Five ways in which chronic stress can affect your pregnancy

Bringing a baby into the world is never easy. Pregnancy is never a walk in a park. It is not like you wake up one day, and voila! You have a baby. It is one of the most challenging tasks where you have to carry your child in your womb for nine whole months. And if that is not enough, you also have to go through innumerable mood swings throughout the day, hormonal changes, and your body does not even stop growing almost everywhere. 

Life seems messy, but you are also happy about the baby. All these different emotions and a dozen other responsibilities that you have to take care of can add-in to your stress. While it is entirely okay to experience my-work-is-never-done stress (which is mild, by the way), the problem arises when you experience severe stress every day throughout nine months. In that case, stress will not only affect you, but it would also affect your pregnancy (1).

That being said, here are five different ways in which chronic stress can affect your pregnancy. 

Miscarriage and Stress

Researchers have linked the increased possibility of miscarriage with prenatal stress. They have found that when expecting mothers experience significant psychological stress (trauma) or adverse life events, they are more likely to experience an early miscarriage. Some studies have also stated that miscarriage and workplace stress are interlinked, especially among people who work night shifts. 

Stress hormones attack the mast cells in the body that cause allergic reactions. Now, these mast cells are found in abundance in the uterus (2). Therefore, when you are under stress, the stress hormones attack the mast cells in your uterus, making them produce certain substances. These substances cause miscarriage. 

Fetal Brain and Maternal Stress

Chronic stress contributes to brain development differences that can lead to various behavioral issues as your baby grows. Researchers and doctors are still working on finding the exact connection between changes in the fetal brain and stress (3)

Increased vascular tone and subsequent psychological stress in the placenta and uterus limit umbilical blood flow. This can lead to retarded fetus growth as well as even premature birth in some cases. Studies show that impaired brain development during the prenatal stage hampers behavioral learning, social development, and standard coordination and learning. Chronic stress, especially relationship and financial troubles, should be managed effectively to avoid fetal brain damage. 

Baby sleep problems and Stress-induced Depression

The Early Human Development had published research that found that women with depression and anxiety during their pregnancy have 40% more chances of giving birth to a baby who will develop sleep problems. This happens due to the increased presence of cortisol (stress hormone) when the mother is feeling stressed. 

Cortisol can surpass the placenta and affect specific brain parts of the child that regulate the wake-sleep cycle. A child’s sleep pattern is crucial for their overall healthy development. Therefore, it is essential for expecting women to control their high-stress levels as it eventually triggers chronic depression and anxiety. 

Premature Labor and Chronic Stress

Chronic stress makes specific changes to your body that doctors say can lead to premature labor. Chronic stress can bring long-term changes in terms of the body’s immunity system, hormone levels, and the body’s vascular system. Furthermore, stress causes cortisol production that further leads to the production of prostaglandin E2. in some cases, chronic stress can also increase blood pressure and heart rate. 

All these affect the body’s ability to fight diseases and infections. Such changes have the potential of influencing early labor to start way before 37 weeks (4). Some common examples of events that can cause chronic stress during pregnancy include long-term unemployment, death of loved ones, and divorce. 

Low birth weight baby and acute stress

Psychological stress in a mother leaves a negative impact on the baby’s health. Furthermore, when the mother experiences stress during their child’s brain development, it can permanently alter the child’s response mechanism to stress. This can have grave, long-term consequences on the fetus. 

Stress restricts the blood pressure to the uterus, which further prevents the fetus from receiving adequate nutrients. This eventually leads to a lower birth weight of the baby. Various studies have successfully illustrated the association between low birth weight and maternal stress. Doctors suggest that low birth weight also acts as an indicator of maternal stress during the prenatal stage (5).

How to reduce stress when you are expecting?

Although you can experience stress from the simplest of incidents to tragic life incidents, there are some simple ways in which you can reduce your stress levels. Here are some methods that you can follow. 

  • You should remember that the pregnancy discomforts are only going to last for a limited period. Ask your gynecologist about how you can handle the distress you are facing. 
  • Try to eat healthily, stay active, and maintain a healthy sleep cycle. Low-impact exercises help in reducing stress and preventing common pregnancy discomforts. Besides, specific foods also act as a mood booster by elevating serotonin production in the body. 
  • Try our relaxation activities such as meditation and prenatal yoga. These activities assist in managing stress as well as preparing for labor. 
  • Seek professioal help if you think you are suffering from anxiety or depression. Look for support groups within your community to talk to people going through similar struggles like you. 

Stress is an inseperable part of your life when you have someone growing inside you. Different types of stress can affect you and your baby’s health in different ways. However, learning and adopting effective stress coping mechanisms can help you combat these difficult times.