I am a firm believer of non-visible disabilities and anxiety is one of those that we do not see but exist in many of us. Everyone is anxious about something at any given point in their lives. But pregnancy is a time that many first time mothers experience an increased level of anxiety. I remember during my first pregnancy, I was still a graduate student, so was my husband. We had research jobs on contract, stable income, a roof over our head and were doing well. Though we were ready for our new baby to arrive, there were many ‘What if’s”. With continuous help from my very supportive husband and my mother, I kept my anxiety at a level that was manageable by religiously following my physician’s advice and educating myself by reading about it.
Today, I would like to share with you some new research that has emerged on effect of stress and anxiety on pregnancy complications.
Researchers all over the world agree that it is critical to identify signs and symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety during the prenatal period. It has shown that there could be a direct correlation between these conditions and pregnancy outcomes as pre-term births, low-birth weights and infant abnormalities. It is estimated that the occurrence of depression among pregnant women are about 16% symptomatic and about 5% diagnosed.
A 2015 review by Schetter and Tanner shows the possibility of a correlation between low-birth weight and different types of stress the mothers undergo during pregnancy, including but not limited to unemployment, racism and discrimination. Furthermore, pre-term birth has been correlated to pregnancy anxiety at levels higher than effects of known risk factors such as smoking and medical risk. Maternal destress have also been related to negative neurodevelopmental outcomes such as long-term learning, motor development and behavioral issues.
A Swedish study of 2900 participants by Fransson, Ortenstrand and Hjelmstedt showed a significant effect of prenatal stress on low birth weight babies. Being of age over 35, a primipara and experience of a previous miscarriage have also been identified as factors that are associated with low-birth weight.
A significant need of clinical-screening and intervention has been recommended by the researchers for prenatal and postpartum stress and anxiety based on the review of over 50 research articles in clinical psychology. While this level of screening and research findings vary widely for different countries with the wide array of culture and socio-economic backgrounds of the mothers and expecting women, it is safer to talk to your physician to keep you in check for those conditions no matter where you are.
It is important to remember that the continuous support and understanding from the partner, family, friends, neighborhood and larger community is crucial to influence a women’s mental health and responses to a diagnosis of a disorder. An increased level of awareness and acceptance of these mental conditions by the community will significantly lower the risk of pregnancy complications of the mothers in their own community.
Dr Ganga Fernando received her PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and currently teaching at Cottey College – a four-year University of liberal arts and sciences for women – as an Associate Professor of Chemistry. In her role as a faculty member of the BS in Health Science program, she offers research and internship opportunities in the field of Global Public Health disparities and health care in rural South East Asia. She is a mother of 3 and a world traveler with vast experience in women’s health and maternity.