Pregnant women dissatisfied in their relationship are at an increased risk of infectious diseases, such as stomach flu and ear inflammation, which may also affect their child, a new study has found.
“If you compare the group of pregnant women with the lowest satisfaction to the group with highest satisfaction in their relationship, the first group’s risk of becoming ill is more than twice that of the second group,” said Roger Ekeberg Henriksen, from the University of Bergen in Norway.
“Those who report that they are dissatisfied in their relationship more often report illnesses during pregnancy and their children are also reported ill more often during their first year,” said Henriksen.
When it comes to the children, the connections are even more obvious than with the pregnant women. Researchers looked at the occurrence of eight different infectious diseases, from the common cold to stomach flu and inflammation of the ear.
With children up to six months, the occurrence of all eight infections was higher when the mothers were dissatisfied in their relationship.
Previous research on stress may explain the connections between bad relations and physical illness.
“You have a psychological experience, but how does this become a physical illness that makes you vomit or gives you a fever of a cough,” said Henriksen.
“If the idea is that stress makes us ill, we have already seen that there are individual variations and that social support is important,” he added.
Stress responses are completely natural to the body. For instance, they enable us to mobilise quickly in order to avoid dangers.
In such situations, some bodily functions are prioritised before others, and the brain in particular is given extra energy under stress.
When the stress response is transferred to the unborn child during pregnancy, evolution researchers claim that this helps the unborn child prepare for the world outside.
It is not natural to remain in a stressed condition, however. If this happens, our immune system may be given lower priority, and we thus become less resistant towards infectious diseases from bacteria and viruses.
According to Henriksen, this is the effect that comes into play in his research.
“If we look at brain research and other research on physiological mechanisms, we see that having a partner who is predictable and supportive may be decisive for our ability to handle stress. On the opposite side, stress responses may occur with the absence of social support,” he said.