Stress during Pregnancy – Reasons, Risks & Treatment

Stress During Pregnancy and Its Effects on You and Your Baby

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Congratulations on your pregnancy! Are you feeling anxiety and stress during your pregnancy tenure? Fret not! It is common during pregnancy, but at the same time, overstressing can lead to many repercussions for you and your baby. Pregnancy, on one hand, is a time of glorious ‘expectations’ but this is also the time when a person undergoes physical, mental and emotional changes. These changes include increased hormones, backaches and morning sickness. Due to all this, one is likely to experience stress.

Video: Stress During Pregnancy – How It Affects Mother & Baby


There can be many reasons for stress during pregnancy. This is primarily due to the discomfort that is felt by the body or the mind.


  • Physical stress: This is due to physical issues that pregnant women have to deal with, such as lethargy and aches across the body.
  • Hormones: Hormonal variations cause mood swings which affect the mental constitution of a person. While this doesn’t directly cause stress, it makes a woman vulnerable to stress.
  • Juggling between home and a career: Those who struggle with a job, home and pregnancy simultaneously can have it very hard. There may be situations where you will feel you are unable to cope and that it is affecting your personal as well as professional life. Many women begin to stress about not doing enough. For some, it becomes even worse as they fall into depression.
  • Domestic Abuse: There are also women who unfortunately may have had to suffer domestic problems and other personal issues during pregnancy. Such issues can lead to aggravation of stress. Such stress issues can lead to harmful consequences that will have an impact forever.

Stress Types That Can Cause Pregnancy Problems

Since stress is a common feature accompanying pregnancy, it is fine as long as it does not become aggravated and is managed well. You are a human being, and you cannot eliminate daily emotional stress. During pregnancy, there might be a hike in the levels of stress which can be managed by calming down and relaxing. But at the same time, there are several types of stress that can wreak havoc in your pregnancy and lead to several harmful effects. Some of them include

  • Tragic occurrences: Tragedies in life such as fatal diseases in family or self or even losing a loved one or a family member can lead to severe stress which may be hard to be free from for a long time.
  • Calamities: Unfortunate events such as natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, etc., or man-made disasters such as accidents or terrorist attacks can leave a deep impact on the minds of pregnant women. The dreadful images of these incidents may be hard to erase from the mind and can cause mental stress.
  • Acute stress: This is a condition that can occur during pregnancy either due to personal problems such as financial difficulties, relationship problems, domestic turbulence, physical abuse or mental abuse. One of the worst effects of stress during pregnancy is depression which can be long-lasting. Sometimes, this extends to periods even after pregnancy, leading to post-partum depression.
  • Pregnancy worries: Many women suffer from stress resulting from pregnancy-related worries such as anxiety about labour pain, fears about the health of the baby, miscarriage fears or even the anxieties of coping with parenthood. This is a maternal stress worry that can make them hyper, sleep-deprived and even depressed.

How Can Stress Affect Your Pregnancy? How Can Stress Affect Your Pregnancy? 

Pregnancy as such can be trying for many women, but at the same time, there are those who try to enjoy each phase of their pregnancy by being happy. Unfortunately, those having to face severe discomforts or aggravated physical problems may come under severe stress. In fact, stress and miscarriage are closely related. It can show effects such as headaches, insomnia, exhaustion, and so on. Loss of appetite, dysentery and mood swings are some other ways in which stress can make your pregnancy difficult.

There are many effects of stress during pregnancy. Long-term, severe and untreated stress can also lead to high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and even bring about a heart attack. Studies have shown that long-term stress can also lead to severe depression.

Stress, unheeded and untreated, can make your pregnancy a difficult period. This means you will not be able to enjoy your pregnancy which over time can also affect your life post-delivery. The effects of stress during pregnancy on infant and child development can be in the form of altered brain development that can cause behavioural problems.

How Can Stress Affect Your Unborn Baby?

Stress can affect the unborn baby in many ways. Stress interferes with many body functions, and this can adversely affect the baby. For example, stress has negative effects on the immune system of the body which can cause infections and other illnesses. This is not good in pregnancy because it can cause premature birth.

When you experience stress due to emotions, the cortisol hormone is released into the system and the level increases as per the stress severity. High levels of cortisol can cause depression and obesity. If the levels remain high for a long time, even heart diseases, muscle loss and osteoporosis can occur. Several studies have proven that babies born to pregnant women with acute stress during the third trimester had high cortisol levels. It was also found that even 10 years later the children still carried high levels of cortisol – a situation that can have adverse health implications.

Preterm birth is another negative effect of stress. A baby born before a full-term can suffer from many health issues such as low immunity, respiratory disorders, digestive problems, and in some extreme cases, death.

Studies have shown that babies born to stressed mothers, even though they are full-term, were underweight. This leads to the child being weak and having a poor immune system, leaving them vulnerable to many diseases. Low weight children can also suffer from hypoxia which means they do not get an adequate supply of oxygen at birth. This can trigger long-term development issues in the baby.

A study also indicated that stressed mothers gave birth to babies with high chances of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on Pregnancy

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition when someone experiences severe stress or emotional turmoil due to having been exposed to a traumatising incident. The effect of such happenings is that it continues to play on the mind of the victim and they suffer anxiety, nightmares, fear, insomnia, and restlessness. This is often accompanied by the fast beating of the heart, sweating, palpitation, and so on. All these lead to severe stress which can affect the unborn baby negatively.

Another harmful way in which stress manifests is that many pregnant women with PTSD may resort to unhealthy practices to combat the stress. These activities can put not just pregnancy at risk, but the babies may also be born with severe developmental issues. Miscarriage too can occur. Thus, it is important to detect the symptoms of PTSD early and seek effective treatment.

How to Treat and Manage Stress When Pregnant

Stress and pregnancy go together most of the times. However, stress experienced during pregnancy can be managed and treated, provided it is detected early and not neglected. If you feel stressed or if you feel worried about anything, you should talk about it to your family member and your doctor.

Some of the ways in which you can combat stress include:

How to Treat and Manage Stress When Pregnant

  • Talking about it can help in reducing the levels of stress considerably. Be less hard on yourself and try to get involved in activities that make you happy and stay away from anything that causes negativity around you.
  • Eat nutritious food.
  • Devote some time to exercising your body.
  • Take up any simple hobby, like reading, knitting, or drawing. This will help keep your mind off the stress.
  • Join a childbirth class where you can learn more about pregnancy, relaxation techniques, and pregnancy exercises.
  • Join a support group for pregnant women to meet like-minded women.
  • Try meditation exercises to help take your mind away from the stress and focus on the good things in life.
  • One can always go to a good counsellor to share your feelings with a neutral person.
  • Avoid stressful situations. If driving to work causes stress, avoid driving and ask a family member to take you to work.
  • Chill out. A lot of stress can be relieved just by relaxing.

Stress is something that all pregnant mothers experience to a certain degree. However, excessive levels of stress can not only affect the mother but also the unborn baby. The trick is to manage the stress in a healthy way so that it doesn’t cause any long-term damage.

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