Stress During Pregnancy: Its Signs, Effects And Tips To Reduce It

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Stress and anxiety about pregnancy and childbirth are not uncommon in pregnant women. A little bit of anxiety, frustration, and depression are alright and nothing to be worried about. But if you tend to worry too much and experience panic more than you’d want to, it is a cause of concern.

In this post, MomJunction tells you about stress during pregnancy, its causes, effects, and ways to manage it.

What Causes Stress During Pregnancy?

The causes of stress differ from woman to woman. For some mothers-to-be, being pregnant is stressful in itself. They find it hard to stay in control and manage the physical changes.

Other reasons that could take an emotional toll on a to-be mom include (1):

  • Experiencing physical stress due to pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, constipation, lethargy or body aches, and dealing with them.
  • Hormonal fluctuations leading to mood swings could affect mental constitution, making it harder to handle stress.
  • Managing job, pregnancy, and household chores could be difficult for some. It might affect their personal and professional life and could add to the stress.
  • Domestic abuse and other personal issues could also cause stress besides having harmful consequences.

If you are experiencing more than one of the above situations in your life, your stress levels could be much higher.

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What Types Of Stress Can Cause Pregnancy Problems?

Stress can be handled as long as you know to manage it without aggravating it. Everyday stress, such as working on deadlines and driving in traffic might not necessarily add to the existing pregnancy problems. However, other types of stress can create havoc during pregnancy (2).

  • Negative life experiences such as a failed marriage and divorce, fatal diseases, the death of a loved one, or losing a job can cause severe stress that is hard to handle.
  • Unfortunate events including natural calamities such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods or human-made disasters such as terrorist attacks or accidents might create a deep emotional impact during pregnancy, leading to mental stress.
  • Acute stress due to financial problems, relationship issues, physical or mental abuse could affect you the worst, and might also lead to long-term depression.
  • Some women are likely to experience stress from the racist remarks or attacks. This is one of the reasons why African-American women in the US give birth to low birth weight and premature babies (3).
  • Pregnancy stress that stems from fears of miscarriage, labor pain, baby’s health or anxieties of becoming a parent is yet another cause of stress in women. This could make one sleep-deprived, hyper and even depressed.

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How Does Stress Affect Your Pregnancy?

Stress is unlikely to cause severe consequences if it is managed rightly. It could affect the health of both the mother-to-be and the baby in some cases.

Severe, long-term stress can cause the following complications when left untreated:

  • High blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Weakened immune system
  • Severe depression

Some women try to manage stress by smoking, alcohol consumption and intake of drugs which could again lead to serious health problems in the mother and the baby (4).

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How Can Stress Affect Your Unborn Baby?

Stress during pregnancy can affect the unborn in many ways.

  • Emotional stress stimulates the release of cortisol hormone, which increases with the severity of stress. This could cause depression, obesity, muscle loss, heart illness and osteoporosis in the baby later in life.
  • The baby is likely to born preterm, which could result in digestive problems, respiratory issues, low immunity and death of the infant in some cases.
  • Even full-term babies may be born underweight and have weakness and poor immune system. It can also cause hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply during birthtime), which can lead to long-term developmental consequences in babies.
  • Increased risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in later life (5).

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What Are The Symptoms Of Stress During Pregnancy?

Chronic stress can cause many physical, emotional, mental, and social symptoms including (6).

  • Chest pain, breathing difficulties, vision problems, headaches, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue, muscle aches, stomach issues, and increased sweating.
  • Confusion, nightmares, memory loss, changes in sleeping pattern and difficulty focusing.
  • Grief, guilt, anxiety, irritability, fear, denial, worry, loneliness, or frustration
  • Isolation from family and friends, eating less, drug and alcohol abuse.

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Ways To Manage Stress During Pregnancy

Stress is easy to manage when you recognize it correctly and know how to handle it. It will lead to a positive pregnancy experience and reduce the risk of health complications for you and your baby.

Here are some ways to reduce stress during pregnancy.

  • Indulge in some light physical activity such as walking as it not only lowers stress levels but prevents common pregnancy discomforts.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as prenatal yoga or meditation.
  • Learn to do breathing exercises.
  • Just chill out and relax whenever possible
  • Get involved in activities such as reading a book, watching your favorite show, or doing some activities you enjoy.
  • Figure out what is stressing you more, and try talking about it with your partner, a friend or even a therapist if needed.
  • Seek support from family and friends – ask them to take you to prenatal checkups or help you with the household chores.
  • Go for childbirth education classes to understand about pregnancy, childbirth, relaxation techniques, and exercises.
  • Get projects at work done earlier and avoid postponing them to the last moment to keep stress at bay.
  • If you think you are depressed, go to therapy early on to avoid the need for antidepressants.
  • Eat healthy and nutritious food.
  • Consider joining a support group to meet like-minded pregnant women (7).

Learn more about stress and pregnancy next, where we address some commonly raised queries.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can stress affect early pregnancy?

Stress during the first trimester is known to affect the microbial population in the mother’s vagina. These are then passed onto babies during birth, thereby causing an impact on the metabolism and immune system of the infant. Altered gut microflora is also known to increase the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism (8).

2. Can you have a miscarriage due to stress?

No, studies do not indicate that stress can cause a miscarriage. However, severe stress can lead to premature birth, low birth weight or behavioral problems later in life.

3. Can stress affect pregnancy in the third trimester?

Severe stress during the third trimester will raise maternal cortisol levels, which can have a lasting effect on a child’s cognitive abilities and IQ scores (9).

4. Does stress cause birth defects?

Severe stress during pregnancy is likely to cause birth defects such as cleft palate, cleft lip, spina bifida, anencephaly and congenital heart defects (10).

5. Can crying affect pregnancy?

Crying during pregnancy is due to emotional stress and depression. It is associated with preterm labor, lower birth weight babies and intrauterine growth restrictions (11).

Being stressed is no fun, but remember that you are not alone. There is help if you ask for it. You may experience stress differently, but all you need to know is how to manage it well. If you are unable to cope with stress, talk to your doctor about what is causing you stress, and get solutions.

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Have you experienced stress during pregnancy? How did you manage it? Share your experience and any tips about managing stress in the below comment section.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Stress and pregnancy; The American Institute of Stres (2019
2. Dr Irina Webster; Healthy Pregnancy From A To Z: An Expectant Parent’s Guide To Wellness; page 141
3. James W. Collins et al.; Very Low Birthweight in African American Infants: The Role of Maternal Exposure to Interpersonal Racial Discrimination; American Journal of Public Health (2004)
4.Mary E Coussons-Read; Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: mechanisms and pathways; Obstet Med; NCBI (2013)
5. Too Much Stress for the Mother Affects the Baby through Amniotic Fluid; University of Zurich (2017)
6. Symptoms of Stress; James Madison University (2018)
7. How to manage stress; Mind (National Association for Mental Health) (2015)
8. Mother’s Stress Alters Babies’ Gut and Brain; Penn Today (2018)
9. Kaja Z LeWinn et al.; Elevated maternal cortisol levels during pregnancy are associated with reduced childhood IQ; Int J Epidemiol (2009)
10. Suzan L. Carmichael et al.; Maternal Stressful Life Events and Risks of Birth Defects; Epidemiology (2007)
11. Patricia Kinser & Saba Masho; Saba Masho; “I just start crying for no reason”: The experience of stress and depression in pregnant urban African American adolescents and their perception of yoga as a management strategy; Women’s Health Issues (2015