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Participants were asked three specific questions about financial strain: “How difficult is it for you to live on your total household income right now?” “In the next two months, how likely is it that you and your family will experience actual hardships, such as inadequate housing, food, or medical attention?” and “How likely is it that you and your family will have to reduce your standard of living to the bare necessities in life?” Respondents answered the questions on a five-point scale, and high financial stress levels were linked to low birth weight in their babies.
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Low birth weight, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a weight under 5.5 pounds at birth, affects 8.1 percent of babies born in the U.S, according to the study. According to the March of Dimes, an organization for premature babies, low-birthweight babies may be more likely to experience diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, or obesity later in life. The study results should be taken with a grain of salt considering its small size, but other research suggests that prenatal stress in general can lead to increased risk of developing ADHD, anxiety, and language delays. (Get the secret to banishing belly bulge from women who’ve done it with Women’s Health’s Take It Off! Take It All Off! DVD)
Of course, no mom wants this for their baby, but for many, financial stress is inevitable. Raising a child is expensive—not to mention the price tag on giving birth itself. So what can moms-to-be do to mitigate stress during pregnancy? Lead author Mitchell says there’s more work to be done on treatment options for prenatal stress.
“Research continues to identify activities that specifically reduce pregnancy-related anxiety,” Mitchell tells Women’s Health. “Having said that, activities that have been shown to reduce stress, such as mindfulness, various relaxation techniques, and receiving support from family and friends are recommended for any pregnant woman exposed to different types of stressors. Many women may also benefit from formal support groups or counseling services.”
Mary Jane Minkin M.D., an ob-gyn and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine, stresses that all women should seek out prenatal care and ask for help if they need it.
“I would certainly encourage women to speak with their providers if they are feeling stressed; and counseling should be available,” she tells Women’s Health. “Medications are also available if needed (there are safe meds to use during pregnancy.) And mind-body intervention is worth considering: Mindfulness techniques, meditation, yoga all can be helpful.”
Mitchell says that since financial stress is so common, pregnant women should also turn to their support networks rather than shouldering the anxiety alone. “Some pregnant women may find that they are able to navigate their financial concerns or pregnancy-related anxiety using their existing coping tools,” she says. “On the other hand, some women may find that it would be most helpful to seek out additional support or develop new tools during this time period.”