Health Buzz: Stress Before Pregnancy Could Lower Baby’s Birth Weight
Chronic stress should be improved prior to pregnancy, researchers say.
By Samantha Costa | Staff Writer US NEWS
March 23, 2016, at 12:16 p.m.
Women with chronic stress are more likely to deliver a baby who weighs less at birth – even if the stress occurs before they become pregnant. That’s according to a study published online Feb. 4 in Health Psychology.
Low birth weight – less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces – affects about 1 in every 12 babies in the U.S., according to the March of Dimes.
In the new study, researchers at the University of California–Los Angeles analyzed data from 142 women who were participating in a study with the Community Child Health Network – a collaboration of health scientists and community partners that investigates mothers’ and children’s health in poor and ethnic minority families. That study examined how chronic stress affects new parents and their babies.
The UCLA researchers examined the saliva samples of women? from Los Angeles; the District of Columbia; Baltimore; Lake County, Illinois; ?and eastern North Carolina, one month after child’s birth and again when he or she was 6-, 12- and 18-months-old.? The women’s stress levels were measured based on blood pressure,? body mass index and cortisol levels – a hormone the body releases in response to stressful events.
Researchers found that elevated cortisol patterns linked to stress were associated with delivering a baby that weighs less at birth. Interviews with participants revealed their biggest stressors were related to finances, family relationships, neighborhood, a family death, interpersonal violence and racism.
Women’s cortisol levels normally increase by two to four times during pregnancy.? Once levels increase beyond that, there’s a risk of reduced blood flow to the fetus, which can affect ??growth and development. Women should try to reducing stress well ahead of planning a pregnancy?, says study author Chris Dunkel Schetter, a professor of psychology at UCLA.
“Improving pre-conception health can profoundly improve our overall health,” she said in a UCLA press release. “Women should treat depression, evaluate and treat stress, be sure they are in a healthy relationship, be physically active, stop smoking and gather family support. All of the things that create an optimal pregnancy and healthy life for the mother should be done before getting pregnant.”
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