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Why am I stressed?: Stress during Pregnancy

Welcome back to our mini series on stress. As we've previously covered, stress is the body's way of telling us we are in danger. Though stress can be difficult to navigate on a day to day basis, the impacts can be dire when pregnant!

First, let's break down the human body. Fetuses develop within the uterus which sits direct beneath the kidneys. The kidneys are an essential organ of the body that help to remove waste out of the blood stream in turn producing urine. During pregnancy, the kidneys GFR function (the rate at which blood is filtered per minute) increases ranging anywhere between 25% and 50% its normal rate. These changes promote favorable growth for the fetus.

Next, are the adrenal glands sitting above each kidney. These are responsible for the production of the "flight or fight" hormone, cortisol. When the body reacts to threats, it produces cortisol, thus increasing "adrenaline, so you continue to stay on high alert. In addition, cortisol triggers the release of glucose (sugar) from your liver for fast energy during times of stress." (Cleveland Clinic, 2024). However, too much cortisol secretion can lead to: high blood pressure, increased blood sugar as well as weak bones.

So, what happens when a woman is pregnant and stressed?

Below are a plethora of damages that stress can have on pregnant women; this list is provided by March of Dimes (2024):

  • Giving birth preterm (before 37 weeks)

  • Giving birth to a child with low birth weight

  • Preeclampsia

  • Gestational diabetes

Personally, I experienced chronic stress during my pregnancy due to an abusive partner. Even though the abuse was not physical, the emotional torment was enough to push me into depression. I was constantly put down, spoken to harshly, threatened and treated with disgust. Unfortunately, my heightened stress levels may have caused my child's speech and language delay. A report posted in 2020 from CNN states that "Clinical studies have found neurobehavioral deficits, such as impaired motor coordination, higher emotional reactivity and language delays in children born to stressed mothers.". Proving that the ramifications of stress are deleterious even to unborn individuals.

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