By Korin Miller. Photos: Maureen Dougherty.
You’ve probably heard at some point that pregnancy is supposed to be a relaxing time—you’ll spend your days kicking back, enjoying good food, buying cute baby clothes, and being pampered while you grow a tiny human being. But the reality is anything but for some women, and new research has found that being stressed out during your pregnancy, especially when it comes to finances, can have an impact on the baby.
For the study, which was conducted by the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, researchers asked pregnant women questions about how difficult it would be for them to live on their current income while factoring in medical bills, housing, and other expenses related to having a baby. Researchers discovered that the more stressed out women were about finances, the more likely they were to have babies with a low birth weight. (Babies with low birth weight are at a higher risk of having serious health problems, such as respiratory and digestive issues, and a higher risk of obesity and heart disease later in life.)
Surprisingly, it wasn’t dependent on how much money a woman and/or her partner made. Meaning, women across all income levels felt stressed out about money—it was the perception of financial strain that made a difference.
It's no secret that babies aren't cheap, and it's understandable that moms-to-be might worry about being able to afford one. Results from a USDA survey released in 2015 found that a two-parent family with a middle-class income ($59,200–$107,400) will spend approximately $12,980 each year on a child. The survey also found that middle-income parents of a child born in 2015 can expect to spend $233,610 for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise a child through age 17 (and that doesn't include a college education).
Principal study investigator Lisa M. Christian, Ph.D., an associate professor at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s department of psychiatry and behavioral health, psychology, and obstetrics and gynecology, points out that financial stressors are indirect as well. Women who stressed out about caring for the baby after birth, how her work might be impacted, and finding child care were also impacted.
Stress can alter a woman’s diet, exercise, and sleep habits, which directly affects her cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune function, Christian says—and that can impact the baby. “That being said, financial stress is unique in that preparing for a baby presents new very significant expenses, which can be very burdensome for women who are already experiencing financial strain,” Christian says.
If you or someone you love is freaked out about the ability to afford a child, Christian says it’s important to get help. As a first line of defense, women can reach out to friends or family to talk about their concerns. “This can help them to problem-solve and find solutions and also to emotionally cope with problems that may not be easily solved,” she says. Many women also can benefit from formal support groups, stress management programs, and psychological counseling, she says.
It should go without saying but sometimes needs repeating: It’s important to take care of yourself, especially when you’re pregnant. “During pregnancy women should be encouraged to take care of themselves not only for the sake of the pregnancy but also for their own health and well-being,” Christian says.
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
More from Glamour: