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.

In This Article

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 or high-risk pregnancy and experiencing discomforts, such as nausea, constipation, fatigue, gestational diabetes, or pre-eclampsia.
Pregnancy-related nausea and constipation can also cause stress

Image: Shutterstock

  • 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 had more premature births or delivered more lower birth weight babies than any other race (7).
  • Pregnancy-specific stress is also common in women, where they worry about neonatal health, labor, or how they would cope with the new life. Moreover, hormonal changes due to pregnancy increases mood swings.
protip_icon 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

Image: Shutterstock

  • Experiencing nightmares and memory loss
  • Isolation from social interaction
protip_icon Be watchful
An unsettled stomach, skin conditions including acne, rashes, and hivesiXRed and itchy bumps on the skin caused due to an allergic reaction to food or medication , 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-eclampsiaiXA pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure, water retention, and protein content in urine
Effects of stress on pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • 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 disorderiXA neurodevelopmental disorder in children affecting their ability to pay attention, control impulses, and making them hyperactive or cardiovascular disease, if the mother experiences prolonged stress during pregnancy (13) (14).

Emotional Stress During Pregnancy

High levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy (especially in the first trimester) may cause mood swings and emotional changes, such as feeling tearful and easily irritated. The symptoms usually wear off as pregnancy progresses because the body adapts to the hormonal changes. However, some women may experience strong emotions throughout their pregnancy. They may feel vulnerable, anxious, and overwhelmed due to the changes in their lives. This is particularly true if the mother has been through a pregnancy loss or has conceived after fertility treatments. Stress from such emotional changes may cause one to become emotionally vulnerable, forming a vicious cycle. Emotional stress may distract pregnant women from self-care and deteriorate the situation (15) (16).

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 and techniques of coping mechanisms that you could include in your prenatal care are (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 relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. You may even join yoga classes or download suitable podcasts and videos.
  • Engage in hobbies that keep you interested and ensure emotional well-being.
  • 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

Image: Shutterstock

  • Talk to a therapist if you have been dealing with prenatal depression and anxiety.
  • Practice self-care. Relax by taking a bubble bath, reading a book, pedicure, or anything else that calms you. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation may be of great help (15).
protip_icon 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 bifidaiXA congenital disorder where the spinal cord doesn't fully develop, leading to physical and neurological complications , congenital heart disease, anencephalyiXA birth disorder where the baby's brain and skull are underdeveloped, leading them to have a short life expectancy , and orofacial cleftsiXA birth disorder associated with a split in baby’s lips and palate due to the incomplete joining of tissues (17).

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 fetal development (18).

5. Can too much stress cause miscarriage?

While high stress levels during pregnancy may cause maternal 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 during pregnancy is not easy and may affect your quality of life. However, if you learn to manage it well, it will not cause any discomfort. Maintain a support system and ask for help 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.

Infographic: Recognizing Stress Signs In Expectant Mothers

Expectant mothers must acknowledge and handle stress adeptly. This infographic reveals prevalent stress symptoms during pregnancy. By understanding these symptoms, pregnant women can take proactive steps to prioritize their mental health and enjoy a smoother pregnancy experience.

notable signs of stress in pregnant women (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Anxiety affects a significant proportion of pregnant women, with rates ranging from 8-13%.
  • Pregnancy stressors can include pregnancy complications, life events, and exposure to discrimination.
  • Symptoms of pregnancy stress include constant worry, sleep issues, headaches, and substance abuse.
  • Chronic stress can harm pregnancy outcomes, resulting in premature labor, low birth weight, pre-eclampsia, and poor immunity.
  • Chronic stress may also negatively impact the baby’s cognitive and behavioral development.
  • Stress management tips during pregnancy include maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting enough rest, engaging in regular exercise, seeking therapy, and limiting work.

Delve deep into this video to find aswers as to how you can manage your pregnancy stress and enjoy this wonderful journey

References

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.
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    https://www.lancastergeneralhealth.org/health-hub-home/motherhood/your-pregnancy/how-to-reduce-stress-during-pregnancy
  2. Mary E Coussons-Read; (2013); Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: mechanisms and pathways.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052760/
  3. Stress During Pregnancy.
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  4. Stress and pregnancy.
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  5. Stress and pregnancy.
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  6. Dr Irina Webster; Healthy Pregnancy from A to Z: An Expectant Parent’s Guide to Wellness; Pg. 141.
    https://books.google.co.in/books?id=W0qZBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA141&dq=types+of+stress+during+pregnancy&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiowMXU8fPeAhWGHXwKHXRqDigQ6AEIODAD#v=onepage&q=types%20of%20stress%20during%20pregnancy&f=false
  7. Very Low Birthweight in African American Infants: The Role of Maternal Exposure to Interpersonal Racial Discrimination.
    https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.94.12.2132
  8. Stress and pregnancy.
    https://raisingchildren.net.au/pregnancy/health-wellbeing/mental-health/stress-pregnancy
  9. Stress and your health.
    https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/good-mental-health/stress-and-your-health
  10. Symptoms of Stress.
    https://www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/self-help/anxiety/symptoms-of-stress.shtml
  11. Stress and pregnancy.
    https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support/topics/pregnancy/stress-and-pregnancy
  12. William A Grobman, et al.; (2017); Maternal Depressive Symptoms, Perceived Stress, and Fetal Growth
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28393386/
  13. Natalie Grizenko, et al.; (2012); Maternal Stress during Pregnancy, ADHD Symptomatology in Children and Genotype: Gene-Environment Interaction
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3269259/
  14. Maternal stress in pregnancy may affect the cardiovascular system of the child
    https://www.physoc.org/magazine-articles/maternal-stress-in-pregnancy-may-affect-the-cardiovascular-system-of-the-child/
  15. Emotions during pregnancy.
    https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/how-you-might-be-feeling/emotions-during-pregnancy
  16. Pregnancy Emotions.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-concerns/pregnancy-emotions/
  17. Suzan L. Carmichael; (2007); Maternal Stressful Life Events and Risks of Birth Defects.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2094125/
  18. When I Feel Sad While Pregnant Does My Baby Feel Sad?
    https://rmccares.org/2020/08/06/when-i-feel-sad-while-pregnant-does-my-baby-feel-sad/
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