In a study published earlier this week, pregnant women who are under mental or physical stress are deemed to have lower chances of conceiving a healthy baby boy. They are also likely to have a higher risk of preterm birth.
“We do know that males are more vulnerable in utero, and presumably, the stress in these women is of a long-standing nature,” said the lead author of the study and director of women’s mental health in OB/GYN at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Catherine Monk.
In this study, women who had higher blood pressure with signs of physical stress revealed a ratio of four boys for every nine girls. Meanwhile, mothers who were undergoing psychological stress had a ratio of two boys for every three girls.
Note: All the women involved in the study had healthy pregnancies.
Monk also detailed that other researchers were able to see a pattern in the decrease of male births with mothers involved in traumatic and tragic events. The author cited the assassination of President Kennedy and the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City as examples of such events.
Compared to those who were experiencing less stress, pregnant mothers who have been under physical pressure had higher chances of giving birth prematurely. Mothers-to-be who were mentally tense had more birth complications than those who were physically stressed.
Researchers involved in the study were surprised to found out that the risk of premature delivery of expectant mothers who received social support — including confidante, therapy, and nurturance — is lower. Also, they found out that the more social support the mom-to-be receives, the higher the chances of conceiving a baby boy.
“The support could be from family and friends. It could be a sense of belonging in a religious community. It’s the sense of social cohesion and social connectedness which research suggests is a buffer against the experiences of stress. It means you take a break from it,” Monk said.
According to a past study, about 30% of women undergo psychological stress from their jobs or anxiety and depression. While this particular study did not go into figuring out if stress impacts pregnancy, there are other studies that mention the role of the stress hormone cortisol.
Another study pointed out that pregnant women who were under a lot of pressure had higher levels of cortisol in their systems. These levels of cortisol were also found in the baby’s amniotic fluid at 17 weeks of gestation.
According to Laura Berman, assistant clinical professor of OB/GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine, stress during pregnancy can be harmful to both mother and baby.
“Being stressed while expecting can increase a woman’s chance of postpartum depression. It can also lead to preterm delivery and low birth weight,” adds Berman, who was not involved in the study.