Of Asthma And Anxiety And Things That Go Bump In The Pregnant Night

10 years ago
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This just in: maternal stress can cause health issues for children. Specifically, it can, apparently, cause asthma.

According to the Canadian Medical Study, reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, children whose mothers suffer prolonged depression or anxiety appear to have a higher rate of asthma than other youngsters, independent of other risk factors for the increasingly common respiratory condition.

They don't know how or why maternal stress (which was categorized, in the study, by onset and duration into four categories: no distress, postpartum distress, short-term distress and long-term distress, as determined by things like reports of stress to doctors, taking medication for stress, depression or anxiety, etc) causes such health issues, but the lead scientist in the study said that depressed or anxious mothers are more likely to engage in behaviours that increase the risk of asthma in children, such as smoking. "Aside from that ... depressed mothers are less likely to interact with their infants," she said, noting that studies of laboratory rats show that pups with inattentive mothers have abnormal immune and stress responses. The same, she said, may be true for humans.

Having said that, though, the authors of the study insist that "mothers should not take the findings to mean that they are to blame for their children's asthma."

Which, fine, okay. But that doesn't mean that this information isn't going to cause me even more stress and anxiety than I already experience as an expectant mother. Seriously.

We all know that being pregnant is - or can seem - a long, difficult journey filled with untold risks and dangers. Anything and everything, it seems, can cause birth defects or health problems or contribute to low fetal self-esteem. And all of these risks and dangers contribute to maternal or prenatal stress. They do for me.

When we talk about maternal depression and anxiety, we don't talk a lot about pre-partum depression and anxiety. But truth is, pregnancy can be one of the most stressful events of a woman's life. This is especially true if it's Baby #2 or #3 or - holy hells - 3 and 4; anxiety about the pregnancy is often confounded by anxiety about how one's other children are faring or will fare. Liz at Hilarity Ensues reported the other day that:

I saw the OB on Friday and let loose a litany of complaints and cried a little, too. I went down the list: exhausted, still barfing, feeling fragile and concerned about another round of depression creeping up, feeling immensely guilty for not paying enough attention to Henry and not feeling as though I’ve had any in-utero bonding with this baby in the same way as I did with Henry.

Mrs Chicky has also been wringing her hands over the emotional toll of a second pregnancy:

I need to learn more patience than I ever thought I could possibly need. But until I do, I'm failing. Or should I say I feel like I'm failing. I know I'm doing the best job I can but there are those days when that's just not enough... These days are precious. I may have another almost-three year old again but it won't be Chicky. I'll never get these days back and I fear my memories of this time will be filled with Come Here's and Stop That's and Are You Listening To Me's?

And at the more extreme end of the anxiety scale, an anonymous poster at my confessional blog, The Basement, recently posted that:

I had major PPD after my second child, and I am already feeling depressed just thinking about how exhausting having 3 is going to be (ed note: the 3 turned out to be 3 and 4 - TWINS)... I am afraid mostly because I think back to when I had my newborn son and my 18 month old daughter way back when, and I ended up having suicidal thoughts... I am just hoping that this time will be easier.

I worried about everything during my first pregnancy. I worried myself into a state of full-on pre-partum depression, which became post-partum depression, which I survived, but still. It was awful. This time around, I don't worry so much about caffeine and sushi and sleeping on my back (though that sucks) as I do about, well, worrying, and the effect that worrying has upon my first child.

Now, it seems, I have to worry about its effect upon my unborn child, too. Someone pass me my meds.

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