygen and nutrients, says co-author Professor Chris Dunkel Schetter from the University of California. If women plan to become pregnant, they should have their stress level assessed and, if necessary, take measures to possibly reduce it, adds Prof. Schetter.

Reduce the level of stress before pregnancy
Improving pre-conception health can have a profound impact on, and even improve, the overall health of the child. Women should have existing depression treated, the stress level should be assessed and if necessary also treated, the doctors say. Be sure to live in a healthy relationship, be physically active, and quit smoking. Support from the family can help to further reduce the stress level, the scientists explain. Everything that helps to create an optimal pregnancy and a better, stress-free and healthy life for the expectant mother should be done before the pregnancy begins, advises Prof. Schetter. (as)

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