Most pregnant women are aware of the advice to quit smoking, avoid alcohol, and wholeheartedly fear soft cheese in all its forms, but we hear very little official public health advice about stress during pregnancy.
Yet we know that high stress levels are bad for our health generally, impacting immunity and increasing our risk for infectious and non-infectious diseases.
During pregnancy, stress has specific dangers for the physical and emotional wellbeing of the baby, mother and family unit as a whole.
Stress during pregnancy is common, not least because the pregnancy itself can incite stress. This is particularly so if the pregnancy was unplanned, as nearly half of all Australian pregnancies are. Pregnancy requires a number of changes in the family’s life, including the parents’ relationship, income and employment, and often other adjustments such as moving house.
Stress is sometimes related to specific events, but can also be experienced as anxiety or constant worry.
The effects of stress
In pregnancy, stress exposure is associated with a higher risk for preterm delivery and lower birth weight. Preterm birth is the major cause of death and disability in children up to the age of five in Australia.
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