Pregnancy can be one of life’s most exciting times, but there are usually some stressful moments too. Or, let’s be honest, even weeks when it feels like a lot.
A little stress about money, or work, or changing gears into parenthood is normal, but chronic stress can become a problem. So here’s what to know about stress in pregnancy.
In this article 📝
- What is stress?
- Is stress always a bad thing?
- What does stress during pregnancy do to a baby?
- Chronic levels of high stress in pregnancy
- Can a baby in the womb feel your stress?
- How much stress is too much during pregnancy?
- How to deal with stress while pregnant
What is stress?
“Stress” is a combination of physical and chemical changes that take place in your body when your brain responds to a threat.
The threat could be real, or it could be something you’re worried about that might never happen. Your body responds the same way.
When you’re stressed, your nervous system releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).
This then triggers a cocktail of other hormones, especially adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones tell your muscles to contract, your heart and respiration rate to speed up, and your senses to sharpen.
Think of it as your whole body snapping to attention.
Is stress always a bad thing?
Not at all.
For short-term emergencies, stress is actually helpful – a secret weapon that can help us make quick decisions.
The problem with stress is that our bodies pay a high price if the “fight or flight” state continues for too long.
Stress drains our energy, diverts resources away from our immune systems, raises our blood sugar, and throws almost all our other physical processes (even our menstrual cycles) completely out of rhythm.
So it’s no surprise that living with chronic levels of stress is proven to have a serious impact on our health.
It can increase the long-term risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, and diabetes, as well as mental health problems.
What does stress during pregnancy do to a baby?
Recently, there’s been some new research into the effects of stress on mamas-to-be and their little ones.
The results are in: Extreme stress over long periods isn’t good for either of you.
But it is really important to note that there’s a difference between short- and long-term stress.
The good news is that short-term feelings of stress and anxiety have not been shown to impact fetal development.
Even when a mama experienced an episode of panic, the baby was just fine.
So can crying and stress affect an unborn baby? Or can arguing during pregnancy harm the baby?
Not immediately. In fact, some studies even report that a small amount of stress during pregnancy has benefits. As long as it’s not constant.
What’s crucial is that, if the body has short periods when stress hormones are at a higher level, it also has longer periods where the levels have a chance to normalize.
Chronic levels of high stress in pregnancy
The bad news is that living in a chronic state of extremely high stress during pregnancy can affect you and your baby.
Why is stress bad while pregnant? Scientists have repeatedly shown a link between higher levels of hormones like cortisol and an increased risk of:
This can be especially true of high stress in the first trimester when your little one is laying the foundations for all the systems in their body.
Can a baby in the womb feel your stress?
Despite the risks above, scientists are still not sure exactly how the stress levels of mamas-to-be get passed on to their babies and why the effects seem to differ throughout pregnancy.
And there also isn’t clear-cut proof that your little peanut can “feel” when you go through an isolated stressful incident.
So while you should do what you can to manage your stress levels, you don’t need to let the idea that your little one can tell when you have a stressful day become another thing on your list of pregnancy worries.
How much stress is too much during pregnancy?
While everyone’s response to stress is different, there are a few warning signs to look out for:
- Constant worry
- Faster heart rate
- Lack of energy
- Back and neck pain
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- A sense that one source of stress is always replaced by the next ‘urgent’ thing
- Habits like teeth grinding, nail biting, fidgeting, hair pulling, or skin picking
- Constant negative emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear
How to deal with stress while pregnant
Wondering how to relieve stress while pregnant? The truth is, managing stress during pregnancy is no different from managing stress at any other time.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Exercise uses up your excess adrenaline and gives you an endorphin rush which can improve your mood, change your perspective, and make you feel less overwhelmed.
If you need an afternoon nap or an extra hour in bed, let yourself have it.
Your body is doing a huge amount of work.
3. Eat well
While treats are fine, sugar highs and crashes can affect your mood and your energy levels.
Eating as healthily as you can allows your body to get through the day more smoothly.
4. Identify problems
Sometimes we get stressed for good reason. If you’re worried about a particular thing, try and remind yourself that, while there’s almost certainly a solution, stress won’t solve the problem.
There’s also probably someone who can give you advice, talk things through with you, or just listen.
This is often the first step in making a plan to solve things.
5. Talk to a therapist or doctor
If you try to ease up and take steps to reduce your stress levels, but still feel the same, you might need some extra help.
A few sessions speaking to a professional can help you understand the root cause of your stress, give you some extra tools to manage it, or put your worries into perspective.
6. Get support
This can be from your partner, a friend, your family, a neighbor, or a colleague. It’s okay to ask for what you need.
And if you don’t have a network, the Peanut Community is full of other mamas-to-be who are going through the same thing.
This is exactly what we’re here for.
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