Bringing a new life into this world is an incredible and transformative life experience. While pregnancy attracts significant attention in terms of health for mother and baby, the importance of preconception care often goes unnoticed. Preconception care involves taking proactive steps to optimize the health of hopeful parents before conception takes place. There is a growing body of evidence into understanding the effects of stress and cortisol (the primary stress hormone), on reproductive health and the potential impact on the baby such that we now know it is a critical aspect of preconception care.
What is preconception care?
Preconception care is a proactive approach aimed at enhancing fertility, reducing the risk of pregnancy complications, and ensuring a healthy pregnancy. By prioritizing preconception care, couples can increase their chances of conceiving successfully and provide an optimal environment for the baby’s optimal health and development.
Did you know stress, both physical and mental/emotional, can have an impact on reproductive health? When the body experiences stress, it releases cortisol, which plays a crucial role in the body’s stress response. Chronic (excessive) stress can lead to dysregulation of cortisol levels, resulting in adverse effects on reproductive function and health.
How stress can affect your baby.
During pregnancy, maternal stress and elevated cortisol levels can influence the developing baby in multiple ways. Research suggests that high maternal stress and cortisol levels may increase the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental issues in the child. Furthermore, prenatal stress can also affect the baby’s neurodevelopment, potentially leading to behavioral and cognitive difficulties later in life.
Maternal stress and cortisol can induce epigenetic (Epigenetics refers to the modifications in gene expression that occur without changing the underlying DNA sequence) changes in the baby’s DNA. This may have long-lasting effects on their health and well-being. These changes can impact various aspects, including the immune system, stress response, and mental health.
What does preconception care look like?
Now of course we are not sharing this valuable information to further increase your stress. We want to bring an awareness to the importance of stress management strategies for those in the pre conception and pregnancy phase of life. This includes techniques such as exercise, relaxation exercises, mindfulness meditation, potentially nutrient supplements and seeking social or mental health support can help reduce stress levels and regulate cortisol production. Prioritizing self-care, establishing healthy coping mechanisms, and engaging in activities that promote relaxation are highly advised during preconception care and pregnancy.
Preconception care creates a solid foundation for successful conception and a healthy baby. Understanding the impact of stress and cortisol on fertility, pregnancy outcomes, and the long-term well-being of the baby is essential. By actively managing stress, regulating cortisol levels, and seeking professional guidance when needed, individuals can optimize their reproductive health and provide the best possible start for their future child.
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- Monk C, Georgieff MK, Osterholm EA. Research Review: Maternal prenatal distress and poor nutrition – mutually influencing risk factors affecting infant neurocognitive development. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013;54(2):115-130.
- Oberlander TF, Weinberg J, Papsdorf M, et al. Prenatal exposure to maternal depression, neonatal methylation of human glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) and infant cortisol stress responses. Epigenetics. 2008;3(2):97-106.
- Schreier HM, Entringer S, Mueller B, et al. The association between perceived prenatal stress and brain morphology in 6-7-year-old children: Results from a prospective longitudinal cohort family study. Neuroimage. 2014;103:33-41.