For Your Baby

Baby Logan. Photo credit: Chris Jorgensen.

Baby Logan. Photo credit: Chris Jorgensen.

Prenatal maternal depression and stress has been associated with negative impacts on the embryo, ranging from greater fear reactivity as infants to increased disposition toward depression and anxiety disorders as adults. Exposure to heightened levels of stress hormones in utero prepares the offspring to survive in a stressful extrauterine environment. This means that the child will be born with more cortisol in his or her system and less receptors to process it and return the body to a neutral, relaxed state of being.

Not all stress during pregnancy is negative: in fact, some cortisol exposure is necessary for the formation of the lungs and central nervous system (this is a good thing, as parts of the transition into parenthood are intrinsically stressful!). However, excessive anxiety is to be avoided, for the sake of the parents and the child. Pharmaceutical antianxiety and anti-depression medications have not been sufficiently tested to be safe for pregnancy. Meditation is a nonpharmacological method that is consistently shown to help people cope with stressful situations and receive biological benefits therein.

A study in 2015 examined the impact of prenatal meditation on the offspring, and found that infants whose mothers meditated had healthier cortisol levels at birth, five weeks of age, and five months of age, and they consistently scored higher on behavioral assessments. If prenatal stress exposure impacts the development of the fetus negatively, it stands to reason that the positive impacts of meditation are passed on in the same vein: babies who are exposed to elevated levels of DHEA, melatonin, oxytocin, and other beneficial hormones may be born more predisposed to the compassion, empathy, and feelings of connectedness and empowerment experienced by many meditators.

Physiological benefits aside, children whose parents model healthy coping strategies, self-care practices, and interpersonal connectedness will be more likely to embody these attributes as they grow. The offspring of meditators may be predisposed to live healthy, happy, productive lives.