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How Stress During And After Pregnancy Affects Your Baby

There’s been a deluge of research in recent years examining the effects of stress on babies, both in utero and in early life, and the results are, well, a little nerve wracking (oh, sweet irony!). Here’s what you need to know about stress during pregnancy and beyond. Again, try not to let it stress you out too much. Your kid will thank you.

Keep Calm And Carry On
Pregnant women don’t just eat for 2, they stress for 2 … too. When the mother experiences stress, her cortisol levels rise. The fetus’ brain perceives these stresses to their environment as threats (evolutionarily speaking), and adapts by ramping up its stress response. One of the effects of heightened stress response in the developing brain is increased risk for disorders like anxiety, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. No bueno. Luckily, you read all about how to comfort a pregnant woman, resulting in as stress-free a pregnancy as possible. Bueno.

What You Got In Them Genes?
That a fetus’ brain can change due to the mother’s stress hormones won’t surprise anyone. The more intriguing recent research is around epigenetics — that certain genes can be switched on or off via environmental cues after birth. A 2011 study found genes involved in insulin production and brain development were affected even into adolescence among kids whose parents were significantly stressed during their first few years. And animal studies suggest that parental stress continues to affect the offspring’s brain development, including epigenetic changes, all the way through childhood. So pour a drink, light one up, meditate, squeeze the crap out of your kid’s rubber duckie if it makes you feel better, because you’re seriously harshing baby’s mellow, man.

All You Need Is Love?
The key finding for any new parent to take to heart: kids don’t need overflowing love as much the reassurance of safety and security, which manifests as a sense of calm — the absence of stress. Providing that security by constantly hovering is out, because that’s stressful as hell. According to David Code, author of Kids Pick Up On EVERYTHING, the best way parents can provide that sense of calm is actually by embracing their own social lives. That’s not a joke. Think about your own childhood. Was there any greater signal of freedom to run wild with friends than a mom gossiping away on the phone or a bunch of old people cackling on the couch? When it comes to stress levels and genes, the best thing for everyone is to just leave those kids alone.