Stress and its Effects on Pregnancy


Pregnancy is an exciting time, but even when you’re looking forward to a new addition to your family, that doesn’t insulate you from stress. Any major life change can trigger it, including positive ones, and research shows that stress effects an unborn baby as early as 17 weeks into gestation.

Cortisol in Expectant Mothers

A study published in Clinical Endocrinology found that the stress hormone cortisol makes its way into the amniotic fluid in pregnant women. High levels of cortisol in an expectant mother’s blood were detected in amniotic fluid as early as 17 weeks into pregnancy. Although the study didn’t specifically look at how cortisol affects fetal development in humans, animal studies show it interferes with prenatal brain development and influences how the offspring behaves postnatally. A separate, earlier study by lead researcher Vivette Glover of Imperial College London, found that stress in pregnant humans can lower a child’s IQ by as much as 10 points.

Stress Management During Pregnancy

The IQ study, coupled with the proven effects on animals, show that its best to avoid stress when you’re pregnant. While you can’t eliminate it, a prudent stress management plan will potentially lower your baby’s exposure to cortisol. You may be under too much stress if you have some of the following symptoms:

  • Chronic fatique
  • Neck or back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • High blood pressure
  • DIgestive issues
  • Concentration problems
  • Overeating or not eating enough
  • Anxiety, irritability, or depression

Some of these symptoms are common in pregnant women, so pay attention to your gut instincts. If you’re not sure whether your symptoms come from stress or are side effects of pregnancy, talk to your doctor.

If prenatal stress is an issue, try these stress management techniques for moms to be:

Stay as physically active as possible. This isn’t practical for some pregnant women, but most benefit from staying active. Talk to your doctor about a safe level of physical activity and exercises you can do during your gestation. Now only will exercise help reduce your stress, but it will also help you stay in shape for the physical exertion of labor.

Maintain a strong support system. Pregnancy stressors often come from having to juggle your usual responsibilites while you’re also going through the physical and mental changes caused by being an expectant mom. Enlist your partner and other family members and friends for emotional support. It helps to vent your frustrations to a sympathetic ear. In addition to those around you, join an online pregnancy group for added support. Other moms-to-be are a great help since they’re going through the same things, and new mothers in the group are great for reassurance.

If needed, don’t be afraid to ask for physical help, too. Even if you’re healthy throughout your pregnancy, you’ll get achy and tired carrying around a baby-to-be and maneuvering your growing bump. Let others know when you’re feeling overwhelmed and recruit your partner and other willing family members or friends to assist as needed.

Make time to relax. Relaxation is important for everyone, and particularly for expectant moms. Set aside some time each day that’s just for you. Read a book, listen to soothing music, knit, draw, meditate, journal, or do something else you enjoy. Even half an hour a day makes a big difference in helping you unwind.

Maintain healthy habits. Eating right and getting enough rest keep you fit, which increases your stress resistance. Your doctor can help with a proper prenatal eating plan, and aim for a solid eight hours of sleep each nice to refresh you for another busy day ahead.