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Pregnancy is a very beautiful and wondrous miracle; however, it can also be very complex and stressful as well. Due to the complexities of pregnancy there is unfortunately a lot that can go wrong for both the mother and child, from different prenatal diseases, to even accidents that occur to the mom and can hurt the child. One specific aspect of such issues with a pregnancy, is chronic or extreme stress and/or stressful situations. Pregnancy itself can be very stressful on a women’s body to begin with, but what happens to the child, if the mother goes through an extremely stressful situation, that isn’t caused by the pregnancy. This is a frequently asked question, that has proved difficult to answer, because it is challenging to decide what exactly stress causes to the baby and which issues from a pregnancy were caused by stress. As complex as this question is, I believe that there are many immensely stressful situations, that could have lifelong impacts on prenatal children. Some of these stressful situations can be anything like mental illnesses of the mother like anxiety or PTSD, it can also include things like starvation, wars and natural disasters. In this paper, I am going to specifically focus on natural disasters. There are also a variety of different reasons within a natural disaster experience that could cause harm to the child; these include a lack of food and clean water, an injury to the mother, an increased level of cortisol in the mother, and even the experience causing PTSD in the mother and how this influences the child. Overall, though I feel some of the results are confusing at times, I believe there is sufficient enough evidence to say that these sources of extreme stress, in this case natural disasters, can cause life long impacts on a baby.

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One scenario I am going to talk about involves the 2005 Tarapaca Earthquake in Chile and the physiological effects ,from the womens’ elevated levels of cortisol, on the unborn children. As described by Florencia Torche in her journal article The Effect of Maternal Stress on Birth Outcomes: Exploiting a Natural Experiment, extreme levels of maternal stress on a prenatal child can cause low birth weights and a decreased gestational age (2011). This in turn can result in “increased mortality, morbidity and developmental problems” (Torche, 2011). The article describes that this 7.9 magnitude earthquake killed 11 people, injured 130 and left 180 residences destroyed and 0.0035% of the population had to relocate. It also caused less economic spending in the area, and caused a raise in the unemployment rate, to 12%. In this research project they wanted to see how the natural disaster influcnced birth weights and development of prenatal children. They started by gathering information about gestational age at delivery, birth weight and height from birth certificates from 2004-2006. They saw that that infants in their second or third trimester were not affected, while those in their first trimester, were more largely affected with low birth weights and decreased gestational age. The first trimester is a very crucial timeframe in child’s development, as this is where most of the child’s organs and body systems are formed. To decrease their time to develop or decrease the rate of their development, can cause immense issues for the child physically, mentally and cognitively. Overall, the research showed that infants in the first trimester experienced a 51 gram decline in birth weights and a 4.7% increase in probability of the child having a low birth weight. This increased the children’s chances of developmental issues and poor health. The average gestational age declined by one-fifth of a week, resulting in an increased number of pre-term births. There was also an increase in the number of fetal deaths, with an average of 7 per trimester. This research shows fairly conclusive evidence in the negative effects of stress on the prenatal infants. However, there were some stipulations with the research, as it is difficult to decipher if the stress was the direct cause of these negative effects. Thus, overall Florencia Torche concludes in her journal article The Effect of Maternal Stress on Birth Outcomes: Exploiting a Natural Experiment, that though the maternal stress may not have been the only or the central factor in the physiological effects on the children, but it is definitely one of the contributing factors and there is a definite connection between the two (2011). 

The other scenario I want to observe involves an Ice storm that hit Quebec, Canada between January 5-9th in 1998. As described in the scholarly article, Using Natural Disasters to Study the Effects of Prenatal Maternal Stress on Child Health and Development, the ice storm poorly affected the development and health prenatal infants of the time (King, Dancause, Turcotte-Tremblay, Veru and Laplante, 2012). The researches wanted to analyze the physical, development and cognitive effects of maternal stress on prenatal infants, specifically regarding this ice storm. The storm caused 10 cm of freezing rain which resulted in damage to over 3000 hydroelectric pylons and toppled 30,000 electric poles. Ultimately, the damage to the electrical poles caused 3 million people to be without power for over a month. The storm also caused 35 deaths through either direct or indirect situations and caused 1.5 million dollars of damage that year. The researches sent specifically designed questioners to women who were pregnant during the time of the storm. The questioner analyzed their direct exposure to the storm, any threats and loses they experienced, and changes they had to deal with. They then used a series of mathematical equations to analyze the subjective stress levels of the women. They also analyzed the women’s direct danger from the storm to get a sense of objective stress as well. They then continued to send questioners to the women annually to analyze their views of how the stress influenced their children. They conducted face-face and medical assessments with the children who ranged from ages 2-13. They observed many aspects of the children’s’ development to see a full range of effects of the maternal stress on the children. These aspects including birth weights, gestational age, BMI’s, cognitive development, neurological and behavioral development. In regard to physical issues they discovered that with women who had more exposure to the storm, had children who were born one-third smaller than the average length of most prenatal infants. Also there earlier the exposure to the high levels of stress, the smaller the infants head-circumference. This could cause cognitive, mental and behavioral disabilities. There was also a noticeable decrease in average birth weights of the infants. All of these put the children at risk for health issues and developmental problems. Another aspect they looked at was how the stress influenced the children’s BMI at birth and for the future. They saw that the prenatal maternal stress caused a 5% variance in the child’s BMI and thus increased their risk for cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and obesity. They believe this might have to do with the stress levels effect on the development of neural pathways that control the children’s metabolism and appetite regulation. However, they concluded that it is difficult to decipher if the maternal stress was directly linked to the increase BMI’s and more research would need to be done on the matter (King, Dancause, Turcotte-Tremblay, Veru and Laplante, 2012).

Another aspect of health that was analyzed in the scholarly article, Using Natural Disasters to Study the Effects of Prenatal Maternal Stress on Child Health and Development, was the maternal stress levels impact on cognitive development and language and neurodevelopment (King, Dancause, Turcotte-Tremblay, Veru and Laplante, 2012). It had already been observed that high levels of cortisol could cause negative neural affects on prenatal infants. The researches in this experience saw, using Mental Development index scores, that the children with mothers who experienced high levels of stress from the ice storm, got a full standard deviation lower on the test. They also analyzed their linguistic abilities, compared to others of their ages, and the children exposed to high levels of maternal stress, could understand 10 fewer and spoke 19 fewer words. This overall difference “accounted for significant 12 and 17% of the overall number of words understood and spoken by the toddlers” (King, Dancause, Turcotte-Tremblay, Veru and Laplante, 2012). The researchers also looked at behavioral development in the children. The analyzed the data using comparatives of objective and subjective stress from the mothers and the influences of variations in the children’s behaviors with dealing with problems. They saw that children between 4-11 years old, whose mothers had high subjective stress experienced an 8-12% variation in their internalization of problems. Showing that they didnt handle problems well, and tended to internalize them without actually dealing with them in appropriate ways. There was also an 8-20% variation of the externalizing of problems in regards to projecting their emotions onto others during distressing times. These behaviors put them at higher risk for mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. They also saw that it also highly influenced children during their puberty. As puberty is already a fundenmental but stressful time of their development, any deficits probed to put them at higher risk for issues. It was seen that adolescent girls of this group, had higher levels of testosterone. In general, elevated levels of testosterone in girls have been linked with issues with alcoholism, antisocial behaviors and psychological disabilities. Thus putting the girls from this experiment at high risk for developing these problems. Deficits were also seen with neuromotor development of the children. The excessive levels of cortisol from the immense stress caused, the womens’ bodies too be less able to filter out the cortisol from the infant. Thus the infants were exposed to high levels of cortisol, which has been shown in the past to cause poor mother fucntion in children. Within the research it was shown that, the children who were exposed to high levels of maternal prenatal distress displayed higher levels of issues with coordination and visual motor integration (King, Dancause, Turcotte-Tremblay, Veru and Laplante, 2012). 

The last effect that was seen with the children from the research experiment, discussed in Using Natural Disasters to Study the Effects of Prenatal Maternal Stress on Child Health and Development, displayed a higher risk of medical issues and illnesses (King, Dancause, Turcotte-Tremblay, Veru and Laplante, 2012). One medical issue that the children showed a substantial variation in, was metabolism and risk for diabetes. The researchers conducted a 30min glucose tolerance examine on small number of the children in their adolescence, and it was observed that those whose mothers experienced high levels of objective stress had greater insulin secretion or insulin resistance, and thus an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. There had also been research that suggested a correlation between maternal stress and the child being at a greater risk for respiratory illnesses and asthma. In this experiment, a phone interview with the mothers was conducted, in which they questioned the mothers about the children respiratory health. It was shown that girls, from mothers with high maternal stress from the time, had higher risk for asthma. The researches also hypothesis a correlation with the amount of stress experienced by the mothers during the storm, and the immune function of the children, however they are still working on building up data for that concept. However, it is shown through their data that the high levels of stress could cause and were causing physical, mental and development deficits in the children. The children suffered from higher levels of lifelong development, learning, and cognitive issues, that could stunt their development overall. They also had higher levels of risk factors for serious physical, mental and medical issues. However, the research does have some stipulations overall, with how closely the relation between the stress levels and the deficits are. They couldn’t be sure how much of the issues were caused by the stress versus other factors. However, even with that being said, I definitely believe that they were still able to show a correlation between the high levels of stress and negative impacts on the children (King, Dancause, Turcotte-Tremblay, Veru and Laplante, 2012). 

Overall, between these two scenarios, I believe that we can see that immense stress does have an impact on prenatal infants. Often times, with any negative outcome for parental infants, there is more than one reason for the issue. I personally believe that the developmental, physical and cognitive issues displayed by the children from these scenarios, were caused by multiple issues and factors. I highly doubt that the high levels of stress and cortisol were the only culprits in the situation.  A variety of things from genetically traced health issues, to things like poor diet, unclean water and poor conditions in natural disasters can also be factors in the childrens’ deficits. This does make research regarding this topic more difficult to substantialize because of the conflicting issues, stipulations and high basis of subjective data. However, I feel that disregarding the data due to these difficulties, would be not only incorrect but irresponsible. As with most issues of the world, there is never a solitary and simple cause and solution to the problem. Many factors contribute to problems and situations, and we have to slowly but surely analyze them all to see a full picture of the situation. We as a society have to see the holistic aspect of these situations regarding prenatal health and development, if we are to ever begin to find solutions. This is why I believe that, though it is not the only factor in the big picture, prenatal maternal stress can cause lifelong consequences and issues for parental infants. 

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