Anxiety problems are the most prevalent mental health problem in the United States, affecting about one in every five adults, or 40 million individuals. Another 19 million adults suffer from depression, accounting for 8% of the population. Both can be harmful to the heart and the brain.
The Prenatal Condition Can Have Impacts On The Child’s Brain
Although the origins of these conditions are unknown, scholars conclude that at least part of the architecture of mental wellbeing starts before adulthood. The research indicates that it may start in the womb. High levels of prenatal stress during pregnancy will predispose a developing fetus to be psychological and cardiovascular diseases later in life.
According to Jill Goldstein, prenatal trauma does not induce these disorders; rather, it causes susceptibility. She is a professor of psychology and medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is important in the body and fetal development. However, when a woman is subjected to heavy or extended stress during her pregnancy, high levels of cortisol can interfere with the growth of the unborn child’s brain. According to Goldstein, this modification in brain physiology will contribute to hypersensitivity to stress later in life, as well as immune system issues that may pave the way for potential disease susceptibility.
She recently conducted a study that found that middle-aged adults exposed in utero to elevated levels of pro-inflammatory markers due to stress had impaired stress control up to 45 years later. Her team’s previous research found that prenatal stress increases the unborn child’s likelihood of depression, psychosis, and cardiac disease later in life.
However, doctors warn that not all maternal stress causes brain shifts, and not all pregnant women react to anxiety in the same way.
According to Catherine Monk, a professor of medical psychology and director of Women’s Mental Health, Columbia University, NYC, it is not the source of the important stress but how the individual handles it. However, some stress is beneficial because it helps people meet goals or face obstacles; poorly managed or persistent stress is dangerous.
If the mother is nervous during her pregnancy, the infant may be exposed to higher levels of cortisol. According to Monk, this will unconsciously shift the setpoints for the child’s potential reaction to stress.
According to Monk, the mother’s perspective during prenatal growth prepares the infant for what the future will bring. If the infant is born into a dangerous environment, being taught to adapt to high levels of stress is beneficial. They would be more capable of dealing with a peculiar situation, which can be advantageous for survival.
According to her, the issue arises where there is a discrepancy between how the child’s brain has been conditioned and the atmosphere in which the child is born.
A child who is conditioned to respond to high levels of stress but is born into a stable and non-threatening atmosphere may struggle with anxiety, according to Monk, because that degree of caution and alertness is not required.
However, it is also important for women to understand that the alterations to the baby’s brain that occur during pregnancy are not permanent.
According to Monk, brain growth is most rapid in the womb, but it still happens a lot in the first 3 years of life.
According to a 2018 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, one of every 20 women of childbearing age in the United States and about 13% of pregnant women suffer from depression. Black women are particularly vulnerable. They are more likely than any other population to experience fatigue, anxiety, and depression symptoms when pregnant.
According to Monk, doctors treating pregnant women should pay attention to their emotional and physical health because of the possible long-term health effects.