Anxiety May Complicate Pregnancy and Birth
> 9/5/2007 11:06:05 AM

Pregnancy, as we've stated before, is one of the most difficult - and rewarding - of all human experiences. That an expectant mother and those sharing the pregnancy experience by proxy would encounter a particularly heavy degree of stress is not surprising. But repeated studies indicate that severe anxiety in the months preceding delivery may compromise the health of both the mother and the unborn child.

In a North Carolina study, a sample group of just under 2,000 expecting women completed surveys that focused on relevant stress levels by asking questions about standard pregnancy-related concerns: protracted labor, internal bleeding, the health of the baby, etc. In determining the relative levels of anxiety for each of the study's participants, researchers made a significant finding: the children of those most concerned about problems with delivery were more than three times as likely to be born pre-term. Because the study did not include physical examination, it did not explore the reasons behind this correlation, but the general assumption must be that high anxiety can adversely affect the physical functions of the mother's body, which serves to nourish and regulate the development of the fetus.

One of the most prevalent symptoms of excessive anxiety in pregnant women is the presence of unusual and disturbing dreams. Expectant mothers often dream of frightening complications during pregnancy and birth, and new mothers dream of losing or accidentally harming their newborns. One of the most common dreams involves the mother losing her baby in the very bed in which she sleeps, and it can be vivid enough to lead the mother to call out in her sleep and frantically search the bed on waking. Like most nightmares, these center on the individual dreamer's deepest fears, heightening pre-existing stresses and almost certainly increasing the likelihood of the very same unwanted events.

While previous studies have contradicted the current research on health problems in babies born to anxious mothers, a slew of related reports indicate otherwise: not only are stressed moms more likely to deliver prematurely (and premature children are more susceptible to problems ranging from cognitive impairments to cardiovascular complications), but their children are also more likely to suffer from ADHD, depression and various behavioral issues. These reports can certainly be troubling for those to whom they might apply, but pregnant women who are growing overly anxious about being anxious should consult with their physicians. Together, they may consider any number of approaches that are safe for both mother and baby.

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