Two new studies have been recently published investigating stress and its effects on pregnancy. One study, published in Clinical Psychological Science by Hahn-Holbrook and colleagues investigated the effect of stress on the hormone placental corticotropin releasing hormone and risk for developing postpartum depression. They found that women with more social support from family had the lowest concentrations of placental corticotropin releasing hormone and were also less at risk for developing postpartum depression. Hahn-Holbrook and her team also noted that women who had less support, had higher levels of placental corticotropin releasing hormone in their third trimester and were at increased risk of developing postpartum depression.
In research performed by Tracey Bale and colleagues, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences used a mouse model to investigate the effects of O-linked-N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT) on the development of the fetal brain. This enzyme was chosen because it is active both in mice and humans, is present in differing amounts in the the placentas of male and female babies and is affected by maternal stresses. Through their work with mice who synthesized half the normal amount of OGT, they discovered aberrant behavior in more than 300 genes within the developing hypothalamus. In addition, the placentas of boy babies, whose mothers experienced the most stress had the lowest concentrations of OGT. Through maternal support, it may be possible to increase levels of OGT to protect developing brains.
From what this new research suggests, and pregnant women and mothers have known intuitively, they need support in order to decrease stress during pregnancy. To help decrease stress in pregnancy, consider participating in a group with other mothers. If you, like many families, live far away from relatives, consider participating in a CenteringPregnancy® program. This program utilizes a model of care which includes prenatal visits both privately and in a group format to facilitate support and education. In Southern Oregon, the CenteringPregnancy® program can be found at La Clinica, In addition, it is important to share how you are feeling with your pregnancy provider. If you feel that they are not hearing you, or are not offering the care you are looking for, consider a change in provider or provider type. There are alternatives to brief prenatal appointments, with options including Naturopathic Midwives, licensed midwives and nurse midwives. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your partner so that each of you can feel cared for and that each partner feels that their needs are being met. This may mean a change in responsibility at work or home or simply more time spent with empathetic and caring individuals going through similar experiences. There is no need to suffer alone.