Pregnant women are encouraged by doctors, midwifes, parents, friends and all and sundry to ‘take it easy’ and ‘look after yourself’ and often this seemingly obvious advice falls on deaf ears as women continue to struggle, however, this advice could be more important than we had initially thought.
In a survey of pregnant, predominantly middle class women at a London hospital, almost a quarter of them felt anxious and depressed, while the same number argued with their partners. These women’s babies had a lower birth weight, lower IQ, slower cognitive development and more anxiety than those born to the other women in the survey.
Professor of prenatal psychobiology at Imperial College London, Vivette Glover, has undertaken many research projects on the subject and one of the most recent found that although postnatal depression is a well-known condition, prenatal depression is more common and at least as damaging to the child.
Glover’s recent research also illustrates how maternal anxiety affects the placenta, reducing the activity of the barrier enzyme that hinders the hormone cortisol from reaching the foetus. This means that women’s stress levels reach the growing baby on a physical level. This, in turn, has an impact on foetal brain development.
What can we do? Well every parent wants their children to be happy and would do a number of things to insure that this happens. This is why it is interesting to know that the best thing we can do for our babies is simply to be happy in ourselves.