Stress in Pregnancy

So, stress before and during pregnancy affects not only the gender of the baby but their future health and, so we are told, their intelligence. Not too much pressure, then!

Pregnant women can thank the Daily Mail as reported by PsycPORT for adding to their list of things to worry about.

Firstly, they report a study (to appear in the journal Human Reproduction) by a team from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, in which researchers cite evidence that mothers judged to be stressed in the early stages of pregnancy were five percent more likely to have a girl than those deemed relaxed, for no clearly determined reason. This seems to fit with birth statistics in Western nations, including the UK, where 105 boys are typically born for every 100 girls, whereas past studies have shown the number of boys being born goes down following major political and social upheaval.

The Daily Mail then goes on to quote “British fertility experts” who “have warned that stress in the womb is linked to health problems in later life including high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes” along with the startling claim that “worrying during pregnancy may also stunt a child’s intelligence”.

It seems to me that women are, if anything, over inclined to take responsibility and blame for the ills of the world. It is hardly surprising that “major political and social upheaval” can cause consequences for people’s health and well-being, which cannot be erased by women taking care of themselves and attempting to be calm and not stressed for their babies. And some people live in conditions of “social upheaval” every day, even in “Western nations”, suffering from poverty, deprivation, and social stigma of various kinds which affect the education and health services they receive and their self esteem in a fundamental way. High blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are clearly linked to environmental factors, diet and lifestyle, which are in turn linked to social and economic realities. And as for the linking of these realities with the culturally specific concepts and measuring of “intelligence” — this is a complex area absolutely rife with possibilities for bias and prejudice.

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In the meantime, there is a whole feel-good industry set up to service the comfortably off pregnant woman and allow her to buy stress relief in a pot of cream. Sure, pregnant women need to be in control of their lives as much as possible, to take care of themselves, enjoy themselves, ask for help and be supported at this extraordinary time in their lives. Of course unnecessary worry about things over which we have no influence is not good for anyone’s health.

Worrying may however be a normal reaction to your life circumstances. Pretending you are not worrying and then judging yourself to be stunting your child’s intelligence and endangering their health by doing so is most likely to create serious stress for yourself. And women want to do everything right, for their babies, for everyone else, increasingly for themselves, too. In this imperfect world, it is just not possible. Pregnant women everywhere — don’t let the scare stories get you down!

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