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Pregnancy Stress: Your Guide to Managing Stress Levels

Guide to Managing Stress LevelsWhether it’s a demanding job or a toxic relationship, the resulting stress seems like a natural part of life. But too much stress can be detrimental to your health - especially if you’re pregnant.

Research shows that prenatal stress has a direct effect on an infant’s health, with the potential to negatively impact their brain development, immune system, or their ability to pay attention.

Today’s post will discuss lifestyle factors that can mitigate stress levels and how obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYN) can help you.

Tips for Avoiding Stress During Pregnancy

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get therapy to address significant anxiety, grief, or depression
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Eat periodically (three meals and two healthy snacks a day)
  • Avoid long fasting periods
  • Avoid strenuous bodily exertion (lifting heavy things)

How Obstetricians Help Manage Stress

Guide to Managing Stress LevelsIf you’re experiencing stress, an obstetrician can compassionately work with you to provide guidance and regular pregnancy check-ups before, during, and after your baby comes to term. You can discuss fears and concerns with your provider and get actionable feedback on coping strategies.

Causes of Pregnancy Stress

An estimated 20% of women suffer from stress-related mood disorders during pregnancy. These can be the result of many things, including:

  • Personal life
  • Job loss
  • Insecure housing
  • Domestic violence

There are multiple ways that health professionals categorize stress, from cultural to environmental.

The two most common forms include:

  1. Pregnancy-specific stress: distress that pertains to concerns about the pregnancy

  2. Psychosocial stress: occurs regardless of pregnancy and can involve daily hassles, financial difficulties, or marital strain.

The Science of Stress During Pregnancy

When a woman gets pregnant, her body changes to ensure the healthy development of the fetus. But when stress enters the body, it interferes with the natural adaptations to the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems that support a healthy pregnancy.

There is a higher chance for “physical and developmental delays in later years,” according to studies published in Obstetric Medicine.

How Stress Affects a Baby’s Development

Guide to Managing Stress LevelsA large body of research has been done covering the effects of cortisone in the bodies of pregnant women, as well as how it increases pregnancy complications.

For example, babies kick more when their mothers are stressed or angry. Studies show that these emotions are related to an increased motor function of a baby, especially at 24, 30, and 36 weeks of pregnancy.

Some of the birth complications associated with high levels of prenatal stress were:

  • Preterm labor
  • Low infant birth weight
  • Shortened gestational length
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Preterm delivery
  • Gestational diabetes

Lifetime effects on human health after stress in the womb:

  • Attachment difficulties
  • Stress hyper-responsiveness
  • Asthma
  • Allergy
  • Difficult temperament
  • Mood disorders

The Effects of Stress in the Postpartum Period

Stress alters the brain chemicals, often resulting in bad moods. Mood disorders, like poor emotional control, anxiety, and apathy, are directly linked to poor postnatal care. This can manifest itself as reduced duration of breastfeeding, a lack of mother-infant bonding, and delays in an infant’s behavioral development. 

Natural Remedies for Stress Reduction While Pregnant

Aside from some of the more apparent remedies, such as getting enough sleep and staying away from excessive caffeine consumption, there are plenty of other organic ways to reduce tension.

Journaling. Reflecting on your life through writing can help you release tension. 

Meditate. Mindfulness is a practice that has grown in popularity. Plenty of meditation apps you can download have timed, guided meditations for you to follow along with.

Aromatherapy. Breathing in the right scents can help reduce stress levels. Smells can trigger the limbic system of the brain and activate certain emotions. 

Drink peppermint tea. Peppermint tea leaves contain menthol, which is a muscle relaxant. It’s also caffeine-free and serves to relax the nervous system. There are also other caffeine-free, organic teas you can try to help lower stress. 

Talk to someone. Speak with a loved one or a therapist about the things you are struggling with. This will give your worrying mind a bit of a break. 

Positive affirmations. Repeat positive sayings like a mantra (even if you don’t believe it). This activates the reward-related neural regions of the brain. The brain will start to believe it and decrease stress-related thoughts.

De-stress with a massage. Massaging the muscle tissues in the body can help you to lower stress levels. If your neck and shoulders are tense, massage them with soft kneading movements. 

Take deeper breaths. Breathing deep into the abdomen helps to stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the relaxation response from the parasympathetic nervous system.

OTC Medications for Pregnant Women

Guide to Managing Stress LevelsIn the event that natural remedies do not work, there are some over-the-counter medications that can be recommended by your doctor. However, this course of action should not be the first priority. Natural remedies are always the safest way to address pregnancy-related stress.

To get the proper medication for you, an obstetrician can review your specific health profile and make suggestions based on a variety of factors, from age to pre-existing conditions. You can also visit our list of pre-approved OTC medications.

Strategies for Reducing Stress While Pregnant

Educate yourself about pregnancy and birth. Better yet, find an obstetrician near you who can give you direct advice on navigating your individual pregnancy journey.

  • Create a birth plan: Your OBGYN can help you create one.
  • Set up a support system for after childbirth: You’ll need to know where specific support is coming from, whether it is financial, social, or physical.
  • Center on the present moment: Detaching from racing thoughts will reduce stress.
  • Organize your living space for the baby: Creating the necessary changes for your new family member will make it less stressful in the future.

Consult with an Obstetrician to Reduce Pregnancy Stress

Guide to Managing Stress LevelsAn obstetrician can help you throughout your pregnancy and beyond, ensuring a healthy outcome for you and your child. If you’re curious about how to handle stress during your pregnancy, give us a call at 816-741-9122.

Additional Reading and Citations

Prenatal Anger Effects on the Fetus and Neonate – Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, Salman F, Schanberg S, Kuhn C, Yando R, Bendell D. Prenatal anger effects on the fetus and neonate. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2002 May;22(3):260-6. doi: 10.1080/01443610220130526. PMID: 12521495.

Effects of Prenatal Stress on Pregnancy and Human Development: Mechanisms and Pathways – Coussons-Read ME. Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: mechanisms and pathways. Obstet Med. 2013 Jun;6(2):52-57. doi: 10.1177/1753495X12473751. Epub 2013 May 3. PMID: 27757157; PMCID: PMC5052760.

Prenatal Maternal Stress: Effects on Pregnancy and the (Unborn) Child – Science Direct; Early Human Development

Pregnancy Stress Effects – National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information

Northland Women's Health Care, P.C.
8600 NE 82nd St. •  Kansas City, MO 64158  •  Phone: 816-741-9122  •  Fax: 816-741-9665