Maternal trauma may affect babies…even before conception

This was intriguing — a study of rats who were exposed to trauma even prior to conception had offspring that had noticeably different behavior, compared to rats that were not traumatized. Although it would be unethical to deliberately traumatize pregnant or “trying to conceive” women, this prospective rodent study could forge the pathway to do a retrospective study on women who underwent trauma before becoming pregnant, or sometime during their pregnancies, to see how it affected their babies, or if it affected them at all. It makes sense, though, that if a woman is traumatized in some way, that it will affect her attitude and personality (few people can escape a horrific car wreck, a house fire, losing a parent to cancer, or something like that completely unscathed), and this may make a subtle difference in the way she interacts with her baby, which may make a difference in how the baby reacts in social situations. For instance, it may make a normal woman into a “nervous Nellie” which may lead her to be overly protective and even stifling of her baby, so s/he gets limited interaction with people other than his mother or perhaps close family. While this in and of itself is not necessarily bad, if the mom overreacts to strangers approaching her, for example, it may teach her baby to be inordinately scared of strangers as well.

It’s not something I would worry too much about — especially since most types of trauma are (almost by definition) unforeseen and unavoidable. However, if you know a woman who had a traumatic experience even prior to getting pregnant, you now have a bit more reason to hug her a little more closely, lend a helping hand, or provide a shoulder to lean on or to cry on.

6 Responses

  1. Your post makes me think of all the 911 women who were pregnant and lost their husbands in the Trade centers and the Pentagon. I used to watch all the news shows and cry when they were interviewed. It would be fascinating to do a follow up on them and how they are coping as mothers.

  2. Yes, RR that would be an interesting thing to do. It would also go nicely in line with my theory on Mothers who deliver crack babies. Not that I believe it is OK to deliver a crack baby. I just think in order to help them, we need to meet them where they are. If I am going to be of any help, I have to be able to communicate with them. Only then do I stand a chance of helping them.

    W2W I agree that where your head is at has a lot to do with how labor goes. In nursing school we learned the 4 0r 5 Ps. Which were the pelvis, the power (uterus contraction) the push, the passenger (how big the baby is. What position) and the psyche (where the Mother’s head is at). I am not sure they teach that anymore. I will have to look in my new textbook.

  3. Wow! Fascinating stuff.

  4. RR — yes, I hadn’t thought about — it would be fascinating.

    Pinky — I know several birth books talk about “the three Ps of obstetrics”, leaving out push and psyche. It’s refreshing to know that at least some in-hospital birth attendants pay attention to the mother’s state of mind, and not just treat her like a baby-producing machine, and that X+Y should always equal Z, and if it doesn’t, then it must be a problem with her body. I’ve heard too many stories of mental issues (previous abortion, having been adopted, previous stillbirth, etc.) that can cause hang-ups in labor, even though all the other factors seem to be right in line, so nothing “should” be going wrong… leading too often to FTP or CPD diagnosis.

  5. Wow… this actually worries me a little bit. I’m 13 weeks pregnant and we just had a house fire the other night, and we’ve also been stressing out really badly ever since we found out I was pregnant because my husband got rejected from grad school the next day and we were making just enough to support two of us before. Any recommendations on how to NOT let maternal trauma adversely affect babies?

    • Mrs. W —

      I’m so sorry to hear about that! It must be so difficult to go through things like that!

      People deal with trauma in different ways, so some of these may not be a good fit for you, but they’re all aimed at bringing down stress hormones. First, maintain a good and loving relationship with your husband — hold tight to each other when you’re both scared, rather than letting hard times force you apart. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to accept help that is offered, particularly emotional support from those around you. Find some form of relaxation that works for you, whether prayer, meditation, yoga, relaxation CDs, relaxation exercises, deep breathing, etc. Take some time just to talk to your baby and connect with him or her. Tell him you love him/her, and that everything is all right. (Even if you think that’s too weird or hokey or the baby can’t hear or understand, taking the time to do it will help you.

      On to the finances — it can be very tough to face, but if you can get that part of your life under control, it will help bring more peace and harmony into your lives. Check out Dave Ramsey’s website and radio program (available on hundreds of stations nationwide, plus you can listen live online from 2-5 p.m. Eastern), for lots of resources on this subject; and get the book “The Complete Tightwad Gazette” (which is 3 books in one, or you can buy it in its original parts, The Tightwad Gazette I, II, and III), which is crammed full of all sorts of tips and tricks and most importantly, strategies to minimize your expenses so that you live well on a tight budget. Some of the information is a little dated (being 10-15 years old), but most of it is timeless.

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