Stress is a fact of life. Pregnancy itself has the ability to cause a fair amount of stress, even when everything is just right. The problem with stress in pregnancy comes from long term stress.
Researchers have recently figured out that the stress hormone cortisol is found in measurable amounts as early as the seventeenth week of gestation. They also measured the amounts of cortisol in the mother's blood. When the levels of cortisol where higher in the mother, they were also higher in the amniotic fluid levels.
While in general, cortisol helps a body deal with the stressful situation appropriately, long term exposure for a fetus is unknown. We do know that long term exposure in adults leads to illness, depression, and exhaustion, to name a few. In turn this leads to poor health including high blood pressure, heart disease and ulcers.
Previous studies indicated that cognitive functioning of the baby was affected, even later in life. It showed that babies with higher cortisol exposure levels in utero had lower IQs at 18 months. Others have indicated that this stress may also lead an increased risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This does not mean that every little amount of stress is bound to harm your baby. Remember to do things that lower your stress levels like regular exercise and relaxation. Relaxation has long been taught in childbirth classes and you can also take specific courses in relaxation to help you learn this valuable skill.
Davis EP, Glynn LM, Schetter CD, Hobel C, Chicz-Demet A, Sandman CA. Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Depression and Cortisol Influences Infant Temperament. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007 Jun;46(6):737-746.
Rodriguez A, Bohlin G. Are maternal smoking and stress during pregnancy related to ADHD symptoms in children? J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Mar;46(3):246-54.
Sarkar p, Bergman K, Fisk NM, O’Connor TG, Glover V. Ontogeny of foetal exposure to maternal cortisol using midtrimester amniotic fluid as a biomarker 2007 Clinical Endocrinology 66 (5), 636–640.