A Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Dr. Bright Airhumwunde, has revealed that stress in pregnancy could result in poor pregnancy outcomes by predisposing expectant mothers to preterm delivery.
According to the expert, who is a Minimal Access Surgeon and Fertility Specialist at Reddington Multi Specialist Hospital, Ikeja, though stress is a very common condition in pregnancy, especially low to moderate stress, the outcome is worse if it occurs in the first trimester.
During a chat with PUNCH HealthWise, Dr. Airhumwunde said the major foetal outcomes of stress are preterm delivery and low birth weight.
Warning pregnant women to desist from activities that could predispose them to severe stress, the gynaecologist noted that preterm birth is the leading cause of under-five mortality worldwide and the leading cause of death of under-five children in Nigeria.
Besides the risk of preterm delivery, Airhumwunde said pregnant women going through stress are also at the risk of high blood pressure. He said,
“Stress is a very common condition in pregnancy, especially low to moderate stress. About 78 percent of pregnant women have low to moderate stress and in about six percent, it could be severe. The outcome is worse if it occurs in the first trimester.
“It can cause the level of the stress hormone cortisol to increase and this affects the sleep-wake cycle, eventually manifesting as sleeplessness, poor concentration, anxiety, depression and increase in blood pressure, which is a leading cause of maternal and foetal morbidity and mortality in our environment.”
He said factors such as hypertension and diabetes could also predispose women to preterm delivery. Airhumwunde noted,
“The major foetal outcomes of stress are preterm delivery and low birth weight. In childhood, behavioural and cognitive and learning disabilities arising from neurodevelopmental problems in utero (during pregnancy) are linked to maternal stress.”
The World Health Organisation says preterm babies are at risk of developing disabilities that will affect them for their entire lives.
According to the UN health agency, the extent to which this will affect their life strongly depends on how early they were born, the quality of care they received during and around birth and the days and weeks that follow.
“Severe infections are more common among preterm babies. Their immune systems are not yet fully developed, and they have a higher risk of dying if they get an infection.
“Preterm babies are at risk of bleeding in the brain, during birth and in the first few days after birth; about one in five babies weighing less than two kilogrammes have this problem.
“Preterm babies can also have brain injuries from a lack of oxygen. Bleeding or lack of oxygen to the brain can result in cerebral palsy and developmental delays and learning difficulties”,
“In our modern world, many women are now major breadwinners of their families and this further puts a lot of pressure on them.
“Moreover, widespread poverty, mass unemployment especially of women, poor working conditions, family and household responsibilities, strain in relationship with partners and other complications of pregnancy are recognised stressors”,
the expert further said.
He urged pregnant women going through stress to seek treatment. Treatment, he said, include early recognition of the condition and talk therapy.
“Identification of particular stressors and mitigation of same can be of immense help. Exercise, including yoga is important too”,