How a Mother’s Stress Impacts the Fetus
Positive Self Help

How a Mother’s Stress Impacts the Fetus


According to Assistant Professor, Padma Sri Lekha P, “The mothers’ stress has a significant impact on the fetus. A few ways the stress can be reduced is through mindfulness practices and journaling. The simple mindfulness practices as just observing the breath would help. Especially during a stress-provoking situation observing inhale and exhale for a few minutes would benefit. This facilitates bringing the body to balance(homeostasis). In addition, everyday journaling and counting on the positives in a day would help. Although these practices might be difficult at the beginning. Once they make it a habit, it would benefit the body and mind of the individual.”

As humans, we are prone to thinking and evaluating our decisions and actions. In this fast-paced world where there is so much to compare and look at, the “hustle” culture has become normalized. So many racing thoughts and doubts on whether we are doing enough, or whether we are even enough. Most of us tend to put our feelings aside and make space for our work, or even make space for other people’s feelings. The sense of mental well-being and health within ourselves is shoved aside to make room for the idea of success. What we are completely missing out on is that no success is greater than being able to not constantly experience stress.

Stress, for most of us these days, isn’t even a phase as much as it’s a life experience. Chronic fatigue and burnout are very common these days and yet, individuals still persevere with no thought towards the ill effects towards their mental health. Chronic fatigue is something your body experiences during severe stress, where simple everyday tasks are associated with problems with thinking and remembering, irritability and frustration. It can last up to 6 months and result in health complications. Burnout in most individuals affects the person’s willingness to experience and work towards anything mentally, physically, or emotionally.

The fact is, that mentally suffering from stress can, and will affect your physical health which is something most people don’t pay attention to. Your body will stop you if your own mind can’t. Before it gets to levels of stress that can’t be managed safely, the body has to intervene individuals should try to make it a priority to manage stress.

Stress is a huge part of most people’s lives these days. Sadly, the frequency of experiencing stress has increased dramatically since we, humans, have evolved. While short-term stress about a situation is generally a physiological phenomenon to experience, long-term chronic stress can lead to several comorbidities that can include anxiety disorder and depression as well.

Read More: Understanding Stress: Types, Causes, and Coping Strategies

What Being a Mother is

The presence and responsibility of being a mother is one of the most unnoticed phenomena in today’s society. Not only is it truly the most demanding job, but it is also a job with no real accolades or awards. Being a mother means constantly and unconditionally giving yourself and what you have to your child. Although we are now working on breaking the stereotype that a mother owes her everything to a child, it goes without saying that most mothers still give their all to not just their babies, but their families. It is not, but should be, brought to light, how much they sacrifice for us. They are the greatest gift to society. In a world so daunting and cold, having a mother or a motherly figure is like following a bright light in a dark dingy tunnel.

The first person most of us think of calling in doubt is our mother. In most cases, they always show up for us. They always can make a situation seem less daunting. Being a mother is truly the hardest and the most underrated job there is. At the very least, maternal stress is not something that they should ever experience. Efforts to curb the presence and effects of maternal stress are something that the family of the expecting baby should take responsibility for.

Read More: The First Feeling of Becoming a Mother

After the birth of the baby, the journey to motherhood is a long and lonely one, with plenty of realizations and twists and turns. Nothing turns out the way it’s planned and amidst the chaos of learning and moulding their child into a person, mothers also get to experience watching their child become an individual with different dreams, hopes, and opinions. The bond between a mother and her child is incomparably special. That deserves to start by being special. And for that, maternal stress should not ever exist.

According to Clinical Psychologist Bhumika Gupta; For an expecting mother, the fear of bringing a new life form into this world can be rooted in her unresolved life conflicts which resurface during a pregnancy. The fetus experiences safety in a womb through its shared space with the mother. Such transference of negative and stressful emotional states can disrupt its natural perception of safety at a very infantile stage of development. A fetus is capable of perceiving and responding to maternal emotions through mechanisms such as movement patterns or changes in the heartbeat. Additionally, for a mother who’s significantly under anxiety or trauma, it may be difficult to bond positively with her child, further impacting a child’s emotional well-being and attachment dynamics in the longer run. It is a multifaceted phenomenon and can have longer-term outcomes for both, the child and the mother.

Read More: Maternal Mental Health and the Depths of Emotional Struggles

Maternal Stress

Out of all the groups of people that are affected by stress, the most debilitating of all, is expecting mothers. Maternal stress can impact the fetus adversely. Not only does it take a toll on the mother, but also on the fetus. This is undeserving to both parties and for the same reason, awareness should be brought to light concerning what happens when stress plays a part in expecting mothers. Factors that are associated with maternal stress include:

  1. Psychological factors: The mother herself may not be mentally healthy or ready to raise a child. She could be suffering from underlying stress pathologies and comorbidities such as anxiety or depression exclusive of the child.
  2. Socioeconomic factors: The mother may come from a poverty-stricken or unsupportive background, not just in terms of resources but also emotional support. The lack of resources may exacerbate the mother’s stress and her feelings of inadequacy towards her child
  3. Biological factors: The diet of the mother may be something that’s inadvertently contributing to her stress. The mother’s body may not agree with the portion size or types of foods being consumed. This, in turn, can mess up the metabolism and can cause immense stress to the mother without her realizing it. The general body activity can also play a part in being a biological factor that could control stress levels. Movement releases happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin, and without movement, the mother can feel frustration and stress due to a lack of these hormones.

Read More: Excessive Stress During Pregnancy Can Cause Miscarriage

What Maternal Stress Does to the Fetus?

Maternal stress increases the likelihood of having pre-term births or having babies with a concerningly low birth weight. Mothers who also experience extreme stress during pregnancy have a greater chance of having a premature baby, which means that the pregnancy is due at only 37 weeks. Mothers may also suffer from other changes such as frequent intrauterine infections and the elevation of stress hormones. The fetus, while still being intrauterine, also adapts to accommodate high levels of stress which can be greatly problematic as it opens a portal to a greater chance of psychological and stress-related pathologies.

Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted and elevated when there is stress. In pregnant women, the presence of cortisol is predominant in higher levels of stress. Unfortunately, in really high levels of stress, cortisol can cross the placental barrier to affect the fetus.

The amount of cortisol that is passed through the placental barrier is regulated by a placental enzyme called 11β-HSD2. A decrease in this enzyme can cause more cortisol to pass through placental barriers which results in more danger to the fetus due to higher levels of cortisol which is related to higher levels of stress ultimately resulting in damage.

Another way that maternal stress can irreparably hurt the fetus is by the elevation of norepinephrine which is also another stress-related hormone. This results in peripheral constriction of blood vessels. Constriction of blood vessels can lead to decreased blood flow throughout the body including and involving the placental barrier, which adversely affects the oxygen supply of the fetus. This can be a life-or-death situation for the fetus.

Read More: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Say No to Drinking During Pregnancy

How to Avoid Maternal Stress?

Maternal stress is the last thing that should be experienced through something as beautiful and life-changing as pregnancy. While it is a precarious time for the mother and the family alike, time and effort should be put in to ensure that the mother is not around stimuli that could trigger her stress. These could include emotional stimuli and physical stimuli as well.

An example of emotional stimuli that could trigger stress in a mother would be an unstable household with poor emotional management by other family members. It combines a plethora of factors including It could be as far as emotional abuse, financial abuse, and difficult conversations between family members that are discussed that may cause a mother to feel immense stress. Other emotional stimuli could include being around people who are not supportive of the pregnancy or could also be that the mother herself is not in good mental health.

Read More: Why Do Women Face Mental Health Issues During And After Pregnancy?

Care should be taken to ensure that the mother is not only eating and sleeping properly but also is in an emotionally mature and stable environment. They deserve to be around people who can help the situation and make things easier. The option of therapy should always be open to the mother regardless of what the environment is like surrounding the mother.

Having someone to talk to in a life-changing time like this, can greatly benefit and condition her for what’s next to come. The immense task of carrying a child shouldn’t be hampered by a poor environment caused by other individuals, nor should it be disturbed by the possibility of decreasing mental health.

An example of physical stimuli that could trigger stress in a mother could be physical abuse which is the most monstrous event that could take place; however, it is surprisingly common. Problems leading to the pregnancy or incompatibility between individuals involved in the pregnancy may lead to violence against the mother. This is inexcusable and is truly one of the most blasphemous things that can happen. Moving the mother away from abusive partners or individuals is a must. Removing the individual from the mother’s life as a whole, is the best option. That is a step that can be taken after the birth of the child, but it is supposed to be considered.

Read More: Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy: Good or Not?   

Motherhood is a journey that is exquisitely long and beautiful. It is a path that is sacred and special. Every mother deserves to embark on this journey with the right start to it. The best way that can be achieved is by eliminating the concept of maternal stress. Every mother deserves a stress-free beginning. Maternal stress is more common than we think it is. We often underestimate the power of our feelings and their effects on our bodies. It is important to remember that feelings are important and that they can control our health as well.

When it comes to stress, and more specifically maternal stress, it is important to be well aware of the ill effects it can cause the fetus and the mother. Stress is a powerful precursor to many complex medical pathologies, which are equally fatal to the fetus and mother.

Read More: Teenage Pregnancy and Its Impact on Mental Health

Stress is often overlooked and is rarely dealt with. Whether you are a mother or not, it’s important to invest in subjective coping mechanisms to help manage your stress. Being mentally healthy is not a privilege, it is a basic human requirement. And to all the mothers, who constantly put everyone else first, we see you, we love you, and you deserve the world!

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