Can work stress affect baby?

I have been experiencing some spotting, and after an ultrasound my doctor gave me a shot of progesterone and ordered me to take it easy for a few days. What contributes to a low progesterone level? Is stress at all involved? I work at a high stress job and if it is a danger to my baby, I will consider leaving it.

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Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

Studies have shown that stress may play a part in maternal health and therefore in fetal health and well being. For example, women who stand for more than 4 hours at a job without a break have a higher risk of preterm labor.

It is difficult to "quantify" stress and there are often so many other contributing variables (age, smoking, chemicals, alcohol...) that it is difficult to study the true effect of stress upon pregnancy. But pregnancy puts a considerable demand upon a woman's emotional and physical state, so it is important to eliminate, if possible, anything which could potentially negatively impact the pregnancy.

There are mixed reviews of progesterone supplementation in pregnancy. The reason for lower levels of this hormone are insufficient implantation of the fertilized ovum and inadequate ovarian follicle formation. Some women have a chronic "luteal phase defect" where they may ovulate but the ruptured follicle does not produce enough progesterone to support the continuation of a pregnancy.

Spotting per se, however, does not mean there is a progesterone deficit. Many women have bleeding in pregnancy and it has no consequence at all.

Before pregnancy, this deficit can be seen with basal body temperatures as well as by more sophisticated means such as hormonal assays and ultrasound.

The benefit of bedrest and "taking it easy" is debatable also. Most studies say this does not offer significant benefit in larger samples of women. But if your job is stressful and you work long hours on your feet, "rest" is precisely what you need.

If anything should happen, you will (probably unnecessarily) blame yourself, so it is wise to cut back if you know your job is stressful. I wish you the best and hope the pregnancy continues to go well.

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