Pregnant Mothers' Stress Could Risk Preterm Birth and Affect Baby's Sex |

Pregnant Mothers’ Stress Could Risk Preterm Birth and Affect Baby’s Sex

Shirley Amy
January 22, 2019

Pregnant women with physical & psychological stress are less likely to have a boy

A study which was recently presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, stated that: “It is becoming well established that maternal stress during pregnancy can affect fetal and child development as well as birth outcomes”.

The scientists behind this important research, which puts the spotlight on the kind of psychological and physical stresses that could have the most impact, hail from at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and NewYork-Presbyterian. Columbia University’s professor of medical psychology, Catherine Monk, PhD, noted: “The womb is an influential first home, as important as the one a child is raised in, if not more so.

Taking An Up Close Look at the Study

An estimated 30% of pregnant women report psychosocial stress from job strain or related to depression & anxiety

As the measurements of stress can come about through different means, namely, via lifestyle and physical measurements, and as a subjective experience, Monk and her team analyzed 187 women’s daily physical appraisals, diaries and questionnaires. (The participants, who were otherwise healthy pregnant women, spanned an age range between 18 – 45). The results showed a massive 27 indicators of psychosocial, physical, and lifestyle stress.

Around 17% of the subjects were suffering from psychological stress, and had clinically relevant upper levels of perceived stress, anxiety and depression. A further 16% were suffering physical stress, and were shown to have a greater caloric, and comparatively higher daily blood pressure. While 67% of the women were healthy.

The study indicated that pregnant women with psychological and physical stress are less inclined to give birth to a boy. To that end, Monk remarked: “Other researchers have seen this pattern after social upheavals, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, after which the relative number of male births decreased. This stress in women is likely of long-standing nature; studies have shown that males are more vulnerable to adverse prenatal environments, suggesting that highly stressed women may be less likely to give birth to a male due to the loss of prior male pregnancies, often without even knowing they were pregnant”.

How Other Forms of Stress Impact Mothers

When compared to unstressed mothers, those who suffered from physical stress through higher caloric intake and higher blood pressure, were shown to be more inclined to give birth prematurely than unstressed mothers. Further, when equated to physically stressed mothers, those who were psychologically stressed, suffered more birth complications. Moreover, among the mothers who  demonstrated physical stress, when compared to unstressed mothers: “the fetuses had reduced heart rate—movement coupling, an indicator of slower central nervous system development”.

The Importance of Social Support

The results of the study also highlighted the finding that: “the more social support a mother received [from family and friends], the greater the likelihood of her having a male baby”. Monk noted: “Screening for depression and anxiety are gradually becoming a routine part of prenatal practice. But while our study was small, the results suggest enhancing social support is potentially an effective target for clinical intervention”. This certainly gives food for thought…

Shirley Amy

Shirley Amy is a Holistic Health Specialist and professional writer who's published 4 books. Her  interests include optimum wellness, mental health, fitness, and positive lifestyle change. She holds University and College qualifications in the fields of Health Science, Nutrition, Mental Health, Fitness, Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy.

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