Obviously, being pregnant can be stressful in itself, but current research shows that stress can affect fetal development which may lead to long-term problems including ADHD.
Dr. Vivette Glover of Imperial College London, surveyed pregnant women at her hospital. Of these, nearly one quarter felt anxious and depressed due to stressors including work, money, arguing with spouse, and moving to accommodate a larger family. When compared to their non-stressed counterparts in this research, the babies of the stressed mother had lower birth weight, lower IQ, slower cognitive development, and more anxiety. Lower birth weight has been an indicator for coronary heart disease in later life.
In 2007, research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry indicated that being stressed during pregnancy is as detrimental for the baby’s development as smoking or being obese. Glover’s research reveals why and how this happens: stress produces the hormone cortisol. An abundance of stress can actually diminish the barrier enzyme that inhibits cortisol from reaching the fetus. Costisol impacts fetal brain development.
According to Glover, “People used to think that if something was congenital, apparent at birth, it had to be genetic. In fact it can be an in-vitro reaction of genes and environment.”
Glover also contends that her research shows stress greatly increases the likelihood of a child having ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), cognitive delay, autism , anxiety and depression.
Glover’s research reinforces previous data from the UK where stress was shown to increase the risk for development of ADHD. In that research, the women who experienced the most stress doubled the chances of developing ADHD.
“The organs are forming during the first trimester of pregnancy, but the brain is developing all the way through,” Glover explains. “The organs are sensitive while they are forming and, once formed, they are harder to change.”
“In evolutionary terms, stress perhaps prepares the child for survival in a stressful environment. If a child is anxious and has attention deficiency, it will be very alert to danger. This may once have been adaptive, beneficial for the child, but it isn’t any more,” Glover says.
Significantly, Glover’s research implies that the changes may be on a genetic level so that it may be passed on generation to generation.
Therefore, it’s important to realize that taking care of ourselves during pregnancy is more important now than ever. Small efforts like seeking health services early, meditating, eating a balanced diet, taking pre-natal vitamins, and laughing are good practices.
Minimizing stress by maintaining a consistent schedule both at work and at home is a good idea.