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What is the Role of Mental Health in a Healthy Pregnancy?

Researchers in Switzerland evaluated the impact of psychosocial variables such as anxiety and depression on the lifestyle choices that lead to a healthy pregnancy.

Diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices are always important factors for health, and these choices are especially important during pregnancy. There is a multitude of studies indicating that the lifestyle choices of the pregnant mother can have important health outcomes for the baby. In fact, studies have shown that factors such as maternal obesity and smoking during pregnancy are associated with negative pregnancy outcomes. In an effort to determine what factors are important to maintain a healthy pregnancy, researchers are interested in finding out what factors influence lifestyle choices in pregnant women.

A recent study conducted in Switzerland evaluated several psychosocial factors to determine whether they are linked to various lifestyle choices in pregnant women. The psychosocial factors studied were anxiety, stress, depression, marital satisfaction, and social support. The lifestyle choices that were studied were nutrition, physical activity, health responsibility, stress management, interpersonal relationships, and self-actualization.

Health responsibility describes the series of activities that are involved in taking charge of one’s own health, such as making doctor’s appointments and following through with recommendations. Self-actualization refers to the innate desire or the drive to fulfil one’s own potential.

The study included 445 pregnant women who agreed to complete a series of questionnaires throughout their pregnancy. The researchers used a sophisticated statistical analysis to determine which psychosocial variables were related to which lifestyle choices. The results were recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Good Mental Health is Crucial for a Healthy Pregnancy

The results showed that several of the psychosocial variables were strongly associated with several of the lifestyle factors.  The results indicated that anxiety was the most strongly associated with each of the lifestyle factors. As anxiety increased, nutrition, physical activity, health responsibility, stress management, interpersonal relationships, and self-actualization decreased. Depression was also negatively associated with each of the lifestyle choices. Marital dissatisfaction was associated with lower levels of nutrition, poor self-actualization and health management techniques, and higher stress.

The results support the theory that psychosocial factors can impact our physical as well as our emotional health. Poor nutrition, inadequate exercise levels, and poor health responsibility may be side effects of stress, anxiety, and depression. Research has shown that anxiety and depression decrease the ability of self-care (the ability to take care of the activities of daily living such as eating and sleeping). Anxiety and depression cause cognitive distortions that impair one’s ability to provide adequate self-care.

This study’s strengths lie in the variety of psychosocial factors and health measures studied. An important limitation of the study was the focus on healthy behaviours, or lack of healthy behaviours, without a corresponding emphasis on unhealthy behaviours such as alcohol consumption and smoking.

The results of this study show the impact of psychosocial factors such as anxiety and depression on the lifestyle choices of pregnant women. This study clearly demonstrates the important roles of psychosocial factors in a healthy pregnancy. Identifying and treating these risk factors may be an important way to support pregnant women and increase the health of their babies.

Written by Lisa Borsellino, B.Sc.

Reference: Omidvar, Shabnam, et al. “Associations of psychosocial factors with pregnancy healthy life styles.” PloS one 13.1 (2018): e0191723.


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