The Effects of Stress during Pregnancy

The Effects of Stress during PregnancyAsk any mom-to-be and she’ll tell you that expecting a baby is stressful. Some amount of stress is normal and expected, but prolonged chronic or intense stress can be harmful to both mothers and babies. We’re exploring the effects of stress during pregnancy and some pregnancy-friendly coping techniques.

There are many avenues of stress when you have a baby on the way. Between the aches and pains of pregnancy, preparing for the arrival of your baby, and fear of your new role as a mom, to maintaining your work productivity, managing relationships, and life’s normal daily challenges, stress can creep up on you in many ways. Usually, this type of stress is normal during pregnancy as hormones increase. However, major stress caused by trauma, death of someone close to you, chronic problems (such as financial issues or abuse) or serious pregnancy complications require more attention.

In some ways, stress can be a helpful and motivating influence. For example, worrying about your labor may empower you to write a birth plan that can help you feel more in control over the unknowns of childbirth. Or you may put in some extra time at work to give yourself flexibility once your baby is born.

But when the symptoms of stress take a toll on your body, it can negatively impact your baby. As with other times in your life, side effects of stress include sleeplessness, elevated blood pressure, anxiety, depression, changes in appetite and headaches. This is more often the case with major stress factors rather than normal pregnancy and daily life concerns.

Although the exact ramifications of stress are not traceable, the symptoms of stress can trickle down into pregnancy complications and potential problems for your baby. High blood pressure can cause preeclampsia, which may lead to preterm birth or low birth weight. Stress can weaken your immune system leaving you and your baby more susceptible to illness and infection. Prolonged exposure to elevated stress hormones in utero have also been linked to behavioral and emotional issues as children age. Additionally, prenatal anxiety and depression can lead to postpartum anxiety and depression, which is a critical concern for moms and the wellbeing of their babies.

If you are experiencing particularly high levels of stress during pregnancy, consider these ways of coping with your stress:

  • Talk it Out: Open a dialogue about your stressors with your partner, family, friends and other pregnant moms. If necessary, seek professional help from a therapist.
  • Keep a Journal: Write down your thoughts, fears and stressors to release them from your mind.
  • Prioritize your Health: Work hard to eat healthy and exercise, both of which can affect stress and your mood.
  • Consult your Doctor: Ask your physician for safe ways to ease the discomforts of pregnancy that may be exacerbating your stress.
  • Do Less: Sometimes you just need to let things go when you’re stressed or ask for help to ensure your responsibilities are covered.
  • Relax: When you feel your stress levels are at the max, take time to relax and rejuvenate. A full body break can help reset and rebalance your body, mind and spirit.
  • Study Up: When stress stems from unknowns, becoming more knowledgeable can curb your stress. If childbirth, baby care or parenting are stressing you out, read books about them or take classes to feel more prepared.

Sources: March of Dimes, WebMD and Parents