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Arguing In Front of Baby – Do You Want Your Little One to Suffer With Stress Even Before Birth?

Updated on July 21, 2013

Whilst in the womb

Even before your baby is born, your moods and emotions can affect it. After around 17 weeks gestation your unborn baby will react to your stress. If you are constantly stressed and producing cortisol (the stress hormone); your baby will also produce it in equal measure and excrete it into the amniotic fluid which surrounds it. These stress hormones are thought to hamper development of the unborn baby’s brain and to affect behaviour after birth. In addition cortisol can raise blood pressure in the foetus which is harmful and can predispose them to hypertension in later life.

If you are living a particularly unsettled and stressful life during pregnancy – maybe because of relationship breakup or financial difficulties this will also affect your baby. You will release other hormones and toxins into your bloodstream which can reach the baby via the placenta. Because of this the infant may not thrive and could be born undernourished.

It is thought that a baby born of these circumstances could be affected by behavioural and other problems in early childhood:

  • ADD
  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Hyperactivity

Stillbirth can be a consequence of maternal stress.


In the first months of life

The effects of arguing and fighting in front of your baby can be very harmful. Babies are programmed to learn and to take their cues from the tone of voice and facial expressions of their parents. Their brains are like sponges and they soak up everything going on around them. Your little one will feel fear when she hears raised voices and sees angry faces. She may cry inconsolably and be difficult to pacify.

What immediate effect can arguing have on the baby?

  • Poor feeding
  • Difficulty settling
  • Distress
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Failure to thrive
  • Feeling insecure
  • Regression


If the parents are arguing frequently they may not be noticing what is happening to their baby. They are emotionally unavailable to him. If they continue to fail to interact with him the infant will become highly distressed as he tries to attract their attention and fails. This can affect the mother and child bond as the baby may be confused as to how to respond after previously having been ignored by its parent.

Even when your baby is asleep he will still respond to the sound of arguing by becoming stressed.


What future effect can arguing in the presence of a baby have?

In later life your child may suffer from:

  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Emotional problems
  • Faulty thinking
  • Fear of expressing anger
  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
  • Hypochondria
  • Lack of trust
  • Low self esteem
  • Memory problems
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Poor concentration
  • Psychosomatic illness
  • Repression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stress disorder
  • Stuttering
  • Withdrawn behaviour

Remember you are a role model for your child. If you argue in front of her at any point either during pregnancy, infancy or childhood you are setting a standard for her future behaviour.


How can you minimise the effects of arguing?

Obviously nothing can be done about the time before baby was born. Not arguing at all would be virtually impossible. However, you can minimise the damage done now she is here by trying not to argue in front of her or even when she is in the house. If it is unavoidable you will need to modify your style of arguing. 10 tips would be:

  • Do not shout or scream
  • Do not throw things
  • Listen carefully to what your partner has to say, do not interrupt or try to shout them down
  • Agree or disagree with them but quietly
  • Acknowledge how they are feeling and do not dismiss their feelings
  • Paraphrase what they are saying
  • Do not swear
  • Do not name call
  • Use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ statements e.g. “I feel upset when things are not right between us.” rather than “You make me upset when you argue with me.”
  • Do not hit each other

If things start to deteriorate you must call a halt and take some time out. Agree to come back to the discussion when you have both calmed down. Infants do no benefit in any way from seeing the two of you losing control. All it serves to do is unsettle them and make them fearful. It is also an example which they may use when they get older and have an argument. Stop and think what lessons they are learning. When the argument is finally resolved make sure that you communicate with the baby or child. Cuddles never go amiss and it would benefit the baby to get these from both partners. Make soothing noises and smile a lot, especially at each other. The baby needs to know that things are back to normal between you.

If you really cannot resolve your differences and find yourself fighting with your partner repeatedly, you must, for the sake of your baby, get some counselling. It cannot be stressed strongly enough how damaging arguing is for your baby to witness. Be mature and put your son or daughter first. Try to identify which is more important; your petty argument or your baby’s health; her current and future wellbeing? Remember also, that putting your baby through all this stress and fear is a form of child abuse.

© Susan Bailey 2013 All Rights Reserved


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