Can Stress During Pregnancy Affect the Baby? Plus, Finding Relief (2022)

After staying up late researching birthing options online (lotus, Lamaze, and water, oh my!), you can’t get to sleep. You’re feeling behind at work. And every meal you wonder what you can and can’t eat. (Feta cheese: yay or nay?)

Who’s stressed around here?

Between your physical changes (hello, hormones!), the unknowns, and all the things to do, the answer is — you.

But guess what? It’s completely normal and usually not cause for concern (or more stress). There are some types of stress, though, that can increase your risk for certain complications.

Let’s look at some common causes of stress that many women feel during pregnancy. They include:

  • fear of pregnancy loss
  • fear of labor and delivery
  • uncomfortable physical changes, like nausea, tiredness, mood swings, and backache
  • work and helping your employer prepare for your maternity leave
  • fear of taking care of the baby
  • financial stress related to raising a child

And of course, there’s the always frustrating stress about feeling stressed!

Not all stress is created equal, though.

Stress is a normal part of life, and it’s not even always a bad thing. And worrying about your baby and pregnancy are signs that you’re eager to be a good parent — and you will be.

(Video) Stressed during pregnancy? Your baby might feel long term effects

A pressing deadline at work or a one-time disagreement with your partner may get your heart rate up. But they’re not typically cause for long-term worry for your baby. If you’re able to get past the stress and not linger there, you’re golden.

More concerning in pregnancy (and in life) are chronic stresses that you just can’t shake. They could increase your chance of complications like premature birth and low birth rate.

That’s because your body thinks it’s in “fight or flight” mode. You produce a surge of stress hormones, which affects your baby’s stress management system.

Serious stressors that most affect you and your baby include:

  • big life changes, such as a death in the family, divorce, or losing your job or home
  • long-term hardships, such as financial problems, health issues, abuse, or depression
  • disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, or other unexpected traumatic events
  • exposure to racism, an everyday difficulty faced by being in a minority group
  • serious stress about pregnancy, such as a larger fear than typical around labor, health of the baby, and caring for the baby

Those who have experienced disasters may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They’re at a greater risk of having a baby born prematurely or with a low birth weight. If that’s you, talk to your doctor or a therapist — they can connect you with resources to help.

You might have noticed that stress can show up in your body as a headache, trouble sleeping, or overeating.

It can affect your baby, too.

So, what exactly are the risks to your baby and pregnancy?

Preeclampsia

Since preeclampsia often comes up — and fear of it can cause stress — we want to clear this up.

Research shows that if you already have high blood pressure, you’re at greater risk of getting preeclampsia during pregnancy. It’s a common misconception that chronic stress can cause long-term hypertension, though — so don’t for one second believe that you somehow caused preeclampsia by being stressed. Stress can cause short-term spikes in blood pressure.

Further, not everyone with chronic hypertension gets preeclampsia.

(Video) Stress During Pregnancy - How It Affects Mother & Baby

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that affects your blood pressure and organs, and could lead to early delivery of your baby.

So you don’t have to be stressed to get preeclampsia — about 5 percent of pregnant women get it. Nor does being stressed necessarily mean you’ll have high blood pressure or preeclampsia.

Miscarriage

A 2017 review of studies links prenatal stress to increased risk of miscarriage. Researchers found that women who had major negative life events or psychological stress exposure were twice as likely to have early miscarriages.

The same review found a link between workplace stress and miscarriage, which definitely brings to light the importance of making adjustments and working with your employer. This may be especially necessary if you work a night shift.

The review also mentioned that healthcare providers tend to downplay the risk stress can cause in pregnancy, perhaps to reassure pregnant women and not cause more stress. But these providers may have a point: Remember that the chances of miscarriage after 6 weeks — which is around the time most women confirm a pregnancy — are fairly small.

Preterm birth and low birth rate

Another small study links stress to preterm birth — delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy).

Preterm babies are more likely to have developmental delays and learning disorders. As adults, they’re more likely to have chronic health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Also correlated is low birthweight (weighing less than 5 1/2 pounds).

On the flip side, premature infants are born every day, and most do quite well. The main point is to avoid adding risk factors — like stress — to your pregnancy if you can (or seek treatment), because the fewer the risk factors, the better the outcome.

Unfortunately, in some instances, the effects of prenatal stress show up later — sometimes, many years later.

One 2012 study suggests that children may be more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after prenatal stress. A 2019 study shows a possible link to developing depression as a teenager.

(Video) Stress During Pregnancy|can stress affects Mother & Baby|கர்ப்பகாலத்துல மனஅழுத்தம்

Of course, once your baby arrives you might find you have a whole new set of stressors.

If you’re stressed caring for your infant, try to sneak in more sleep when you can and focus on healthy foods. Ask your partner to look after baby so you can do something for yourself like take a walk, journal, or talk to a friend. Know it’s okay to say no to too many visitors or prioritize your little one rather than a clean kitchen.

Now for some good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. You can get relief. Here are a few ways you can calm yourself and help your baby:

1. Talk with someone you trust

This could be your partner, best friend, doctor, therapist, or another pregnant woman. Join a mom’s group, either online or IRL. Being able to vent and feel heard is so valuable, whether or not you get to an immediate solution.

2. Ask your network for help

It may not come naturally to you, but it’s more than OK to ask for help. Chances are, your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers would love to help, but don’t know where to start. And if they’re wise enough to ask, accept their offer!

Ask for help creating a baby registry, cooking a few meals for the freezer, or shopping for cribs with you.

3. Be mindful

This could mean doing prenatal yoga or listening to a meditation app. Take a series of deep breaths, letting your mind calm with each exhale. Repeat a mantra that centers you. Visually imagine life with your infant. Mindfully enjoy the little things each day. Journal your thoughts. Enjoy guided muscle relaxation.

These are all ways to slow your thoughts — exactly what you need when your mind is racing.

4. Keep healthy

Ah, those good ‘ol staples: rest and exercise. Go to bed earlier than normal or indulge in that nap. Try low-impact exercises like swimming or walking, or do a brief prenatal yoga sequence.

5. Consider your food

Sure, you may have those infamous cravings or need food right this instant. And on top of pregnancy cravings, stress eating is real. But also make sure that your meals are (relatively) balanced and healthy.

Avoid sugar as much as possible (we know it’s not always easy), and drink lots and lots of water. Remember to eat breakfast.

(Video) Find solution to overcome stress during pregnancy | Dr. KS Rupa Iyengar | Joyful Pregnancy

6. Know the facts

Pregnancy — and particularly pregnancy after loss — can bring many fears. Understand that miscarriage becomes less likely with each week that passes, and it’s especially unlikely after 13 weeks.

Know when to step away from your computer (yes, you!). Don’t spiral into hours of research — that’ll only cause more stress.

Talk to your doctor about your worries. They’ll be able to offer you reassurance and help unique to your situation and needs.

7. Listen to music

Listening to as little as 30 minutes of music can decrease cortisol, which is your body’s main stress hormone. Break from the stress, even if it’s during the work commute.

8. Feel the feels

Laughter is medicine. Watch the latest romcom or pick up that lighthearted novel. Call your best friend and share a laugh. Or go the other direction and let out tears that have built up. Sometimes there’s no better stress relief than a good cry.

9. Pamper yourself

Soak in a warm (but not hot) bath. Get a prenatal massage or ask your partner to rub your feet. All are quick fixes for the aches of pregnancy — and good stress relievers, too.

10. Slow it down

Give yourself permission to not push so hard. You may want to do it all, but consider taking a task or two off your to-do list or see if someone else can do it instead. Or if you’re having trouble saying “no” to requests, ask your partner to be a gatekeeper and say it for you.

11. Practice and plan

Take any classes (birthing, newborn care) available through your hospital. Tour your hospital’s labor and delivery unit to know what to expect and the resources available.

Write your birth plan — the doctors will know what you’d like and you’ll feel better being able to visualize the big day and beyond.

12. Watch your stress levels

If it all starts feeling like too much, tell your doctor right away. They can help address depression and anxiety with therapy and other treatments.

You’re not alone if you feel stressed during pregnancy — it’s perfectly normal, and those everyday stressors experienced by pregnant women don’t typically impact mom or baby’s health.

(Video) Common discomforts in your first trimester

It’s chronic stress that you need to watch out for. It not only affects your own health — pregnant or not — but may complicate labor and baby’s development.

The good news is that there are many ways you can keep stress at bay. Take a little extra time for self-care without guilt. Knowing your options for stress relief and incorporating them in your life can help make these days a bit smoother and keep you and your baby healthier.

FAQs

What happens to your unborn baby when you are stressed? ›

During pregnancy, stress can increase the chances of having a premature baby (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a low-birthweight baby (weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces). Babies born too soon or too small are at increased risk for health problems.

Can babies sense stress in the womb? ›

Most recently, some studies are suggesting that stress in the womb can affect a baby's temperament and neurobehavioral development. Infants whose mothers experienced high levels of stress while pregnant, particularly in the first trimester, show signs of more depression and irritability.

What is the most common fetal outcome of stress during pregnancy? ›

Stress and Birth Outcomes

Maternal stress has been associated with poor birth outcomes including preterm birth, infant mortality and low birthweight. Stress results in increases in cortisol, norepinephrine and inflammation which affect the fetal environment and have implications for maternal and infant health.

How do I know if my baby is stressed in the womb? ›

Tachycardia (an abnormally fast heart rate) Bradycardia (an abnormally slow heart rate) Variable decelerations (abrupt decreases in heart rate) Late decelerations (late returns to the baseline heart rate after a contraction)

How can I relieve stress during pregnancy? ›

Eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep and exercise (with your provider's OK). Cut back on activities you don't need to do or ask your partner to help with chores. Try relaxation activities, like prenatal yoga or meditation.

Does my baby feel sad when I cry in the womb? ›

Research has shown that, during pregnancy, your baby feels what you feel—and with the same intensity. That means if you're crying, your baby feels the same emotion, as if it's their own. During the gestational period, your baby is preparing themselves for life in the outside world.

Can arguing during pregnancy harm the baby? ›

The research, from the Kochi Medical School in Japan, found that 'verbal abuse' from a significant other during pregnancy could increase the risk of a baby being born with hearing issues. Researchers found that verbal abuse was linked with an increased risk of up to 50%.

Can babies feel when Mom is sad? ›

Studies have shown that infants as young as one month-old sense when a parent is depressed or angry and are affected by the parent's mood. Understanding that even infants are affected by adult emotions can help parents do their best in supporting their child's healthy development.

Does stress cause baby to move less? ›

This ultrasound study suggests that a mother's stress and/or depression can influence the movement patterns of unborn babies reflecting their body awareness. They also found key differences between the movements of singles and twins in the womb.

Does stress cause Down syndrome? ›

Down syndrome, which arises from a chromosome defect, is likely to have a direct link with the increase in stress levels seen in couples during the time of conception, say Surekha Ramachandran, founder of Down Syndrome Federation of India, who has been studying about the same ever since her daughter was diagnosed with ...

How does mother's emotions affect the baby in the womb? ›

Benefits of emotional health during pregnancy

When you feel happy and calm, it allows your baby to develop in a happy, calm environment. However, emotions like stress and anxiety can increase particular hormones in your body, which can affect your baby's developing body and brain.

How do I know my fetus is healthy? ›

Five common signs of a healthy pregnancy
  1. 01/6​Weight gain during pregnancy. Usually expecting mums gain around 12-15 kilos when they are pregnant. ...
  2. 02/6Common signs of a healthy pregnancy. ...
  3. 03/6​Movement. ...
  4. 04/6​Normal growth. ...
  5. 05/6Heartbeat. ...
  6. 06/6​Position of the baby at the time of pre-labour.
4 Oct 2019

Can you have a miscarriage from stress? ›

The short and reassuring answer is: no. There is no direct link between stress and having a miscarriage. While some studies suggest that stress can increase the risk of miscarriage, they do not show a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

How long can you lay on your back when pregnant? ›

Back sleeping is no longer safe after 28 weeks gestation, but there are a few other comfortable positions for you to safely doze in.

When should I start talking to my baby in the womb? ›

When can babies in the womb hear you? At around 14 weeks, your baby can start to hear your voice.

What are 4 signs of stress or distress in babies? ›

Signs of stress—cues that your baby is getting too much stimulation:
  • hiccupping.
  • yawning.
  • sneezing.
  • frowning.
  • looking away.
  • squirming.
  • frantic, disorganized activity.
  • arms and legs pushing away.

Can anxiety affect baby movement? ›

Conclusions: Maternal anxiety seems to affect fetal movement patterns in late pregnancy and is associated with the mother's increased perception of fetal activity.

What birth defects are caused by stress? ›

9 issue of The Lancet that women who experience severe emotional stress in the first trimester of pregnancy, such as the death of a child, are more likely than women who do not experience that type of stress to have a baby with defects of a particular type, mainly heart defects or cleft lip, cleft palate, or both.

Can anger during pregnancy affect the baby? ›

Some research has found that anger during pregnancy may impact the unborn child. One study found that prenatal anger was associated with reduced fetal growth rate.

Can folic acid prevent Down syndrome? ›

April 17, 2003 -- Taking folic acid supplements before and during early pregnancy may not only help prevent neural tube defects in babies, but it may also reduce the risk of Down syndrome.

Can arguing during pregnancy harm the baby? ›

The research, from the Kochi Medical School in Japan, found that 'verbal abuse' from a significant other during pregnancy could increase the risk of a baby being born with hearing issues. Researchers found that verbal abuse was linked with an increased risk of up to 50%.

How does mother's emotions affect the baby in the womb? ›

Benefits of emotional health during pregnancy

When you feel happy and calm, it allows your baby to develop in a happy, calm environment. However, emotions like stress and anxiety can increase particular hormones in your body, which can affect your baby's developing body and brain.

Does anger during pregnancy affect the baby? ›

Some research has found that anger during pregnancy may impact the unborn child. One study found that prenatal anger was associated with reduced fetal growth rate.

Can arguing harm my baby? ›

Research suggests that babies are indeed affected by parental squabbles, and exposure to chronic conflict may affect brain development. Experimental studies confirm that babies can sense when their mothers are distressed, and the stress is contagious.

Can babies feel when Mom is sad? ›

Studies have shown that infants as young as one month-old sense when a parent is depressed or angry and are affected by the parent's mood. Understanding that even infants are affected by adult emotions can help parents do their best in supporting their child's healthy development.

Does stress cause baby to move less? ›

This ultrasound study suggests that a mother's stress and/or depression can influence the movement patterns of unborn babies reflecting their body awareness. They also found key differences between the movements of singles and twins in the womb.

How can I make my baby happy during pregnancy? ›

Ways to bond with your baby during pregnancy
  1. Talk and sing to your baby, knowing he or she can hear you.
  2. Gently touch and rub your belly, or massage it.
  3. Respond to your baby's kicks. ...
  4. Play music to your baby. ...
  5. Give yourself time to reflect, go for a walk or have a warm bath and think about the baby. ...
  6. Have an ultrasound.

How long can you lay on your back when pregnant? ›

Back sleeping is no longer safe after 28 weeks gestation, but there are a few other comfortable positions for you to safely doze in.

Does my baby know when I'm crying when pregnant? ›

Research has shown that, during pregnancy, your baby feels what you feel—and with the same intensity. That means if you're crying, your baby feels the same emotion, as if it's their own. During the gestational period, your baby is preparing themselves for life in the outside world.

In which trimester is the baby the most developed? ›

First Trimester (0 to 13 Weeks)

The first trimester is the most crucial to your baby's development. During this period, your baby's body structure and organ systems develop. Most miscarriages and birth defects occur during this period.

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