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Prenatal Maternal Stress Outcomes Report (Assessment)

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Updated: May 6th, 2022

Recent research studies indicate that prenatal stress is associated with multiple negative health outcomes both in mother and an infant. The effects of early exposure to stress on the fetus are especially significant because it is observed that the excess level of maternal stress hormones provokes the adverse developmental outcomes: impaired physiological growth, shortened gestation period, cognitive and neurological underdevelopment (Monk, Spicer, & Champagne, 2012).

Stress usually occurs as a result of the external factors such as socioeconomic status, poor environmental condition, or problems in the relationships. Across the thirty states in the USA, over 70% of mothers encounter at least one stressful event throughout the pregnancy (Child health USA, 2013). It is observed that the excess level of prenatal stress more frequently occurs in the women from the minor ethnic groups, and the encountering with the stressful events caused by the social and economic factors is especially common among the American Indian mothers who report the experiences over six stressful occasions during pregnancy (Child health USA, 2013).

The adverse developmental outcomes provoked by exposure to stress may include severe impairments, psycho-emotional problems, and cognitive underdevelopment that may interfere with the social and academic performance of a child at the later stages of his/her development. Moreover, such adverse developmental outcomes may be regarded as new stress factors for the child’s family. Therefore, the intervention of prenatal stress exposure is important because it can help to avoid many social and medical complications.

The period of prenatal development may be regarded as a very subtle phase of the fetus’ growth. At this stage, the brain and its basic neurophysiologic functions commence forming, and any external influence and interference with the delicate and complex embryonic development may negatively affect the structure of the infant’s brain system. The prenatal exposure to stress has significant outcomes throughout the lifespan.

A growing body of research indicates that the maternal stress significantly affects the infant’s nervous system and shortens the period of gestation, and these negative consequences are considered the major risk factors for the occurrence of health conditions, emotional problems, and cognitive impairments in an exposed child (Humphreys, 2015). It is observed that along with the cognitive functions, the prenatal stress influences the formation of a child’s temperament which can be manifested in externalized behaviors, problems with anger retention, or an irrational reaction to challenges in life (Monk et al., 2012). Moreover, the problems may occur in the child’s inability to concentrate attention, or the delayed motor and cognitive development which may persist into adulthood (Monk et al., 2012).

The research of causes and effects of prenatal stress helped to achieve significant results in the elaboration of effective intervention practices that allow mothers to improve their life quality, reduce the level of stress hormones, and, as a result, minimize the negative developmental complications. Nowadays, the stress hormone cortisol is perceived as a main biological mechanism that increases the risks of the adverse health outcomes during pregnancy (Urizar & Munoz, 2011).

The investigation of the prenatal cortisol levels associated with the maternal anxiety, depression, or distress revealed the significant impacts on the mothers and their children. The research findings became a basis for the development of treatment practices such as cognitive-behavioral stress management aimed to decrease the level of cortisol in the pregnant women through their compliance with the standard behavioral strategies and performance of relaxation activities (Urizar & Munoz, 2011).

For a long time, the cognitive and behavioral treatment was commonly regarded as an effective method for the reduction of stress and depression symptoms in non-pregnant clinical and regular population. But recently, the researchers could evaluate the efficiency of intervention in the pregnant women as well – the findings of the research revealed that by following the professional instructions and minimizing the psychological influence of external and internal stressors the women demonstrated the significant decrease in the level of stress hormones (Urizar & Munoz, 2011). In this way, the infants’ exposure to stress can be minimized, and the negative developmental outcomes can be prevented.


According to the evidence provided through the evaluation of cortisol’s negative influences on the prenatal development, the effective intervention practice should be aimed at the decrease of the stress hormone level in a pregnant woman. The practices included in cognitive, and behavioral stress management can help women to create a healthier environment for their infants’ growth. The effective stress management practices include training for the development of sound social relationships and improvement of own psychological and emotional state through the “reinforcing positive activities” (Urizar & Munoz, 2011).

Throughout the course of the intervention, the pregnant women learn to recognize their maladaptive emotions and thoughts and attempt to correct them (Urizar & Munoz, 2011). It is also important to raise a woman’s awareness of potential available social support networks. Since many pregnant single women feel stressed because of to the lack of social and family support, the provision of the information about the institutions where they can address for help may significantly relieve the level of their distress.

The cognitive behavioral stress management strategies help women to lead healthier lifestyles and improve the quality of life for themselves and their children. Health education and provision of risk information increases the level of awareness and motivates for the independent practice of the learned activities and knowledge after the course completion. And it is possible to say that the sustainable autonomous engagement in the practice of stress management activities leads to the normalization of cortisol’s level and prevention of prenatal developmental abnormalities.


Child health USA. (2013). . Web.

Humphreys, A. (2015). Prenatal maternal stress: Neurological and physiological impacts on offspring. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, 30(1), 17-27. Web.

Monk, C., Spicer, J., & Champagne, F. A. (2012). . Development and Psychopathology, 24(4), 1361–1376. Web.

Urizar, G. G., & Muñoz, R. F. (2011). Impact of a prenatal cognitive-behavioral stress management intervention on salivary cortisol levels in low-income mothers and their infants. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36(10), 1480-1494. Web.

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