In a recent study, researchers uncovered another negative effect that stress can potentially have on pregnancy: low sperm count in male offspring.
Keep reading to find out:
The study’s background, method, and findings
Other ways stress can be harmful
Tips for managing stress while pregnant
The Study: Effects of Stress on Pregnancies
Although male infertility affects around a third of male-female couples who can’t conceive, much is still unknown about its exact cause. Prior studies have suggested that certain chemicals result in abnormal prenatal reproductive development in males. Because stress releases a similar kind of chemical, researchers are setting out to learn more about maternal stress and its effects on male reproductive function.
The study began in 1989. Science Dailyreports the “findings come from the Western Australia's Raine Study, a multi-generational study that recruited nearly 3,000 women in their 18th week of pregnancy in the period between May 1989 and November 1991. The mothers completed questionnaires at 18 and 34 weeks' gestation, and each survey included questions about stressful life events during the preceding four months of pregnancy.”
These “stress life events” include, but are not limited to:
Death of a close relative or friend
Marital problems, separation, or divorce
Problems with children
Involuntary job loss (personally experienced or experienced by a partner)
The male babies born were asked to provide samples in order to test sperm quality and testosterone concentrations upon their 20th birthdays.
The results showed that the men who had been exposed to a stressful life event during early gestation (0-18 weeks) had lower quality sperm and weaker testosterone concentrations than the men who were not exposed, and men who were exposed later in the gestation period (18-34 weeks).
“This suggests that maternal exposure to stressful life events during early pregnancy, a vulnerable period for the development of male reproductive organs, may have important life-long adverse effects on men's fertility,” the researchers write.
However, the researchers also note that it is unlikely that maternal stress alone could be responsible for male infertility. The more plausible hypothesis is that stress could be one of several contributing factors.
Additional Impacts of Stress
Before we get to how stress can affect your pregnancy, let’s talk about how stress can affect you as an individual.
While a little bit of stress is natural, sustained periods of heavy stress can have both physical and psychological negative effects.
Physical effects of stress
Sore or achy muscles and joints
Spasms of inexplicable pain
Hives, excessive sweating, or hair loss
Stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, or constipation
Headaches, or tension in your jaw and/or neck
A weaker immune system
High blood pressure
Psychological effects of stress
Constantly feeling irritated or angry
Now, how can stress affect your pregnancy?
Women who suffer severe, prolonged stress during pregnancy are more likely to have a premature baby or an underweight baby. This can lead to complications following the birth of the baby.
Quick tips for stress-management
Stress can make being pregnant even more difficult than it already is, especially if your stress is pregnancy-related.
Reflect: Try to identify the individual things that you’re stressed about. This will make it easier to confront your fears and manage your worries.
Reach out: Talk to a family member, friend, or partner. If you think you need additional help or want some outside perspective, find a therapist or group to go to.
Journal: Start keeping a journal. The act of writing down your thoughts can be very therapeutic. And, if you don’t know what exactly you’re worried about, this could help you figure it out.
Express yourself: Dedicate time to doing something creative, like painting, playing music, or building something. If you’re not much of an artist, try an adult coloring book!
Get moving: If you haven’t already, ask your doctor about exercise. Once you determine what’s safe, try to find a physical activity that you enjoy.
Get educated: Take a childbirth class to make you feel more prepared. If that sounds stress-inducing, try easing into it by looking up basic tips (like breathing exercises) first, then build up to finding a class.
Have a game plan: Talk to your employer so you can plan ahead and feel more reassured about maternity leave.
Accommodate: If you can’t continue having fun the ways you did before, find activities to replace them. For instance, if you miss going out to the bar with your friends, try asking them to stay in and have a movie night instead!
Still feeling overwhelmed? Check out these online resources for advice and opportunities to bond with other pregnant women online!
Sometimes stress is unavoidable, and being pregnant introduces a whole new realm of stress into your life. Just remember that you’re allowed to feel however you’re feeling, and try to manage your stress the best you can. And never forget: You’re one tough mother—and going to be a great mom.
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