stressed out

Prenatal stress may impair babies’ brain development

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Stress is bad for our health—we all know that (that’s why you should take up yoga!). But new research out of King’s College London has concluded that maternal stress developed during—and even before—pregnancy has the ability to impact the development of you baby’s brain.

The study was published in Biological Psychiatry and involved the evaluation 251 premature babies. Its conclusion is, well distressing: babies whose mothers were stressed out in the prenatal period had a harder time developing a certain area of their brains.”We found,” said lead researcher Alexandra Lautarescu from King’s College London, “that in the mums that were more stressed during pregnancy and the period before birth, white matter was altered in the babies.”

Lautarescu went on to say that stress and anxiety are oftentimes overlooked by physicians monitoring pregnant women, focusing more on things like depression:

“It is not diagnosed as often as it should be during pregnancy and we are trying to emphasise that maternal mental health during pregnancy can impact the baby’s brain development which may impact on their outcomes later in life. No one is asking these women about stress and hence they don’t receive any support.”

She added:

“Antenatal services need to be aware that it is important to think about stress of the mums and we need to have some kind of support there for the mums who identify that they are stressed. If we try to help these women either during the pregnancy or in the early post-natal period with some sort of intervention this will not only help the mother, but may also prevent impaired brain development in the baby and improve their outcomes overall.”

This new information raises interesting questions about whether it makes sense for women to continue working through their pregnancies, given that work is one of the main causes—if not the main cause—of stress in people’s lives. Maternity leave is essential to successful pregnancy and babies’ health. Unfortunately, many companies in many countries around the world are insensitive to these concerns, and many women end up working into the very last stages of pregnancy.