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Posted 12 months ago
Of the nearly 1.8 million singleton babies born in Denmark during the study, 2.5 percent of mothers (or roughly 45,000 women) had gone through the loss of a close relative—a parent, sibling, partner, or child—during their pregnancy or in the year immediately prior to conception. Babies born to the women who had faced the severe stress of losing a close relative were slightly more likely to be born with a congenital heart defect than those whose mothers had not dealt with this particular stress.
This particular study hit close to home for me because my youngest daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. I don't know if my own levels of stress had anything to do with her condition, but I do know that in the middle of my pregnancy I faced enormous stress. My husband lost his job as a consulting engineer due to the downturn in construction that the nation was suddenly facing. With twins in preschool and a baby on the way, no income, and no insurance, I was scared. He got a new job quickly—a great one—but it was in another state. We faced two of life's biggest changes: a job change and a move.
Although the Denmark study is not conclusive, it does suggest that avoiding major stress during pregnancy might reduce the risk of heart defects in developing babies. Of course, the death of a relative or loss of a job comes on no one's schedule, and avoiding such stress may not be possible. But steps can be taken to reduce the effects of stress on a pregnant woman.
If you are in the middle of a very stressful situation, such as the loss of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, or another situation, it's probably not the best time to try to conceive. But if you are already pregnant and face a stressful life event, the best you can do is try to minimize its effects.