In an article today on Slate.com, science and medical columnist Amanda Schaffer provides evidence that refutes the belief that worrying or anxiety leads to problems with infertility, premature birth, or developmental delays in children. For today’s generation of childbearing women, the worry over worrying is a vicious cycle. With women who are trying to get pregnant, they are told not to become too anxious about the process — that worrying about it can prolong conception. With women who are pregnant, they are told to monitor their levels of anxiety of stress, as it may lead to premature birth or cause later harm to their child’s development. As if we don’t have enough to think about during pregnancy, now we’re told we should worry about our worrying!
But Schaffer says it doesn’t have to be so:
…the reigning impression is wrong: The weight of evidence suggests that moderate levels of stress and anxiety do none of the things we fear. They seem not to affect whether women are able to conceive, whether they carry the fetus to term, or whether their kids reach normal developmental milestones. (If anything, some maternal stress during pregnancy seems to make kids mature a little faster.)
How did we create a culture that is obsessed over stress? More than likely, it’s the abundance of media and messaging we receive on a daily basis. Think about it — how many tabloids, websites, and social media messages have you seen in the last week that comment on a celebrity’s pregnancy? As Shaffer puts it, “A finding here, an anecdote there—women can easily get the wrong idea.”
So what does the evidence say? With regard to fertility, a meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal, which included more than 3,500 women, found: “Women’s emotional state before IVF bore no relationship to whether the treatment worked. In other words, women with more extreme levels of anxiety or depression were just as likely to get pregnant after a single cycle as women with milder levels.”
As for pregnancy, in a study that interviewed 78,000 Danish women, researchers found that “those who reported higher levels of life stress and more emotional symptoms like anxiety when they were 30 weeks pregnant did tend to give birth earlier. But the difference was pretty minimal: The women with the highest life-stress scores gave birth, on average, about two days before women with lower scores.”
And about child development? Take heart in knowing that your anxiety could actually help your child! Schaffer shares: “The most persuasive of these papers suggest that mild to moderate stress during pregnancy doesn’t hamper babies’ maturation—if anything, it may slightly hasten it.”
Of course, the article makes it clear that regardless of the findings, women who have worries or anxiety are encouraged to seek support, but as Schaffer says, “they should do so for their own sakes—not because distress will ruin their shot at motherhood or somehow damage their fetuses.”
To read the complete article, including more details about the included studies, visit Slate.com.