Stress During Pregnancy – Affect on Baby and Tips To Manage

7 min read

Written by Chandrani Mukherjee

Chandrani Mukherjee

stress during pregnancy
Pregnancy is both delightful and difficult. Along with happiness and anticipation, it brings stress that is common; and not always unavoidable. Stress during pregnancy includes a spectrum of emotional, physical, and environmental factors that challenges maternal mental well being very easily. From the feelings of sweetness of having a little one in the baby bump, mothers also tend to worry about finances, add-on responsibilities, and much more.

It’s crucial to understand the complex interplay of various stressors that pregnancy brings along. In this way, appropriate measures should be taken to mitigate its impact and bring overall good health to the mother and her unborn baby.

In This Article

Stress and Its Symptoms During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, you’ll feel many different emotions. Sometimes you’ll feel happy and excited, and other times you might worry about handling everything at once. As your family life evolves and body undergo changes, stress becomes inevitable. While some changes are welcoming; others are not. Your overwhelming anxiety and mental restlessness can lead to higher blood pressure, preterm delivery and a host of other problems.

Research studies (1) have confirmed that maternal stress increases the risk for preterm births in 60% cases as compared to women who had low stress levels. For some mothers, even the thought of motherhood can cause mild to moderate stress. The stress stem from physical changes, antenatal tests, and a previous negative experience related to pregnancy.

Clinical studies (2) have shown that that daily stressors (bereavement and natural calamities) of pregnant mothers can increase the chances of neuro-development problems in their children after being born.

Symptoms of Stress During Pregnancy

Symptoms of Stress During PregnancyThere exists a variety of stress symptoms that may manifest during pregnancy. However, it’s important to note that not all mothers experience these symptoms simultaneously. There are individual variations in both the intensity and duration of these symptoms.

  • Persistent headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heart rates are higher than normal
  • Worries and anxieties are on-going
  • Shallow breathing
  • Overthinking
  • Sleep disturbances can turn into persistent insomnia
  • Eating habits change; either eating too less or too much of a portion in one go
  • Angry and irritable mood
  • Finds it hard to relax; as if caught in a worry loop

Different Types of Stress and Its Causes During Pregnancy

There are different types of stress that can make your pregnancy journey all the more difficult and challenging.
Physical changes during pregnancy – In the form of morning sickness, fatigue, backache, weight increase and constipation, can make you feel anxious; causing stress

  1. Hormonal changes – Results in mood swings, irritability, nervousness
  2. Constant worries – Overthinking about added responsibilities, no support system, and how to maintain work-life balance
  3. Relationship issues – Problems with either the partner or family
  4. Financial issues Worries related to finances and investment planning for future days
  5. Prior negative experiencesMiscarriage, preterm pregnancy, Infertility treatments can create moments of stress
  6. Catastrophic eventsIrrelevant thoughts about earthquakes, accidents, or terrorist attacks can cause undue stress
  7. Negative life experiencesIn the form of a divorce, death of spouse, job loss, change in locality, or workplace issues can cause stress.

[Read: Over Anxiety During Pregnancy: Are You Worrying Too Much?]

Stress During Pregnancy And Its Effect on Baby

Causes Stress During Pregnancy

A womb is a very busy place. Where earlier doctors used to think that stress has very little or no impact on the development of a fetus, research now has enough proof to claim that babies born to mothers who have been stressed during their pregnancy have been preterm and with low birth weight (3).

1. Low Birth Weight and Preterm Delivery

This claim is supported by the fact that when stressed, your body releases the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones contracts the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the developing fetus, thus causing low birth weight and premature delivery.

2. Premature Birth

Increased levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) are also produced due to high levels of stress and anxiety. CRH regulates the tenure of the pregnancy, and as such can cause premature birth.Studies (4) have shown that several psychosocial factors of stress such as lack of support system, depression, and pregnancy-related anxiousness can lead to preterm deliveries in women.

3. Miscarriages and Neural Disorders

Stress during the first trimester of pregnancy is also known to cause miscarriages and an increased risk of motor disorders. Neural problems may develop if the mother is under stress when the baby’s brain is developing, sometime around second trimester (5) in the pregnancy journey. Study findings (6) revealed that daily stressors such as financial crunch, death in family, divorce can increase the chances of a miscarriage. About 20% pregnancy end before 24 weeks of gestation and the figures.

[Read: 9 Most Common Causes Of Miscarriage]

4. Preeclampsia

This is a condition where blood pressure of the mother consistently remains high; even leading to seizures and organ failure. Research reports (7) show that chronic hypertension and stress can increase the chances of preeclampsia to a significant extent.

Ways to Manage Stress During Pregnancy

pregnant women doing meditation

Apart from getting regular checkups and monitoring the baby’s growth and heartbeat, it is important that you are leading a stress-free life. Now, if this seems unlikely, make sure that you deal with all that life is throwing at you at this time effectively for your overall good mental health.

Build a Strong Support Group

Discuss your worries and stress with your partner. Be more expressive and let your close ones know about your likes and dislikes. Bottling feelings will only make the matters worse. Accepting help from your partner, other family members, friends, and colleagues is one of the first things you should do when you are pregnant.

Have Quality Me-time

Ensure doing things that can relax you. Try to involve in activities that give you happiness and make you forget all the stress. Read books, watch TV, listen to soothing songs, or talk to your family and friends. You can also pursue an old hobby that took a backseat due to excessive work-load. Your priority is to check your overthinking tendencies, thereby reducing anxiousness.Pamper yourself as much as you can. Go for a manicure, pedicure, body massage, hair spa, or any such activity that makes you relaxed and beautiful.

Self-care is a Must-have

Sleep properly, as your body needs lots of rest as it is working overtime to nourish the unborn baby. Use pillows to get a comfortable position and body massage before sleeping. Make sure you get undisturbed sleep. Do not take too much work stress. If you are a working woman then take short breaks after frequent intervals and rest. Do not assign yourself to any new projects and neither commits yourself to a performance-packed year.

Exercise and Mediation Practice

After consulting your doctor, you can try light exercises or yoga as it can help you in releasing your stress. Walking and swimming (under supervision only) can be continued till the last trimester unless advised by the doctor. Additionally, breathing exercises can calm down your mental restless.

When you are in stress,  meditation and a pristine ambience can create a relaxing atmosphere. Antenatal classes also help as they can help you get in touch with other mothers who are in the same stage.

Be Mindful Of What You Eat

Unhealthy food cravings are a common occurrence in pregnancy. You may get it too. However, be aware that junk diet lack nutrition and may not provide you with the balanced proportion that you and your unborn baby needs at this time. Thus, eat healthily and stay hydrated. Studies (8) have revealed that weight issues may result in eating foods that are unhealthy; leading to pregnancy related complications as well. Eat healthily and avoid alcohol or any product that is harmful to you and your baby.

Know How To Slow Down And Take Things Easy

Grant yourself the freedom to ease the pressure. Take things easy and never mind if you’re unable to finish everything on time. While the desire to accomplish everything is strong, you can always remove a couple of tasks from your checklist or delegate them to others.

Fight away your stress for your baby’s wellbeing and enjoy every moment of this wonderful journey of pregnancy. Have a positive approach towards life and remove all the negative thoughts that scare you. Always stay happy and keep yourself engaged in things that give you immense joy and delight.

Read Also: Depression During Pregnancy: What Is It?

FAQ’s

1. Can The Baby Feel The Mom’s Stress?

Yes, babies can sense their mother’s test to a certain extent.A study headed by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that infants not only sense their mothers’ anxiety, but also exhibit corresponding physiological changes.

2. Can Stress During Pregnancy Cause Birth Defects?

While stress during pregnancy is not directly linked to causing birth defects, high levels of stress can have adverse effects on both the mother and the developing baby. Chronic stress may increase the risk of complications such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental issues.

3. When Is Stress Too Much?

Stress is too much when it is persistent and out of control. It is also considered excessive when it starts to interfere with the mother’s everyday life, impacting physical nad mental wellbeing badly. Persistent stress impacts overall feel good factor and usually requires some form of treatment.

References –

  1. The Contribution of Maternal Stress to Preterm Birth: Issues and Considerations
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3179976/#
  2. Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression & Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710585/#
  3. Prenatal Maternal Stress Causes Preterm Birth and Affects Neonatal Adaptive Immunity
    https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/immunology/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.00254/full
  4. Maternal stress and preterm birth
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12505886/#
  5. The Role of Stress in Brain Development: The Gestational Environment’s Long-Term Effects on the Brain
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3574809/#
  6. The association between psychological stress and miscarriage: A systematic review and meta-analysis
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5431920/#
  7. The Combined Association of Psychosocial Stress and Chronic Hypertension with Preeclampsia
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3825759/#
  8. The Interplay between Maternal Nutrition and Stress during Pregnancy: Issues and Considerations
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6358211/#
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Chandrani Mukherjee,M.Sc (Clinical psychology),PGDEA

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