Anxiety and pregnancy

I attended a lecture last year on the topic of epigenetics, which includes the study of the impact of the uterine environment on the developing baby. A huge area of controversy is the impact of stress during pregnancy. Is stress bad for the baby? Good for the baby? Is a little bit of stress better than no stress? As one of the speakers pointed out, if a woman is highly anxious during her pregnancy, and delivers a baby who grows up to be an anxious kid, does this mean that anxiety during pregnancy caused the child to be anxious?  Or does this mean that an anxious woman may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety that she simply passed on to her child? There is no easy way to answer this question. One would have to study children both through surrogacy (where a non biologically related woman carries the child) and born via egg donation (where the child is created from a donated egg and carried by the intended mom) versus children created from the mom’s egg and carried by the mom. You would need to study them throughout the pregnancy, and then follow the kids for years. Given the time and expense of a study like that, it isn’t going to happen so I don’t see us knowing the answer anytime soon.

But, being anxious during pregnancy isn’t all that fun. So as opposed to worrying about the impact of stress on the developing baby, wouldn’t it make more sense simply to teach pregnant women how to reduce stress? That is my goal. I counsel pregnant women daily, and the main focus is how to relieve their heightened stress levels.

For this blog, I am going to try to address the issues which face my patients. Here’s an example. Two of my patients today emailed me about possibly worrisome test results. The odds are in their favor that their babies are fine, but the test results won’t be back for a week.  Both women are anxious and upset. I gave them each the same advice. Don’t think about how you are going to survive until next week. Focus on today. What can you do today to support yourself? What can you do to distract yourself? What works for you when you are anxious? Tomorrow, do the same thing. What can you do to keep yourself distracted and as calm as possible tomorrow?