by Ellyn Hutton, BSN, RN, LMT

New studies suggest maternal stress hormones that babies are exposed to in the womb, affect child outcomes such as the following:

  • hyperactivity and inattention in boys
  • emotional problems in girls and boys
  • conduct problems in girls

(DePietro, 2004)

When a pregnant woman is chronically stressed the baby may be exposed to unhealthy levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. (They are not talking about everyday stress.) These levels can affect brain development and changes in blood flow to the baby which affect developing organs. Moms that are stressed have poorer sleep habits and often-unhealthy diets.

Babies born to stressed-out moms react more severely to the initial heel sticks after birth and tend to be fussier overall (Beddoe, Yang, Kennedy, Weiss, & Lee, 2009). It’s like the perfect storm – a stressed-out baby born to an already stressed-out mom!

The remedy is the most important part of this writing. Moms that have social support, eat well, and exercise daily can lower the effects of stress for both themselves and their baby. Creating that “village” is the prescription for healthy well-adjusted children.

Studies now show yoga as more effective in decreasing anxiety/stress than standard exercise. A series of publications show that women that start prenatal yoga early in pregnancy experience improved sleep patterns in their second trimester and had better psychological health, compared to women who practiced later in pregnancy (Beddoe, Lee, Weiss, Kennedy, & Yang, 2010; Beddoe, Paul Yang, Kennedy, Weiss, & Lee, 2009). Yoga clearly has positive effects for both mom and baby.

Every time I teach a pregnancy yoga class, calmness and healing is created for both the participants and me. Each mom connects with her baby throughout the class, and through gentle movement and breath creates the dance preparing for birth. In the closing meditation, I refer to the private, peaceful universe of the baby in the womb. Moms also create changes in their world, their universe, by infusing harmony to placate the nervous system. They open themselves up to the silence and stillness, and then something extraordinary happens. The inner wisdom, the inner voice speaks.  Women begin to choose healthier options, ask good questions, and bond more deeply. They become knowing mothers joining the ranks of the wise women who have birthed before them.

About the Author

Ellyn is a yoga instructor and provides classes at The Birth Center. For details and sign up visit our events page.


Beddoe, A.E., Yang, C.P., Kennedy, H.P., Weiss, S.J., & Lee, K.A. (2009). The effects of mindfulness-based yoga during pregnancy on maternal psychological and physical distress. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 38, 310-319. doi:10.1111/j.1552-6909.2009.01023.x

Beddoe, A.E., Lee, K.A., Weiss, S.J., Kennedy, H.P., & Yang, C.P. (2010). Effects of  mindful yoga on sleep in pregnant women: A pilot study. Biological Research for   Nursing, 11, 363-370. doi:10.1177/1099800409356320

DiPietro, J.A. (2004). The role of maternal stress in child development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 71-74.