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Calm Parent, Healthy Baby: Understanding the Effects of Stress on Pregnancy

Calm Parent, Healthy Baby: Understanding the Effects of Stress on Pregnancy

May 24, 2023

Pregnancy is a time of constant change—your family life, emotions and body all evolve as your baby grows and you prepare for birth. Although some expectant parents welcome these changes, they can also add stress to your life. Some stress is inevitable, but chronic, elevated levels can negatively affect both the birthing parent and the baby. 

Fortunately, there are ways to minimize stress and promote a healthy pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about the connection between chronic stress and pregnancy and strategies for reducing stress while pregnant.

What is chronic stress, and how does it affect pregnancy?

“Chronic stress is ongoing stress that lasts for several weeks or months, resulting in health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure,” said Elizabeth Clayton, D.O., OB/GYN at Inspira Medical Group. “During pregnancy, chronic stress can increase the chances of having a preterm or low-birthweight baby, putting them at increased risk for health complications.” Chronic stress can also cause pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Managing stress levels can help reduce the risk of these adverse health outcomes, keeping you and your baby healthy. 

What is preeclampsia, and how is it related to stress?

Preeclampsia is a condition that can develop during pregnancy. It is characterized by high blood pressure and damage to organs, including the liver and kidneys. Chronic stress during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of developing preeclampsia. Researchers are still exploring exactly how these conditions are connected, but one theory is that stress triggers inflammation and disrupts normal blood flow, contributing to the development of preeclampsia.  

What is gestational diabetes, and how is it related to stress?

“Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and usually resolves after childbirth,” said Dr. Clayton. “High stress levels are associated with an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.” Stress can affect blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, which can contribute to the development of this condition.  

How does stress affect your sleep habits during pregnancy?

Chronic stress during pregnancy can also disrupt sleep patterns, leading to poor sleep quality and quantity. Sleep disturbances during pregnancy can increase the risk of other health issues, including mood disorders, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Prioritizing healthy sleep habits throughout pregnancy can help you manage stress and promote overall well-being.  

How can I minimize my stress levels during pregnancy?

In addition to getting adequate sleep and establishing a regular sleep routine, there are several ways to reduce stress during pregnancy. Start by checking in with your overall well-being. Regular physical activity and a nutritious, balanced diet can help you feel your best and keep stress levels low. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation and yoga can also help with stress management. 

If you’re experiencing chronic stress while pregnant, avoid stressful situations whenever possible and take time for yourself as needed. Seek support from your loved ones, friends or doctor, and consider therapy or counseling if you’re experiencing significant stress-related symptoms that won’t go away. 

“Patients are often so focused on the physical symptoms they experience during pregnancy, that they often don’t think to talk to their providers about their mental health. While some increased stress is expected, you should talk to your provider if you’re feeling consistently consumed by stress during your pregnancy,” said Dr. Clayton. “They can offer guidance to help you manage and relieve your symptoms and help get the support you need.”  

Inspira offers specialized care for women at any stage of life through a robust network of physicians, women’s health specialists and certified nurse midwives with offices conveniently located throughout Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties. 

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.

Topics: Obstetrics & Gynecology, Maternity