Freak out your fetus!

Remember the warnings that pregnancy stress hurts your baby? Now comes news that your anxiety will produce a better kid.

Published June 1, 2006 3:58PM (EDT)

Here's a bit of soothing news for pregnant women who are worried that every minor meltdown or bout of stress will hurt their developing fetus. You can relax. In fact, all that fretting may actually be good for the baby. That's according to a new report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers studied 137 pregnant women and found that those with moderate stress levels between 24 and 32 weeks of their pregnancies gave birth to children who were somewhat more advanced in their mental and motor development at age 2, Reuters reports. However, it found that children of moms who reported more negative feelings about being pregnant had slightly lower behavior and emotional marks.

The big message is that women can stop "worrying about worrying," Dr. Janet DiPietro tells Reuters. The researchers took to task previous findings on the ill effects of pregnancy stress on a baby's health. Those studies have "many flaws" -- including "simply relying on asking mothers how their children behave. Maternal anxiety colors women's perceptions of their children such that stressed women more often report children to be more difficult. This is why we focused on objective outcome measures," she tells Reuters.

Researchers aren't sure whether to credit genetics or environment -- since an anxious mom generally is someone who pushes herself, she may challenge her baby to develop faster, explains DiPietro. Also, stress chemicals encourage organ growth.

But the study makes sense from an evolutionary perspective -- that a baby would benefit from a worried mom. I mean, who's going to make sure the child care is secured, the birthing plan is drafted and the Bugaboo stroller is delivered in time? And what about getting on the waiting list for preschool? Egads! Bring on the aromatherapy!

Let's hope they debunk the warnings about all the forbidden blue cheese next.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

MORE FROM Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Health Love And Sex Pregnancy