Pregnant women with high levels of resilience appear to be more protected from the psychological and biological effects of stress, according to a new study led by the University of Granada (UGR) in Spain.
“Resilience” is defined as a person’s internal resources which can allow them to mentally and emotionally cope with a crisis or return to a pre-crisis status more quickly. This personality trait is receiving increasing attention from researchers but remains understudied in such a sensitive time of life as pregnancy.
Previous research has shown that pregnancy is a crucial period during which exposure to stress can negatively affect the health of both mother and baby. Stress has been linked to a range of negative outcomes, including premature birth or postpartum depression.
In the new study, researchers from UGR’s Mind, Brain and Behaviour Research Centre (CIMCYC) and the Faculty of Psychology analyzed for the first time the protective role of resilience during pregnancy.
The team studied the psychological state of the mother and measured the levels of cortisol in her hair, an approach that enables objective analysis of the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, secreted by the woman in recent months.
The study involved 151 pregnant women who were evaluated in their third trimester and following childbirth on the basis of psychological variables related to pregnancy stress and also hair cortisol concentrations.
When comparing pregnant women with a high level of resilience to those with a low level of resilience, the researchers found that the more resilient participants perceived themselves to be less stressed, had fewer pregnancy-related concerns, and experienced greater general psychological wellbeing overall.
After childbirth, the more resilient women also presented fewer symptoms of postpartum depression. The cortisol hormone tests demonstrated that the more resilient pregnant women also had lower levels of the stress hormone.
Based on the findings, the team concludes that resilience exerts a clear protective role against the negative effects of stress, both psychologically and biologically.
Significantly, as these are the first-ever data on the protective role of resilience in pregnancy, the study raises questions about its potential protective role in the health of the baby – a potential area of future research.
Studies on the effectiveness of training programs designed to provide pregnant women with stress-management skills are also needed to help improve the health of both the pregnant woman and her baby.
Source: University of Granada