Stress affects everyone. But you may feel it more than the average person. You may be hardwired and biochemically programmed to go deep when you feel stressed out.
This is where things get tricky.
Stress doesn’t only destroy your peace of mind. It also makes you physically ill. For example, stress targets:
- Your fear and reward systems
- The wake-sleep centers of your brain
- Cognitive function
- Your thyroid hormones
- Your immune system, weakening your defense against infection
- Your gut health
But new research reveals that your emotional stress may also have something to do with the stress your mother felt when she was pregnant.
Likewise, if you feel on-going stress while pregnant, chances are that you will pass this stress response on to your babe.
This is because stress is largely regulated by your inner ecosystem— or the communities of microbes that live within your body. For example, the microbes living in your gut can produce and transport happy brain chemicals. And some gut bacteria are linked to reduced anxiety.
During fetal development and shortly after birth, a baby picks up the microbes in the environment. This includes the microbes living within a mother’s birth canal. For better or worse, these microbes help shape a baby’s lifelong emotional response to stress.
Unfortunately, research shows that the microbes living within a mother’s birth canal are extremely sensitive to her everyday choices, like:
- Antibiotic use
- Emotional stress
These factors can pollute a pregnant mother’s inner ecosystem and encourage the growth of harmful microbes. These harmful microbes can then disrupt her growing baby’s immune system, metabolism, and neurodevelopment.
Fortunately, research suggests that changes in diet and the addition of probiotic foods can nurture a health inner ecosystem and reduce the negative effects of emotional stress.
One of my favorite prenatal foods is coconut water kefir. It nourishes a mother’s inner ecosystem, supporting the development of her baby’s immune system and a healthy stress response.
Jašarević, E., Rodgers, A. B., & Bale, T. L. (2015). A novel role for maternal stress and microbial transmission in early life programming and neurodevelopment. Neurobiology of stress, 1, 81-88.
Zijlmans, M. A., Korpela, K., Riksen-Walraven, J. M., de Vos, W. M., & de Weerth, C. (2015). Maternal Prenatal Stress is Associated with the Infant Intestinal Microbiota. Psychoneuroendocrinology.