(NaturalNews) We know that extreme stress is bad for any living creature and that it can lead to disease and health degradation in our bodies. Pregnancy in itself is a stressful time on a woman's body. The normal physical and hormonal changes can be quite daunting for a first time mom. In this day and age we live in incredibly stressful times. We worry about things close to home like our finances, our relationships with those close to us as well as our safety and security as a nation.
Coupled with these, many women work for as long as possible during pregnancy to maximize their maternity leave after the baby is born. The reality is that excessive stress during pregnancy can have some severe consequences for the health of your unborn baby if you don't learn how to manage it.
It's already known that extreme stress during pregnancy can lead to increased risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. In the later stages of pregnancy, extreme stress can lead to premature labour, premature birth and low birth-weight babies. The latest findings indicate that prenatal stress can also increase the risk of a baby being born with asthma or allergies.
Harvard Medical School in Boston recently presented their findings of a study done on a group of urban moms and their babies. They surveyed more than 387 mothers with a questionnaire about stress levels to assess the following areas of their lives:
* financial stress
* health and well-being
* home environment
* community safety
The mothers' exposure to varying levels of dust mite allergens were measured in their homes. The effects on the foetus were measured by drawing cord blood from the babies at birth. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels were measured to determine how stress had influenced the development of a baby's immune system. Data was controlled to compensate for maternal age, race, smoking, education, history of allergy and asthma, the child's gender and the season of birth.
Babies born to mothers who are experiencing extreme stress levels had more immunoglobulin E (IgE) in their blood at birth than babies who are born to mothers with normal stress levels. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is an immune system compound (antibody) that indicates an immune system response. This suggests that these babies would be more likely to have asthma or allergies because Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is an antibody involved in allergic and asthmatic reactions. Obviously this is not conclusive as there are many other factors that determine whether a child will be asthmatic or allergy prone but certainly elevated immunoglobulin E (IgE) is "suggestive" of an increased risk.
How Does Stress Affect Us?
It is thought that stress makes cells more permeable (weakens the body's cells) and so it becomes more susceptible to allergens and that even low levels of exposure to an allergen could trigger a reaction. Stress also suppresses the immune system thereby making us more susceptible to sickness as well as being less able to deal with allergens.
Suggested Ways To Minimize the Stress Response
So what's a pregnant mom to do? Here are a few common sense suggestions for the benefit of yourself and your unborn child:
* Stop Smoking
* Limit alcohol intake but preferably give it up completely
* Some form of light exercise is very beneficial to help the body deal with stress (yoga is particularly helpful)
* Eat a healthy diet with fresh vegetables and fruit to optimize your nutrient intake
* Avoid people who irritate you (easier said than done if you live with them)
* Get adequate rest (also easier said than done when a growing tummy is in the way)
* Deep breathing, visualization and meditation
* This may seem silly but have a good laugh once in a while
Dr. Ashlesha Dayal is a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center, and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein Medical College in New York City. She said: "There's definitely emerging data that stress in pregnancy can affect the pregnancy in different ways; for example, stress has been linked to growth restriction, decreased bonding, and even preterm delivery. So, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that it would precipitate a disease that's triggered by stress." (See reference below article)
But, added Dayal, "This is a small study that needs to be validated. We really need more numbers to verify this association."
The study discussed above is called the Asthma Coalition on Community, Environment and Social Stress (ACCESS) project and is aiming to explore the potential causes of asthma in a minority and urban population. The findings were presented to the American Thoracic Society in Toronto in May of this year (2008).
Katherine Oosthuis is completing a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy. She researches and writes for a health and nutrition website Detox For Life . Her passion is to make research available to those who are looking to improve their well-being and revolutionise their health through better nutrition and alternative medicines.