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Maternal Stress Decreases Blood Flow to Fetus


Numerous studies have shown a link between the mental health of pregnant women and their unborn children. Aside from the genetic risk factors inherent in families, mothers who experience depression, anxiety, or other distress while pregnant tend to have smaller babies and higher rates of complications than those who proceed through pregnancy without these conditions. Most studies that have examined the effects of maternal stress on birth weight have assessed this relationship in the last trimester of pregnancy by looking at changes in arterial resistance in the umbilical or uterine arteries. In a new study, Anne Helbig of the Norwegian Resource Centre for Women’s Health at Oslo University Hospital in Norway chose to look instead at the volume of blood flow from mother to baby via placental circulation through the umbilical vein (UV).

Helbig measured the blood flow volume of 104 pregnant women in week 30 of their pregnancy. All of the women were categorized as nonsmokers with no history of previous obstetric complications. Helbig evaluated the blood flow volume data obtained through ultrasounds and assessments of depression, anxiety, and life stress on all the participants. She found that the mothers with excessive emotional distress had lower fetoplacental blood flow volume, suggesting that less oxygenated blood was getting to the babies. This could result in lower birth weights and more risk for developmental complications for the children.

“The present study does not differentiate between current stress and chronic or repeated stress,” said Helbig. She believes identifying mothers at risk for chronic stress during pregnancy, perhaps stress arising from a prior difficult pregnancy, could help improve the outcome of unborn children. However, this study does clearly show that regardless of whether a woman is experiencing stress from a prior life event or from current circumstances, the effects of that stress do impact the essential nutrients that her fetus receives through the blood and placental circulation. Helbig hopes more work is devoted to addressing the impact of a mother’s well-being on her unborn child and methods to reduce maternal stress.

Helbig, A., Kaasen, A., Malt, U.F., Haugen, G. (2013). Does antenatal maternal psychological distress affect placental circulation in the third trimester? PLoS ONE 8(2): e57071. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057071

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  • susie May 1st, 2013 at 9:50 PM #1

    gave birth to my baby when I was under extreme stress.going through a divorce while pregnant is not such a good thing after all.i just hope there would be no complications for him in his growing up years or later years.keeping my fingers crossed.

  • Chase B May 2nd, 2013 at 3:52 AM #2

    It would be ideal to identify the stress in potential mothers before they are pregnant, of course, so that you can then reduce the risk that this could place upon the unborn baby. But I am not sure that even if these moms are identified very early on and that this will have much of an impct. It is one thing to know who is at risk, but it is another to convince someone if they are not ready to seek help for the stress. There are some people who don’t think that there is anything wrong, much less would they be willing to be proactive and do anything about it ahead of time. Most of us are very reactive and would not seek treatment or help until it is right there in front of us or until we are pregnant and we are faced with the fact of what kind of damage this could be doing to the baby..

  • IVEY May 2nd, 2013 at 10:17 AM #3

    So true that dietary and physical exercise measures are not all that is required.How you feel and the mind frame does affect the unborn child.I thought this was more of a heart-to-heart thing but its good to see there is biological proof to back this up.So women,take care,not just physically but also in avoiding stress.

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