Women stressed during pregnancy are less likely to give birth to boys, according to a new study. According to researchers, social support is a key factor in managing anxiety in a pregnant woman.
It’s common knowledge that stress is bad for health. It is all the more dangerous in a pregnant woman. Indeed, her anxiety can affect the development of the fetus, childbirth and the health of the baby even after birth. In particular, stress during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of premature birth, a phenomenon associated with higher rates of infant mortality and physical and mental disorders, such as attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity and anxiety in children.
In a new study published Oct. 14 in the journal PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, American researchers identified the types of physical and psychological stress with the greatest consequence. Their research suggests that less stressed women are more likely to give birth to boys.
“The womb is an influential first home, as important as the one a child is raised in, if not more so,” says Catherine Monk, a professor of medical psychology who led the study. By submitting 187 healthy pregnant women aged 18-45 to daily questionnaires and physical assessments, she and her colleagues looked at 27 indicators of psychosocial and physical stress.
They found that 17% of women were psychologically stressed and had clinically significant high levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. In addition, 16% were physically stressed: their daily blood pressure was relatively higher and their calorie intake higher than that of pregnant women who were well (nearly 67%). From these results, the researchers found that pregnant women with physical and psychological stress were less likely to have a boy.
“Other researchers have seen this pattern after social upheavals, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, after which the relative number of male births decreased,” says Catherine Monk.
Another interesting observation: physically stressed mothers were more likely to give birth prematurely. In these women, the fetus had a reduced heart rate/heart rate ratio, an indicator of slower development of the central nervous system compared to unstressed mothers. Finally, psychologically stressed mothers had more complications at birth than those who were physically stressed.
The researchers found that what differentiated the three groups of women the most was the level of social support they received from their friends and family. Thus, the more surrounded a woman is, the more likely she is to give birth to a boy. When social support is more important, the effects of stress on premature births disappear, the study notes.
“Screening for depression and anxiety is gradually becoming part of the prenatal practice,” says Monk. “But while our study was small, the results suggest that improved social support is potentially an effective target for clinical intervention.”
The study did not, however, look at the mechanisms in place for the mental state of a mother to affect the fetus. “We know from animal studies that exposure to high levels of stress can increase levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the uterus, which can, in turn, affect the fetus” , Monk notes. “Stress can also affect the mother’s immune system, leading to changes that alter the neurological and behavioral development of the fetus.” What is clear from our study is that maternal mental health is important, not only to the mother but also for her future child, “she concludes.
Two years ago, it was proven that the stress of pregnant women had an influence on the growth of their child. In the study, in women undergoing stress at the end of the gestation period, fetal growth was slower in the uterus and during infancy. Once the nutritional independence attends