Are you pregnant or recently had a child? Are you feeling angry/irritated, numb, have brain fog, insomnia, and/or physical discomfort? These are all signs of postpartum depression. Read more here.
Can the stress mom's experience while pregnant impact their children into adulthood. There is growing evidence that a baby's wiring and predisposition is strongly influenced by the emotional health of their mother. Read on to discover how.
Nov. 14, 2012 — Children whose mothers were overly stressed during pregnancy are more likely to become victims of bullying at school.
The study has been published in theJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and is based on 8,829 children from the Avon Longtitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).
Professor Dieter Wolke, Professor of Developmental Psychology at University of Warwick and Warwick Medical School headed up the study.
He said: "This is the first study to investigate stress in pregnancy and a child's vulnerability to being bullied. When we are exposed to stress, large quantities of neurohormones are released into the blood stream and in a pregnant woman this can change the developing fetus' own stress response system.
"Changes in the stress response system can affect behaviour and how children react emotionally to stress such as being picked on by a bully. Children who more easily show a stress reaction such as crying, running away, anxiety are then selected by bullies to home in to."
The research team identified the main prenatal stress factors as severe family problems, such as financial difficulty or alcohol/drug abuse, and maternal mental health.
Professor Wolke added: "The whole thing becomes a vicious cycle, a child with an altered stress response system is more likely to be bullied, which affects their stress response even further and increases the likelihood of them developing mental health problems in later life."
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This is a great article for pregnant women that are experiencing "mommy brain" and are trying to understand why they are having trouble remembering things or paying attention. It is not all in your mind, there is a biological reason for this.
Priming for a new role
Pregnant women and animals experience slight decreases in learning and memory—changes that appear to pave the way for cognitive benefits in motherhood and may even advantage mothers as they age.
By Tori DeAngelis
September 2008, Vol 39, No. 8
Print version: page 28
Kyra DeBlaker-Gebhard is normally an ace at keeping track of special occasions. But since she's been pregnant, "I can't remember a birthday, a graduation or an anniversary," laments the 30-year-old Washington, D.C., writer.
Her communication skills have also taken a plunge: "Especially in my first trimester, I had a very difficult time speaking coherently and writing clearly," she says.
DeBlaker-Gebhard is far from alone: Between 50 percent and 80 percent of pregnant women report memory and thinking problems during this time.
"Until I finally talked to a friend about it, I thought it was just me," DeBlaker-Gebhard says.
Recently, researchers have been examining whether this phenomenon--dubbed "baby brain"--has an objective basis. It's part of a recent wave of research looking at how pregnancy and motherhood affect women cognitively, a different slant from previous research that has focused on brain areas and processes that more directly influence females' propensity to nurture their young.
The findings suggest an intriguing picture that is good news for anyone embarking on the adventure of motherhood, notes University of Richmond neuroscientist Craig Kinsley, PhD, a main researcher in the area. Pregnant women do in fact experience a physiologically based baby brain, the likely result of a hormone flood that peaks in the third trimester as well as possible external factors, such as a more chaotic life during pregnancy, studies are showing. But related research finds that once the women give birth, other brain mechanisms kick in that help them protect their young by bolstering their cognitive abilities, and these benefits may last into old age.
"There is a tendency to see pregnancy and lactation as somewhat debilitating conditions," says Kinsley. "However, when it comes to motherhood, we're looking at changes that are beneficial to the female, and for the majority of her life."
Support for 'baby brain'
In the most stark evidence that the baby brain phenomenon is real, research has found that the brain actually shrinks a little during pregnancy. In a study reported in the January 2002 American Journal of Neuroradiology, Angela Oatridge, PhD, of Hammersmith Hospital in London, and colleagues found that women's brain volume diminished by about 4 percent during pregnancy, then returned to normal after delivery. Similarly, a study reported in the February 2000 Hormones and Behavior (Vol. 37, No. 1) by neuroscientist Liisa Galea, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, found that the volume of the hippocampus-a key center for memory and spatial learning--was smaller in pregnant rats than in nonpregnant rats.
In other studies, Galea showed that rats in their third week of pregnancy-the equivalent of the first human trimester, when levels of progesterone, estradiol, prolactin and related hormones are at their peak-showed decreased spatial learning ability compared with nonpregnant rats, an effect others have found during the early postpartum period as well.
Galea also has been studying new nerve growth in the hippocampus, both in pregnant rats and in rat mothers, known as dams. It's an intriguing area of study, she says, because the hippocampus is noted for its ability to generate new nerve cells throughout adulthood. Interestingly, she found no differences in nerve-cell growth in pregnant rats compared with virgin rats, and much lower levels in rat dams during the early postpartum period.
The findings suggest that on the biological level, pregnancy and the early postpartum period "are almost like a down time," Galea says. "Given that hormone levels rise to at least 1,000 times their normal levels during the third trimester, then plunge around birth, it's not surprising that some things get muddled in that hormonal soup."
In humans, it is difficult to study such brain and nerve-cell changes. As a result, researchers who study pregnant women generally focus on the women's performance on cognitive and memory tasks-important, they say because people are often notoriously inaccurate when it comes to assessing their memory abilities. So far, they've found that just as in rats, pregnant women perform worse on some learning and memory tasks than nonpregnant controls.
For example, in a meta-analysis of studies on pregnant women and memory functioning reported in the November 2007 Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology (Vol. 29, No. 8), psychologists Julie Henry, PhD, of the University of New South Wales, and Peter G. Rendell, PhD, of Australian Catholic University, found a pattern: Pregnant women across all trimesters performed slightly worse than matched nonpregnant controls on memory tasks that impose particular demands on executive functioning, which encompasses higher-level thinking processes for creating and actualizing goals. Those effects lasted up to a year postpartum, they found.
In another study, the team examined how pregnancy affects prospective memory-our ability to remember to perform intended future actions, such as taking medicine at a particular time-known to be highly sensitive to failures in executive control. Pregnancy researchers are particularly interested in studying prospective memory because it is susceptible to real-life distractions, to which pregnant women and new mothers are especially vulnerable to, the researchers note.
In the study, published online March 14 and now in press at the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, Rendell and Henry compared women in their third trimesters with controls on two types of prospective memory tasks, one in the lab and one in the field. The tasks were similar in that each combined aspects of real-life functioning and a lab-test paradigm. The lab test was a board game called "Virtual Life," which required participants to make choices about daily activities and remember to carry out lifelike tasks, while the field task required women to remember from home to push a button and log in the time at prescribed times over seven days.
Although the two groups performed equally well on the lab tests, pregnant women did significantly worse than controls on remembering to follow through on the field task.
In a related, as-yet-unpublished study, University of British Columbia doctoral student Carrie Cuttler, UBC Psychology Professor Peter Graf, Galea and UBC postdoctoral fellow Jodi Pawluski, PhD, compared 61 women in all three trimesters of pregnancy and 24 nonpregnant controls on lab and field measures of prospective memory. Again, the women did equally well on the lab tests, but women in the first trimester did significantly worse than others on the field-based prospective memory task.
Though it's unclear why the two studies found differences in the stage at which women were most affected, both suggest that lifestyle factors may be exacerbating a subtle underlying deficit, the researchers agree.
"We have a hard time finding these problems when pregnant women are in a distraction-free, sterile lab environment," says Cuttler. "But when women are in their everyday lives and they're dealing with all of these competing demands--their husbands and children pulling them this way, their work pulling them another way--that's when you see these deficits."
Findings on older adults underscore the point, notes Rendell. In other studies, he has found that older adults-who often have more structured, familiar routines compared to younger adults-tend to perform well on real-life prospective-memory tasks, but worse on lab tests.
"These differences suggest that lifestyle is working to support older adults and challenge the pregnant women," he says.
Motherhood as the fix?
After delivery, though, these deficits appear to reverse, at least in animals. In a paper in the February Archives of Sexual Behavior, (Vol. 37, No. 1), the University of Richmond's Kinsley summarizes a decade of work that he, his students and others have done showing that mother rats, monkeys and even beetles perform better on learning, memory and cognition tasks than nonmothers. His lab also has found brain and nerve-growth correlates for some of these phenomena. (Kinsley was the first to show that motherhood enhances spatial learning and memory in rat dams.)
Over time, Kinsley and others have tested two evolution-based hypotheses on why mothers may develop new cognitive and memory skills. One is that their brains and hormones change to enhance their abilities to fend off predators, leave the nest to find food and return quickly so their young aren't attacked. The other theory is that these changes reduce the mothers' fear and anxiety so they can better face such challenges.
"We and other labs have found a lot of support for both," Kinsley says. As a recent example bolstering the first hypothesis, an unpublished study by Kinsley's students Naomi Hester, Nathalie Karp and Angela Orthmeyer found that over three trials, mother rats were five times faster than virgin rats at catching crickets. Meanwhile, researchers including Inga Neumann, PhD, of the University of Regensburg in Germany have shown that pregnant and lactating rats are less prone to fear and anxiety in the face of stress than virgin rats, as measured by fewer stress hormones in the blood.
Kinsley's team is now looking into other ways animals' physiology may change to accommodate motherhood, such as improved blood flow and motor skills. Like Galea, Kinsley has also looked at nerve growth in the hippocampus of pregnant, mother and virgin rats. He found an increase in dendritic spines on neurons in an area that regulates some types of learning in pregnant and mother rats compared with virgin rats, he says.
Pawluski and Galea are seeing a more mixed picture. They find decreased dendritic branching in the hippocampus in first-time dams at the time of weaning and more dendritic spines in second-time moms. But on behavioral measures, rat moms perform significantly better on spatial working memory tests than nonpregnant rats, with first-time moms performing the best of all.
One potential explanation for those contradictory findings is that the enhanced learning in first-time dams may be partially caused by stress hormones, which tend to be higher in pregnancy and especially in first-time mothers. In addition, the team has not yet looked at nerve-cell growth in dams that have had more than one pup, Galea says. It is also possible that the "nerve pruning" that takes place during motherhood actually benefits spatial learning, she speculates.
Meanwhile, Kinsley's lab is also looking at the brains of rat moms that are past bearing age to see if earlier benefits accrue into older age. In a study headed by Kinsley's student Jessica D. Gatewood, reported in the July 2005 Brain Research Bulletin (Vol. 66, No. 2), the team found that at 24 months-the equivalent of a person's mid-80s-mother rats were better at learning spatial tasks and showed less memory decline than age-matched rats that were never pregnant.
In examining the older dams' brains on autopsy, the team also found significantly reduced levels of immunoreactive amyloid precursor protein, a marker of neurodegeneration and age-related cognitive decline, including Alzheimer's disease, Kinsley says.
For him, such changes suggest a place for motherhood alongside other natural developmental periods such as sexual differentiation, puberty and menopause.
"This is another epoch in a female's life," he says. "The brain changes are as dramatic as what you see during the other phases."
Anxiety can influence a woman's experience during labor. I was quoted in this article regarding how stress and worry can impact a woman's delivery and how to manage their anxiety. by Rheyanne Weaver |
It’s common to fear to some extent painful experiences we aren’t familiar with yet, such as childbirth for soon-to-be mothers. However, a new study found in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecologysuggests that women who fear childbirth tend to actually be in labor for longer than women who aren’t fearful of giving birth.
A news release on www.ScienceDaily.com stated that 2,206 women were included in the study. These women were only giving birth to one child vaginally, and 7.5% of these women were determined to be fearful of childbirth at 32 weeks into their pregnancy. The report estimated that between 5% and 20% of pregnant women generally fear childbirth.
For women who feared childbirth, the average labor time was about 1 hour and 32 minutes longer than in women without as much fear. When other factors were considered, the women with fear of childbirth still took 47 minutes longer for labor than women without the same amount of fear. Women who feared childbirth were also more likely to need intervention during labor, such as instrumental vaginal delivery and emergency Caesarean section. However, most women who feared childbirth were still able to have a successful vaginal delivery.
The study added that there are different factors that cause women to fear childbirth, such as having a baby for the first time, being a young mother, having little social support, having a history of abuse, and suffering from psychological issues. Other experts share their professional opinions on the causes of fear of childbirth and what women can do to decrease that fear.
Julie Hanks, a licensed clinical social worker, the owner and executive director of Wasatch Family Therapy, LLC, and a mother of four children, said in an email that she believes fear of childbirth is actually quite common in our society. “I think it is common for women to fear childbirth because it has become so medicalized in our society,” Hanks said. “Instead of viewing childbirth as a natural process that women’s bodies were created to do, it is viewed as a scary, painful, ‘out of control’ experience that needs medical intervention.”
She said that some women who have gone through specific painful experiences before might be more likely to have a fear of childbirth. “In my clinical practice I have seen a link between childhood sexual trauma and fear of childbirth,” Hanks said. “Since childbirth and sexual abuse involve the same organs, it is often emotionally tied together. Additionally, feelings of helplessness and of being controlled by a man may emerge during the childbirth process (often a male OB).”
General anxiety could also lead to fear of childbirth. “Certain mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders, may predispose certain women to anxiety about the childbirth process, especially with first-time moms,” she said.
The stories of other women who have had bad experiences with childbirth could also add to the fear for first-time moms. “Women may fear childbirth because of family stories surrounding their mother or sister’s childbirth experiences,” Hanks said. “Additionally, women tend to share their birth ‘horror stories’ more frequently than they share uncomplicated birth stories, playing into a cultural fear of childbirth. I think this can impact mental health in general.”
The whole concept of becoming a mother can bring up a lot of issues, not just childbirth itself. “Taking on the new role of becoming a mother is also emotionally loaded and may bring up a woman’s own fear of inadequacy and self-doubt about whether or not she will be able to provide the nurturing that this helpless baby requires,” Hanks said. “If a woman has emotional neglect, abuse, or other unresolved issues with her own mother, those ‘left over’ emotions may surface as a woman now faces becoming her mother.”
There are even more mental health issues that can be associated with pregnancy and childbirth. “Hormonal fluctuations may impact emotional health relating to childbirth,” Hanks said. “Also, family pressures, relatives coming into town to celebrate the birth of a new baby may add to the overall stress of childbirth experiences.”
If physical health is impacted, then mental health is also not far behind. “Eating disorders or distorted body image may play into mental health issues, anxiety, and obsessions around childbirth,” Hanks said. “The physical changes that often accompany pregnancy and childbirth are often frightening to women who have built their self-worth around their appearance.” Hanks shared her thoughts on helping women overcome any fear they may feel in relation to childbirth. She said, “I believe that a cultural shift in viewing childbirth as a normal, natural process that generally doesn’t require intervention would really help women embrace the process without fear. Also, sharing positive childbirth stories openly may help shift women’s views.”
Dr. Ingrid Rodia, an OB-GYN and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in an email that some women are more anxious in general, and others do have a higher risk in regard to childbirth, so these can both lead to issues with fear. She added that the most common fears women have in relation to childbirth are pain, concerns about the baby coming out “normal,” and concerns about surviving childbirth. “Women might fear childbirth because they are already overwhelmed and wonder how they are going to deal with the additional demands,” Rodi said. “Women who did not plan the pregnancy, and especially those who did not want to be pregnant, are particularly at risk for anxiety and depression. Those women with a pre-existing mood or anxiety disorder are at increased risk of anxiety and depression, not only during the pregnancy, but also post partum … Psychological issues before the pregnancy can lead to more fear of childbirth.”
Financial issues, a poor relationship with the father, and psychological issues can add to fear of childbirth as well. “Basically, in order to decrease the fear of childbirth, the pregnancy should be desired, the woman should feel financially and personally supported, and she should have medical and psychiatric problems identified and treated prior to pregnancy,” Rodi said.
Nerina Garcia-Arcement, a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine, said in an email that pain and negativity associated with childbirth tends to be exaggerated in the media and among family and friends, adding to a fear of childbirth. “The media’s portrayal of childbirth with women screaming in agony makes it understandable why women might fear childbirth,” Garcia-Arcement said. “Rarely are stories of childbirth portrayed as calm and peaceful, where women are in control of the experience and the pain. Some women have heard negative stories of long and difficult labor from family and friends. If this is their first child, fear of the unknown is common. Women worry about what might happen, what might go wrong and how they will react to the pain of childbirth. This is an experience perceived as out of their control, which can be scary.”
Women who have mental disorders and have certain personality types might fear childbirth more than others. “Women that are already experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms prior to pregnancy are likely to have those symptoms exacerbated by things like a difficult pregnancy or worry about what to expect during childbirth,” Garcia-Arcement said. “Individuals that like to be in control of their experiences will likely worry about childbirth, an experience that cannot be dictated by a mother but can be managed.”
Women do have real concerns in regard to pregnancy, because each pregnancy and childbirth experience is different, and some women do require C-sections, endure more pain, and have complications with delivery, adding to that fear. However, Garcia-Arcement does have several tips for women who may fear an upcoming childbirth experience.
- Become informed about what will happen during labor and childbirth. She said, “Childbirth itself might not be within a woman’s control, but how she reacts to it is. Being informed can be empowering. Avoidance of what is feared will only make it worse. Becoming an informed consumer will help women feel they can make better choices during childbirth. Women ought to learn about what typical labor medical procedures and medications are used.”
- Choose the doctor or midwife who is right for you, and plan to use the hospital or birthing center that matches your beliefs about childbirth.
- Create a birth plan and discuss concerns and wishes with your medical provider. This is your baby and your body, so don’t be afraid to ask questions before and during labor.
- Learn how to use deep breathing techniques, muscle relaxation exercises, and imagery of a safe peaceful place to reduce anxiety.
- Plan to use distraction with positive self-care activities.
- Seek support from other women, whether in a group setting or online.
Anna, mother of one from Illinois, says she's a happier parent for waiting until she was older, "My husband and I didn't have our first child until our early 40s. It was a wonderful decision for many reasons. Our daughter is now 13 months, and we are both 43 years old. We couldn't be happier parents!"
Ignore the ticking clock
But what if, unlike Anna, you're struggling with the thought of waiting, feeling self-imposed or outside pressure to procreate? Nerina Garcia-Arcement, Ph.D. urges women not to rush into having a child simply because others are doing it or because their clock is ticking. "Having a child changes everything, literally."
"There are many pros to waiting, including being more emotionally and psychologically ready for the vast changes to lifestyle and time commitment that children require."
More financial stability
Garcia-Arcement also reminds potential parents that financial stability can come with waiting. "Having a more stable and developed profession so that you are in a more stable financial situation... " Barbara Neitlich, psychotherapist, adds, "If you wait, you can generally put more money aside for your baby fund."
More confidence and maturity
Beverly D. Flaxington, author and mother of three, who had babies at 35, 38 and 42 says, "I felt more confident after going through a number of life situations and developing different perspectives on life." Garcia-Arcement makes the point, "You might have more energy as a younger mom, but older moms have the benefit of more life experience and maturity." Neitlich adds, "As you age you learn more about yourself, your partner and what type of parent you want to be."
More time for you
Neitlich also says a key reason to wait is to "travel, travel, travel!" and spend more quality time with your partner first. Garcia-Arcement agrees, "Accomplishing personal goals first (e.g. education, travel, attending cultural events) allows the mom to never question should I have waited until... ?"
Ask yourself the important questions
Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a marriage and family therapist, reminds couples to ask themselves important questions before making their final decision.
- Are you and your spouse in agreement? Will you both be committed to all that is entailed?
- Do you and your spouse believe you would enjoy parenting?
- Will you consider medical intervention if you cannot get pregnant?
- Are there any financial concerns? Will a child make a difference in whether both spouses will be able to pursue their careers, work full time, finish up any education, etc.?
- Are there any emotional or psychological reasons underlying a push for a child — the kind of reasons that have more to do with improving the marriage, etc.? The kind that are not healthy reasons and usually backfire?