If have been a patient of mine, or have followed some of my writing recently, you are probably aware of my mentioning of the body’s stress hormone cortisol. If you want a brief refresher, go HERE to read more.
Often I talk with women who are struggling with fertility, how the mere fact of not being able to get pregnant alone is a huge stress. Whether it be pressure from friends and their having babies, or multiple sources of information like blogs and message boards; all you want is answers and options to increase and optimize your fertility health. I commonly tell them that this stress in of itself is not great because mental stress is one of the physiological drivers of the cortisol response.
Whether struggling to get pregnant, or hoping to optimize your fertility health for a healthy baby, control of your stress hormone is vital. First of all, stress hormone output affects progesterone, the pregnancy hormone. Long-term output can lead to a deficiency to it’s production not-to-mention other important vitamins and minerals. In the end, progesterone production is not optimal (medically it is normal, but for optimal functioning it is not).
Second, and this is the big point I talk to women about, is the affects that it can have on a fetus and developing baby. Recently this year at the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience, research was presented showing that exposure of the developing fetus to excessive levels of stress hormones (cortisol) in the womb may lead to mood disorders in later life for the child.
Another study showed that “exposure to elevated concentrations of cortisol early in gestation was associated with a slower rate of development over the first postnatal year and lower scores on mental development tests”.
Also, in a study from The Practicing Midwife Journal showed that women with higher levels of anxiety or stress had decreased blood flow through the uterus which correlated to smaller birth weight babies. Also of significance was the connection of mom’s stress hormone levels and her fetus. They concluded what other researchers are showing which is mothers with higher stress hormone levels may impact the development of the fetal brain and the child’s response to stress later in life.
One of my mentors in functional medicine brought this to my attention as well many years ago. This is fascinating to me that women and moms-to-be can affect their baby’s brain health while they are in utero. Getting control of the stress hormone response is vital to optimizing your baby’s brain development and lowering the risk for longer-term stress related disorders. So what impacts the body’s stress hormone? Read HERE for a review, but include: blood sugar imbalance, long-term medication use (including birth control), traumatic psychological stress (divorce, death), poor sleep habits, and a less-than-optimal diet.
It is important for you and the health of your baby to be evaluated by a functional medicine practitioner to help address these underlying components.
British Neuroscience Association (2013, April 7). Fetal exposure to excessive stress hormones in the womb linked to adult mood disorders.
Child Dev. 2010 January ; 81(1): 131–148. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01385.x
Lancet. 1998 Aug 29;352(9129):707-8. Fetal Exposure to maternal cortisol