Being a mother can bring numerous mental and physical health benefits, but a new study shows that if mothers have chronic stress during pregnancy, any mental health benefits associated with motherhood are lost.
The research at Ohio State University was conducted using rats. Researchers found that unstressed rat mothers had improved cognitive functioning compared to non-mothers.
Stressed rats on the other hand had no cognitive benefits over non-mothers, according to a university news release. Stressed mother rats also exhibited symptoms of postpartum depression.
Researchers hope the study results and future research can help them understand postpartum depression better, since chronic stress during pregnancy is thought to be a major risk factor for postpartum depression.
Mental health experts and mothers have tips for how moms can avoid chronic stress during pregnancy, therefore receiving the best mental health benefits from motherhood.
Laura Wellington, a mother of a healthy two-and-a-half-year-old boy said in an email that she experienced chronic stress during her pregnancy due to complications of an unsuccessful marriage.
“Keeping up my exercise regime helped, and sleeping in late morning when I could also helped,” Wellington said.
Olivia Bergeron, a clinical social worker in New York, said in an email that there can be multiple causes of chronic stress. These can include marriage issues, unsupportive significant others and work and financial problems.
“Chronic stress during pregnancy may result in depression, and depression during pregnancy is a risk factor for postpartum depression,” Bergeron said.
“PPD can be devastating to new mothers and may inhibit bonding with the new baby.”
Some signs of chronic stress during pregnancy include rumination, sleep problems, low resistance to disease, gastrointestinal complications like stomachaches, panic attacks, chills, abnormal heart beats and numbness, she said.
Pregnant women with chronic stress should turn to their support system for help, as well as professional resources like OB-GYNs, doulas, midwives and even new mother support groups, she added.