Stress has become an inevitable consequence of modern everyday life, and as we are subjected to increasing amounts of it, we experience more and more of the effects of the great rate of wear and tear we subject our bodies to. The term was originally coined by Hans Selye in 1936, and defined by him as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” This means that we are all subjected to stress, but its effects on our bodies differ greatly from person to person, largely dependent on the gravity of and how we handle the stressful situation. It manifests itself in any number of physical or psychological symptoms that are often ignored until it seriously affects our health. In fact, stress is currently one of the leading causes of illness worldwide, such as depression, erectile dysfunction, hypertension and heart disease. This increasing number of stress-related illnesses has raised alarm bells throughout the worldwide medical community.
Stress can stem from both positive and negative experiences in our lives. Positive stressors, or eustress, are situations that are perceived to be happy or good, such as weddings, childbirth or big family holidays. Negative stressors, or distress, are situations that are traumatizing or unhappy, such as the death of a loved one or an accident.
Pregnancy can be considered both a positive and negative stressor, being a time of great joy and adjustment for the expectant mother as she and her partner welcome the new addition to their family. Apart from the actual physical stress the woman’s body is subjected to during the nine months of pregnancy, the pressures of daily life are also there to put additional stress on her. Some women have to juggle the demands of their job, chores, and families along with being pregnant. In some cases, pregnant women face unhealthy situations as the break-up of their marriage, physical or emotional abuse, open infidelity or simply disinterested and uninvolved partners who prefer staying out to staying home and supporting their pregnant partners, and they experience constant stress throughout the nine month period or beyond. Extreme situations can also leave the unborn baby vulnerable to the stress the mother feels, such as malnutrition or exposure to toxins because of an unhealthy or unsanitary living conditions.
Stress can have adverse effects on the unborn child, and can sometimes be the cause of birth defects, miscarriages, pre-term delivery, or result in the death of both mother and child. Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, can be too much for the bodies of both the mother and child to handle, may possibly cause high blood pressure problems. In the mother, this may increase her risk for preeclampsia, or any number of other conditions that may complicate her pregnancy. In the unborn child, the effects can range from a lifetime of high blood pressure or other physical, mental or developmental defects.
Whatever is going on in a woman’s life during her pregnancy, the most important thing she should remember is that she must take care of her body and safeguard the life of her child. Whether the situation is positive or negative, how she deals with the stress is entirely in her hands.