Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the happiest periods of a mother’s life.
Your body supporting the life of a growing baby.
Setting up a nursery and buying tiny, adorable clothes.
Readying your world for the arrival of this new bundle of joy.
However, for many pregnant women, those nine months before the baby arrives are also filled with worry and anxiety.
New research reveals that stress can have a lasting impact on your baby.
In particular, women who feel anxious or stressed about finances during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with a lower birth weight, according to the study published in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health.
What the study found
Researchers at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center asked 138 pregnant women to assess their pregnancy-related stress and anxiety.
The major areas of pregnancy-specific distress included worries about labor and delivery, concerns over changing relationships, and fears of health issues for the baby.
But it was financial distress that researchers found had the greatest impact on the baby’s health at the time of delivery.
“Having a new baby on the way can exacerbate financial concerns within a household,” Amanda Mitchell, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the Wexner Medical Center, and lead author of the study, told Healthline. “This means that psychological interventions which address pregnancy-related anxiety, such as helping women and their partners prepare for changes in their work, childcare, and medical expenses, could be a good target to help reduce the adverse effects of financial stress on infant birth weight.”
To assess a woman’s financial well-being, the study investigators asked three questions:
- How difficult is living on your current income?
- How likely is it that your family will experience financial hardships, such as inadequate housing, food, and medical care, in the next two months?
- How likely is it you’ll have to reduce your standard of living to make ends meet?
After the women’s babies were born, the researchers reviewed medical records from the delivery to compare the baby’s birth weight with the mother’s survey responses.
While the number of babies with low birth weights was small — 11 of the babies were born at a low birth weight — the link was clear to researchers.
Women who demonstrated the greatest financial hardship were more likely to have babies with a low birth weight.
Low birth weight is a life-long concern.
Babies born underweight are more likely to need expensive intensive care in the first weeks and months of life.
They are also more likely to develop chronic medical issues, including respiratory and digestive problems, heart disease, and obesity.
Is more money better?
Previous studies have revealed that women with a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have babies with a lower birth weight.
The stress and anxiety of financial concerns has a clear impact on the baby’s health.
Going into this study, the researchers knew of this connection.
What they were surprised to find, however, was that the results were the same across other income levels.
“These findings held after controlling for income level, meaning that it is important to consider both the effects of income as well as perceptions of financial stress in the context of maternal health,” Mitchell said. “Having said that, lower income was associated with greater financial stress and thus future research should consider whether the strength of these relationships plays a role in why women with lower socioeconomic status are more likely to deliver babies of low birth weight.”
How moms can cope
So, if you’re a mother-to-be under some financial strain, what should you do?
“It is well known that stress and stressors directly affect our health, whether we want to admit it or not,” Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN, and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline. “Stress not only affects your body physically, but also affects our emotions and behaviors. Stress quietly and silently affects us, and if you are carrying a passenger in the womb, there are negative consequences affecting both of you.”
Indeed, stress isn’t simply a mental health issue.
Stress can greatly impact your diet, your exercise, and your sleep.
It can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight loss or weight gain, high blood pressure, and more.
“If significant stress lasts the entire nine months, the baby will definitely be affected in damaging ways,” Ross said.
As any mother or father can tell you, pregnancy is filled with plenty of things to worry about.
Ross said that’s why it’s important you find ways to reduce unwanted stress and eliminate factors that compound any anxiety you’re feeling.
“Regular exercise, including yoga, meditation, and practicing mindfulness along with eating a healthy diet, drinking eight to 10, 12-ounce glasses of water, and sleeping at least seven hours a night is helpful,” Ross says.
“Many women may also benefit from formal support groups or counseling services,” added Mitchell.
If you’re feeling overly anxious or worried about any aspect of life and you’re pregnant, speak with your OB-GYN.
Finding ways to reduce your stress and assess what’s happening in your life can benefit both you and your growing baby.
“Since stress has such a negative impact on the health of the growing baby,” Ross said, “the conversation has to be a part of prenatal care during the entire pregnancy and the postpartum period as well.”