The Mommy Worry Wars

From Slate:

The punishing epicenter of anxiety obsession is women’s fertility and pregnancy. Women who have trouble conceiving often believe that their own distress is making it harder to conceive. And who can blame them, when even fertility centers urge them to create a “stress-free environment.” And of course, with pregnancy, the worry doesn’t end—it’s just beginning. Scattershot reports link anxiety to miscarriage or preterm birth with random speculation, as in: Will Kim Kardashian’s divorce stress hasten the birth of her baby? Will emotional symptoms during pregnancy cause developmental delays? A finding here, an anecdote there—women can easily get the wrong idea.

And the reigning impression is wrong: The weight of evidence suggests that moderate levels of stress and anxiety do none of the things we fear. They seem not to affect whether women are able to conceive, whether they carry the fetus to term, or whether their kids reach normal developmental milestones. (If anything, some maternal stress during pregnancy seems to make kids mature a little faster.) This doesn’t mean, of course, that women with anxiety shouldn’t seek care and support. But they should do so for their own sakes—not because distress will ruin their shot at motherhood or somehow damage their fetuses.Take fertility. In 2011, British psychologists pulled together data from 14 studies of in vitro fertilization. In each study, researchers asked women to assess their emotional distress, anxiety, or depression. Then they followed them through a single cycle of fertility treatment to see whether they got pregnant or not. The smaller individual studies arrived at disparate results, but the meta-analysis rolling up all the findings, which included over 3,500 women and appeared in the BMJ, was fairly definitive: Women’s emotional state before IVF bore no relationship to whether the treatment worked. In other words, women with more extreme levels of anxiety or depression were just as likely to get pregnant after a single cycle as women with milder levels. “It was a great relief,” said psychologist Jacky Boivin, who has counseled women struggling with infertility for years and who led the meta-analysis team.

More here.