Can Pregnancy Stress Affect Your Baby's Mental Health?

Stress during pregnancy may have a negative impact on infants' mental health, according to a new study published in the journal Infancy. The study asked 72 pregnant women to fill out surveys about their stress levels up to four times per day over the course of 14 weeks, then administered an infant behavior questionnaire when their infants turned 3 months old (via CNN). This allowed researchers to examine the fluctuation of stress levels during pregnancy in real time. 

The study's findings revealed that the infants of mothers who experienced significant fluctuations in stress levels during pregnancy were more likely to exhibit signs of fear, distress, and sadness by the time they reached the age of 3 months old compared to those whose mothers experienced less stress. In fact, women who experienced higher fluctuations of stress while they were pregnant were more likely to report that their babies cried and fussed more, showed signs of distress when tired, and clung to a parent when in the presence of a stranger. In future studies, the research team plans to examine how stress fluctuations can change a mother's biology during pregnancy and the effects that this can have on their infants.

How to reduce stress during pregnancy

While further research is still needed, it is always beneficial to find ways to reduce your stress levels during pregnancy. According to experts at Motherly, there are a few things you can do to reduce stress and help yourself relax when you're pregnant. For instance, it's important to give yourself some time to pause or take a break during the day. During this break, it can be helpful to take a deep breath and exhale any tension you may have, practicing mindfulness to understand where these feelings of stress and anxiety are coming from.

Making some slight changes to your daily diet can also help reduce stress. This includes avoiding sugar, drinking plenty of water, and eating more whole grains, all of which can benefit your body and nervous system. It can also be helpful to take naps; taking a 30-minute nap every day or even a short power nap can help improve your mood and energy levels.