Research Update: Stress and Pregnancy
by Stanley Zwick, Psy.D. & Roberta Israeloff
Are you feeling stressed during pregnancy? Do you feel optimistic about giving birth,
or do you avoid thinking about it? According to recent studies, there's a crucial link
between stress, optimism, low birth weight and delivery date. Data presented at the
1999 annual convention of the American Psychological Association indicates the
- Stress and anxiety during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight and early
delivery. Women who feel very stressed during pregnancy are four times more likely
to deliver prematurely than women who are under less stress are.
Cortiotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), a stress-regulating hormone, may act as
a kind of "clock" determining when delivery takes place. Normally, CRH levels
fluctuate, but during pregnancy, its levels seem to steadily increase - though
the rate of increase differs. Studies indicate that women who deliver prematurely
have high levels of CRH.
- Positive thinking is powerful. Women who are optimistic seem more immune to the
effects of stress than women who aren't as optimistic. These women are more likely to
carry their babies to term, and to have babies with normal birth weight. They also are
less distressed about their pregnancies and birth experiences.
What are the characteristics of optimistic women?
- They expect that their pregnancies and births will go well.
- They don't avoid facing their anxieties either by sleeping, avoiding people in general, or trying not to think about the impending birth.
- They believe that they have some measure of control over the outcome of their pregnancy.
Researchers are trying to determine which has the bigger role in determining a baby's
health - stress levels or optimism - but it is clear that both factors play an
important role. Interestingly, the key factor in coping with stress seems to be not
the degree of stress we experience, but how we respond to the stress.
What can you do to avoid stress while you are pregnant?
About the authors:
Stanley Zwick, Psy.D., has seventeen years experience working with
children and their families, in public schools and in private practice.
Dr. Zwick, who has lectured and run workshops on topics such as Communicating
With Your Child, Child Temperament and Child Behavior Management, is currently
having that experience put to the test with his newborn daughter.
Roberta Israeloff, a former contributing editor to Parents Magazine and a
member of The Author's Guild, has authored several books and articles on parenting
and family issues. Roberta has numerous radio and television appearances to her
credit and has just completed co-authoring her latest book, "Raising a Thinking
Preteen", with Dr. Myrna Shure.