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Does the mother’s mood and mental state during pregnancy affect the baby?

Updated on July 17, 2013

When pregnant especially for the first time many women inform themselves on things they can do that are beneficial for the growth and development of their baby and things they should avoid or not do since it can endanger their baby such as smoking and alcohol. Mothers to be learn amongst others what they should and should not eat, what medication they can or cannot take, and what is allowed or forbidden in terms of exercise.

But one thing they are not informed about is how their mental state and mood affects their baby. You may often hear from your loved ones phrases such as ‘you shouldn’t stress yourself in your condition’, or ‘do not worry in your condition its bad for the baby’ or similar comments. But is true?

Some of the research focuses on the relationship between maternal psychology and fetal neurobiological functioning. This research has found a correlation between maternal depression, stress and anxiety and fetal activity in the womb. Namely examples include:

  1. Maternal depression is associated with an increased activity of the baby in the womb between the months 5 to 7 of pregnancy.
  2. High stress levels also seem to affect fetal activity since the fetuses of women that report higher stress levels are found to be more active in the womb.
  3. Higher anxiety is also correlated to fetuses that are more active and also experience growth delays.
  4. High maternal stress levels are associated with a greater risk for stillbirth and premature birth.

But is the affected AFTER delivery and how? Does the maternal state of mind during pregnancy affect the child’s growth and development during childhood? Some examples of research that has been conducted showing the relationship between maternal psychology and its influence later, on infant or child behavior, emotion, and mental and motor development, is presented below.

  1. If the mother had high anxiety levels late in the pregnancy this correlated with behavioral and emotional problems in their children at the age of 81 months
  2. Pregnancy-specific anxiety in mid pregnancy was correlated to lower mental and motor developmental scores of the children at 8 months. If cortisol levels in the early morning were high (signifying stress) lower mental and development scores were recorded of the children at 8 months of age. If women experience high levels of stress during pregnancy this seems to affect both the development and the temperament of their infants.
  3. Mothers with depression have higher cortisol levels and lower dopamine and serotonin levels, deliver prematurely and their babies have lower birth weights. Also babies born to depressed mothers scored lower in orientation, motor skills, and higher in depression.

So, YES your mood and mental state do affect your baby both before it is born and after!

It’s not only genes and environmental factors that affect a child’s behavior but it has been acknowledged that the mood of the mother during the nine months of pregnancy also play a role in the baby’s mental and emotional development. One of the reasons for this correlation between maternal psychology and fetal/infant development may be the release of stress hormones such as cortisol that pass the placenta and affect the development of the baby’s brain.

Remember that also during breastfeeding the hormones produced by your body are passed on to your baby. Some breastfeeding tips and facts can be found here.

Nevertheless further research is necessary to establish and understand the above discussed relationships.

So, Relax!

Rest and relaxation are the best things you can do for your baby. Stay focused on what really is important, both your health and the health of your baby. Pregnancy is a difficult and stressful time in every woman’s life as it is especially when taking into account the hormonal changes, the changes in your body, the changes in your life, and the shifts in priority and responsibility….It is not easy not to feel stress or anxiety at times.

Sometimes circumstances and life changes do not allow us to relax or even prioritize and we may lose balance. If you feel this way you should talk about it to both those close to you but also to your health care provider that may direct you to a professional that will help you cope with anxiety, depression, stress or even life circumstances.

The information provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not advise also provided without any representations and no warranties whatsoever. The provided information should never substitute the consultation, opinion , diagnosis, and treatment options provided by a professional healthcare provider.

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