Stress During Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms And Tips To Manage

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Stress during pregnancy is usually harmless, but prolonged or severe stress may not be good for the mother and the baby (1). It is common for pregnant mothers to stress over their baby, body, life changes, and many other things.

Research shows that around 8% to 13% of women are diagnosed with anxiety during and before pregnancy (2). It also indicates that constant stress may lead to sleeping difficulties, headaches, and depression. (3).

Read about the types, causes, symptoms, effects, and management tips for stress during pregnancy.

Causes Of Stress During Pregnancy

For some women, discovering their pregnancy could be stressful as they might not be ready for the new challenges that come their way. The possible reasons for stress could be (4) (5) (6):

  • Conceiving after several pregnancy failures or previous negative experiences, such as miscarriage or the death of a baby.
  • Dealing with a complicated pregnancy and experiencing discomforts, such as nausea, constipation, or fatigue.
Pregnancy-related nausea and constipation can also cause stress

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  • Stressful life events, such as domestic violence, divorce, or having relationship difficulties.
  • Long-lasting difficulties related to job change, financial situation, or health problems.
  • Going through emotional stress, such as past anxiety, depression, death in the family, or drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Facing tragic events, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or terrorist attacks.
  • Exposure to racism may also be a reason for maternal depression. It has been found that African-American women in the US delivered premature babies or low-birthweight babies than any other race (7).
  • Pregnancy-specific stress is also common in women, where they worry about the health of their baby, the labor, or how they would cope with the new life. Moreover, the change in hormones due to pregnancy increases mood swings.
Point to consider
Having an unplanned pregnancy and being a single parent could also be a reason for stress during pregnancy (4).

Symptoms Of Stress During Pregnancy

The following are some common symptoms in mothers dealing with stress. Knowing and understanding them may help you to cope with stress (8) (9) (10).

  • Constantly worried, confused, or anxious
  • Living a constantly busy life
  • Worried even about the positive changes in life, such as a job promotion
  • Increased heart rate and nervousness
  • Trouble in sleeping
  • A mind preoccupied with thoughts
  • Having headaches and body aches
  • Lack of energy and focus
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
Smoking and drinking during pregnancy can indicate stress

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  • Experiencing nightmares and memory loss
  • Isolation from social interaction
Be watchful
An unsettled stomach, skin conditions including acne, rashes, and hives, and an easy temper are some signs of stress (9).

Effects Of Stress On Pregnancy

Chronic stress may adversely affect the health of expectant mothers and their pregnancy in several ways. Some effects are (2):

  • Preterm labor
  • Low birth weight
  • Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia
Effects of stress on pregnancy

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  • A weakened immune system (11).
  • Women who smoke or drink alcohol to reduce stress may increase their risk of pregnancy complications (5).

Effects Of Stress On The Baby

Stress and anxiety during pregnancy may affect the baby’s behavioral, physiological, or immunological functions (2).

  • Chronic stress during pregnancy may result in intrauterine growth restriction, with poor growth of the unborn baby (12).
  • Stress hormones during pregnancy alter the neurobiological (related to the nervous system and brain) development of the fetus, which may result in decreased cognitive development and behavioral issues in the child.
  • Infants of mothers who experience stress during pregnancy may be temperamental and more difficult to soothe.
  • Studies show that stress in mothers during pregnancy may cause children to develop an irrational fear or have trouble paying attention (11).
  • There is also a risk that unborn children may develop mental illness or physical illness, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or cardiovascular disease, if the mother experiences prolonged stress during pregnancy (13) (14).
Stress increases the risk of the child developing ADHD

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Tips For Managing Stress During Pregnancy

High levels of stress are manageable if you understand what triggers it and learn ways to handle them. Some stress-management tips that might help include (4) (11):

  • Eat a well-balanced diet that helps you stay healthy and energetic.
  • Take breaks and rest well as it lessens your stress.
  • Do some regular pregnancy-safe exercise.
  • Practice yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises to relax. You may even join yoga classes or download suitable podcasts and videos.
  • Engage in hobbies that keep you interested.
  • Talk about your concerns with people you trust or who make you feel good.
  • Do not take up more work than you can do.
  • Take childbirth classes that help you stay informed and better prepared for the future.
Tips to manage stress during pregnancy

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Quick tip
Making to-do lists can help you stay organized and manage your time between work and home. You can manage stress by keeping a journal or just listing what you are grateful for. These easy techniques can improve how one manages and deals with stress (9).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How can post-traumatic stress disorder affect pregnancy?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is when people develop stress or anxiety after experiencing unfortunate events, such as a natural disaster, death in the family, or terrorist attack. It has been estimated that around 8% of women go through this condition. They may develop depressive symptoms such as nightmares, increased heartbeat, or flashbacks of the event. This chronic maternal stress may adversely affect pregnancy and lead to babies with low birth weight or preterm births (11).

2. Can stress cause congenital disabilities?

Yes, severe stress in expectant mothers may increase their offspring’s risk of congenital disabilities, such as spina bifida, congenital heart disease, anencephaly, and orofacial clefts (15).

3. How much stress is too much when pregnant?

If the stress during pregnancy is responsible for your sleep disturbances and headaches and makes you lose your appetite or causes you to eat more, it can be problematic and needs to be managed (5).

4. Can my baby feel when I am sad while pregnant?

Yes. There have been studies that show that during pregnancy, babies can feel what their mothers are feeling. Thus, a mother’s emotional state, whether sad, happy, or any other emotion, may influence the development of her unborn baby (16).

5. Can too much stress cause miscarriage?

While high stress levels during pregnancy may cause health problems, such as high blood pressure, which may affect the pregnancy, no direct evidence suggests the link between stress and miscarriage (5).

Dealing with stress is not easy and may affect your quality of life. However, if you learn to manage it well, it will not cause any discomfort. Ask for help or take support from friends and family if you feel you cannot cope with it alone. You may also reach out for professional help if you are concerned that your severe stress levels may affect the baby.


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. How to Reduce Stress During Pregnancy.
  2. Mary E Coussons-Read; (2013); Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: mechanisms and pathways.
  3. Stress During Pregnancy.
  4. Stress and pregnancy.
  5. Stress and pregnancy.
  6. Dr Irina Webster; Healthy Pregnancy from A to Z: An Expectant Parent’s Guide to Wellness; Pg. 141.
  7. Very Low Birthweight in African American Infants: The Role of Maternal Exposure to Interpersonal Racial Discrimination.
  8. Stress and pregnancy.
  9. Stress and your health.
  10. Symptoms of Stress.
  11. Stress and pregnancy.
  12. William A Grobman, et al.; (2017); Maternal Depressive Symptoms, Perceived Stress, and Fetal Growth
  13. Natalie Grizenko, et al.; (2012); Maternal Stress during Pregnancy, ADHD Symptomatology in Children and Genotype: Gene-Environment Interaction
  14. Maternal stress in pregnancy may affect the cardiovascular system of the child
  15. Suzan L. Carmichael; (2007); Maternal Stressful Life Events and Risks of Birth Defects.
  16. When I Feel Sad While Pregnant Does My Baby Feel Sad?
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