Stress During Pregnancy: Causes, Effects, and How to Cope

On top of physical complaints like morning sickness, there can also be anxieties swirling around things like the upcoming delivery. The effect of stress on your mental health is well-known, and it’s a well-known risk factor for insomnia and depression – but what are the effects on your baby? Let’s take a look at some common causes of stress through pregnancy, the effect on your child’s and your body, and some steps you can take to get stress back under control!

Physical causes of stress during pregnancy

pregnant belly

Bodily changes

Each week of pregnancy, your belly gets a little bit bigger. If you’ve always tried to stay slim, the weight gain of pregnancy can definitely throw you for a loop, and stress for this reason isn’t at all uncommon.

However, during pregnancy, you need to put on weight in order to support fetal development, as well as to store the energy and nutrients you need for breastfeeding. Many moms find that with a healthy post-partum lifestyle, they are able to return to their pre-pregnancy weights in as little as 6 months.

Other physical complaints

Aside from morning sickness, pregnancy can bring about a range of physical complaints including headache, stomachache, back pain, frequent urination, constipation, hair loss and skin irritation. Other physical changes can include increasing size and darkening color of the areolas. All of these complaints arise due to the fluctuating levels of hormones during pregnancy, and almost always disappear after delivery.

Sources of psychological stress during pregnancy

woman depressed

Anxiety about birth and childrearing

Pregnancy triggers the release of massive amounts of two hormones – estrogen and progesterone – which can throw you for a loop, sometimes causing severe mood swings. In this state, it’s easy to look at your developing belly day by day and be consumed by anxieties about your life after the birth, like “Will I be a good mother?” You might also feel anxious about ensuring your baby is born healthy. All these worries can cause stress to build up.

Feeling unsatisfied and irritable with life

As your belly gets bigger, it can be harder and harder to move about as you once did, and each action comes to feel like a chore. You also have to deal with a host of concerns about what you can and can’t eat; what you can and can’t do in your daily life; what medicines you can and can’t take, and how to control your weight. All this can leave you feeling annoyed at being unable to live out your life with the freedom you are used to having, leading to stress.

The effects of stress during pregnancy

pregnant woman stressed

The effects of stress during pregnancy are not yet fully understood. However, research has indicated a link between maternal stress levels and increased risk of premature birth and even miscarriage. This is possibly caused by the fact that stress response constricts blood vessels, potentially causing uterine contraction and poor blood circulation, which result in the stifling of the fetus’ development.

Effects of stress during pregnancy on the child

baby newborn

The normal range of temporary emotional ups and downs during pregnancy are not thought to have an effect on the baby. However, research has suggested that chronic maternal stress can have an impact on the development of their child’s brain.

During the stress response, the mother’s adrenal cortex releases the hormone cortisol, which can cross the placenta to the developing fetus. This is thought to be a predisposing factor for ADHD and mental health issues such as depression. Other studies also suggest that when the mother is highly stressed during pregnancy, the child may be more prone to allergies and asthma.

How can I control stress during pregnancy?

pregnancy yoga

Stress during pregnancy can be caused by any number of factors, but it’s important that you don’t try to suffer through it alone. Your support network of your partner, your family and trusted friends will be there to help you make it through the physical burdens of pregnancy as well as feelings of stress, anxiety or insecurity. With their support, you’ll be able to start finding ways to let go of stress and tension in your life.

Once you have the OK from your doctor, moderate exercise can be a great benefit for your mental health, and can help you let go of physical tension in your body. Once your pregnancy enters the calmer waters of the second trimester, maternity yoga and gentle walking can be an effective way to refresh your mind and body.

If work life is adding to your stress, see what options are available to you in terms of maternity leave, and try to apply as early as possible. The most important thing is to find ways to cope with stress that fit you and your lifestyle.

Stress reduction during pregnancy

pregnacy smile

Research has shown that stress increases your susceptibility to a number of physical ailments. In particular, anxiety is very common in first-time moms, and with tension causing an increased sensitivity to emotions in general, it can soon become a vicious circle of rising stress levels.

It may not be possible to rid your life of stress altogether, but if you can take the time to step back and refresh your body and mind, you’ll give yourself the best chance at keeping your stress levels in check. Remember to make time yourself and your hobbies now and then, like letting yourself get lost in a good book or your favorite music. You deserve to feel good!