Women with a long history of stress are up to 42 percent more likely to have a miscarriage, a new study claims.
The study, conducted at University College London and Zhejang University in China, provides the strongest evidence yet that stress in a woman’s early adulthood could have serious consequences later in life.
There have been schools of research done to examine the links between stress and pregnancy, but the evidence linking it to miscarriage is conflicting.
Miscarriage is the most common pregnancy complication and occurs before 24 weeks into a woman’s gestation in around 20 percent of pregnancies.
But that statistic is likely much higher as many cases of miscarriage are unreported, especially when it happens very early on in a pregnancy. It’s also often associated with high levels of distress for women, for their partners, and for their families.
Researchers carried out a systemic review and meta-analysis to look more into the link. They identified studies reporting miscarriage in women with and without a history of exposure to psychological stress.
The team found that the risk of miscarriage was significantly higher in women with a long history of stress in their lives.
That stress includes previous psychological challenges such as experiences of emotional trauma, social problems, concerns about money, marital or partnership disharmony, pressure at work, a significant change in personal circumstances and previous pregnancy loss.
And that stress didn’t have to lead up to the pregnancy, as the findings were the same in women who experienced high levels of stress many years before even thinking about starting a family.
These findings were unchanged after controlling for the type of studies and stress exposure types, along with other variables.
Authors suggest that association between stress and miscarriage could come from the activation and release of stress hormones.
Those hormones then impact biochemical pathways that are essential for the maintenance of pregnancy.
‘While chromosomal abnormalities underlie many cases of early pregnancy loss, the results of this meta-analysis support the belief that a high level of psychological stress before and during pregnancy is also associated with miscarriage,’ Dr Brenda Todd, a co-author and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at UCL explained.
‘The present results show that these psychological factors could increase the risk by approximately 42 percent.’
She also placed a lot of emphasis on how psychological stress that occurs years before a woman plans on becoming pregnant is just as impactful as it is later in life.
To help pregnant women and decrease the likelihood of miscarriage, Dr Todd said it is important to look at psychological background as soon as a woman becomes pregnant.
‘Our finding provides robust evidence that prior psychological stress is harmful to women in early pregnancy and that there is a need for further high-quality research into an association between the experience of stress across a variety of contexts and miscarriage risk to fully understand the relationship,’ Dr Todd explained.
‘Our review also highlights the need to include a structured psychological assessment in early pregnancy into routine antenatal care, and our work has demonstrated the potential basis for novel and effective interventions in the field, as we urgently need to identify and treat psychological factors which contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes.’
WAYS TO MANAGE YOUR STRESS WHEN PREGNANT
- Practice saying ‘no’ – now’s as good a time as any to get rid of the notion that you can do it all. Make slowing down a priority, and get used to the idea of asking your friends and loved ones for help.
- Cut back on chores – and use that time to put your feet up, nap, or read a book.
- Take advantage of sick days or holidays whenever possible – resting at home will help you get through a tough week.
- Try deep-breathing exercises, yoga, or stretching.
- Get regular exercise such as swimming or walking.
- Do your best to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet so you have the physical and emotional energy you need.
- Go to bed early – your body is working overtime to nourish your growing baby and needs all the sleep it can get.
- Limit ‘information overload’ – reading about pregnancy and listening to your friends’ pregnancy stories are fine, but don’t delve into all the scary things that might (but probably won’t) happen.
- Join or create a support group – if you’re coping with a difficult situation, spending time with others in the same boat can ease your burden.
- If you’re under unusual stress or feel like you’re at your breaking point, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a therapist.