Many women become anxious or depressed during or after pregnancy. They may also experience memory and concentration difficulties. This is partly a result of the “sudden” escalations in hormones and bodily changes, but may also be influenced by a person’s environmental stressors.
Many women become depressed either during their pregnancy or after their babies are born. Research has demonstrated that psychosocial stress - stress related to the psychological state and the social environment - may significantly influence foetal development and infant birth outcomes. Babies are born earlier and are underweight. Specialised medical care is needed to assist these babies towards healthy outcomes.
What research shows
Research projects focus on ways to improve care. Exciting new work at the MRC Unit on Stress and Anxiety Disorders (Department of Psychiatry, University of Stellenbosch), is looking at brain ultrasonography. This involves special ultrasound scanning techniques to look at the foetus’s brain development while still in the womb.
The project addresses the effect of psychological symptoms and mood in mothers, and its subsequent effects on the infant’s physical, behavioural and emotional development.
So, what can you do to cope with stress, anxiety and depressed mood while you are pregnant? Studies have shown that women who are supported by their partner, friends and family cope better with stress during their pregnancy. They and their babies also suffer fewer complications than those who feel alone.
If you do not have a good support network, your clinic sister, GP or gynaecologist can provide you with support. There are also organisations, like the Post Natal Depression Support Association of SA (PNDSA), Life Line and La Leche League, who can provide information and support during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
PNDSA (021) 797 4498
Life Line Cape Town (021) 461 1111 or (011) 728 1347
La Leche League (021) 976 8537 for Durbanville, (021) 930 2475 for Parow, and (021) 393 1634 for Strandfontein.
(Health24, April 2005)