Mums-to-be urged to stress less

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Mums-to-be shouldn’t worry unnecessarily about potential risks during their pregnancy, with Perth researchers suggesting that over-inflated perceptions of risk could be causing more harm than the risks themselves.

... overestimating risk in pregnancy can lead to higher stress levels in pregnant women which in turn can have a negative impact on the unborn child’s future physical and mental health.

... while obstetric care in Australia has come a long way, risk in pregnancy has not been eliminated altogether and the baseline risk for birth defects is estimated at up to 5% regardless of risk exposure.

... “Pregnant women are inundated with do’s and don’ts during pregnancy, and along with this is an expectation that a healthy baby will be assured if a woman does everything right.”

“This can lead to a heightened sense of awareness of risks, and to a feeling of personal blame if something goes wrong. This can all result in women over-estimating the risks involved with pregnancy, particularly exposures during pregnancy.”

There are a number of factors that may influence the development of an over-estimation of risk ... The Thalidomide disaster of the early 1960s and the suffering that it caused also diminished the public trust in the safety of medication during pregnancy.

Dr Robinson said higher stress during pregnancy can also lead to increased stress for the mother postnatally.

“A stressful pregnancy is linked to an increased risk for postnatal depression. What we are concerned about is that the stress caused by over-estimating risks present during pregnancy may be causing more damage than the feared risks themselves,” ...

“To promote accurate and sensible risk assessment, it is important to develop a relationship of trust between the patient and the person providing obstetric care, be it an obstetrician, midwife, GP or other professional involved in the perinatal period.”

Dr Robinson said it would also be useful to support women who are anxious or worried about risks during pregnancy through increased antenatal education, and through available psychological services within maternity hospitals and the community.