Can Stress and Anxiety Hurt My Baby?

Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2022
Can stress and anxiety hurt my baby
Research indicates that stress and anxiety in pregnant women may influence the health of the baby and result in several birth problems.

Stress and anxiety in pregnant women, according to most research and studies, may influence the health of the baby and are linked to several types of birth problems.

  • Physically stressed mothers are more likely to have premature births and have lower fetal heart rate and movement, which researchers believe may have an impact on central nervous system development.
  • Stress and anxiety can have an impact on the mother's immune system, resulting in alterations that impair the fetus' neurological and behavioral development. During pregnancy, the fetus is vulnerable to environmental stimuli that can have long-term developmental and maturation repercussions.

Maternal stress and anxiety have been linked to an increased chance of children suffering cardiovascular, metabolic, or neuropsychiatric diseases.

  • According to the researchers, psychological stress and anxiety result in elevated vascular tone in the uterus and placenta, resulting in lower umbilical blood flow and placental issues.
  • Psychological stress and anxiety have been linked to an increased incidence of prenatal infections. These illnesses have the potential to alter the fetus’ immune system.
  • Psychological stress and anxiety have been linked to an increase in oxidative stress indicators in the fetus. This may make the baby prone to obesity, asthma, and other metabolic disorders in the future.
  • During pregnancy, they are linked to preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction, and gestational diabetes.

Stress and anxiety events can have long-term detrimental impacts on infants, including:

Doctors largely agree that prenatal stress and anxiety affect a mother's pregnancy. However, the precise mechanism through which stress and anxiety affect pregnant women's delivery outcomes is unknown. More research may help find the cure in the latter part of this decade.

6 strategies to cope with stress during pregnancy

According to the studies, having a solid social support system is an important component in lowering stress in pregnant women.

Pregnancy is an excellent time to reflect on the type of social support one is receiving and whether any is missing, as well as to find methods to adjust. Mothers might obtain emotional and actionable support (running errands).

  1. Practice deep breathing
    • Deep breathing and other breathing techniques are simple and efficient ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
    • To practice diaphragmatic breathing:
      • Locate a quiet area where you can sit or lie down
      • Place one hand on your ribcage and the other on your chest
      • Breathe in four times through your nose
      • Once you inhale, notice how your abdomen expands
      • Hold your breath gently
      • For a count of six, exhale through your mouth
      • When you exhale, notice how your abdomen relaxes
      • Continue for a few more rounds
    • You can change the amount of time you spend inhaling and exhaling your breath. Counting your breaths should not be painful or difficult, therefore don't be afraid to reduce the cycles if necessary.
    • Deep breathing should be practiced every day for a few minutes at a time for the best results.
  2. Ask for help
    • Asking for assistance with domestic chores, errands, nursery preparation, or other duties can lighten your burden and relieve stress.
    • Additionally, your obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) doctor may be able to provide support and tools to assist with stress management.
    • Your body and mind are going through a lot throughout pregnancy, and it is quite normal to not be able to keep up with the same pace.
    • Give yourself permission to take things easy and delegate tasks where possible.
  3. Move your body
    • Exercise is a powerful strategy to manage and prevent stress and anxiety. Studies suggest that exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety, as well as strengthens your resistance to stress and anxiety.
    • Safe exercises during pregnancy are:
    • It is advised that pregnant women engage in about 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, such as walking or swimming.
    • While exercise is generally safe during pregnancy, women with high-risk pregnancies should exercise with caution or avoid it entirely. Before beginning an exercise program, consult with your doctor.
  4. Get plenty of sleep
    • Insomnia is prevalent throughout pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. Sleeping issues in pregnancy, according to researchers, can be a cause and an effect of stress and worry.
    • Unfortunately, lack of sleep can have a severe impact on the pregnancy and the mother's health. Therefore, obtaining adequate rest is critical. You may even discover that you require extra sleep while pregnant. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night.
    • If you are having trouble sleeping, the following are some things you may do at home:
      • Even on weekends, try to maintain a consistent sleep routine
      • Avoid using electronic gadgets before going to bed
      • Caffeine should be avoided, especially in the afternoon and evening
      • Before going to bed, try soothing activities
      • Make your bedroom dark, quiet and a maintain pleasant temperature
    • If you continue to have sleeping problems, make an appointment with your doctor. They will be able to determine whether you have a sleep issue and, if so, prescribe treatment.
  5. Make time for enjoyable activities
    • This helps you de-stress.
    • Having fun is a form of self-care that is equally as vital as taking care of your physical health.
    • Allow yourself to prioritize fun and seek to participate in at least three delightful activities per week.
  6. Take an action to target the reason for your stress and anxiety
    • Taking measures to address the source of your stress is important for self-care.
    • You must determine what is creating your stress and address it if possible.
    • In other circumstances, you may not be able to control the source of your stress and must instead learn to let go. Sometimes, simply acknowledging that something is outside of your control can help you feel better.

If attempting to deal with pregnancy stress and anxiety on your own is ineffective, you may want professional assistance. You might begin by discussing your concerns with your doctor, OBGYN, or midwife. They will be able to determine if your stress and anxiety levels are excessive and if you need to seek mental health therapy. They can talk to you about different treatment options and send you to a specialist.


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Is any therapy available for stress and anxiety during pregnancy?

When your stress and anxiety are too much for you to handle on your own, therapy can help. Therapy has been shown in studies to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in pregnant women.

  • Meet with a skilled expert, such as a psychologist, social worker, or counselor, to discuss how you are feeling, better understand the source of your stress, and create strategies to manage your feelings.
  • There are numerous therapeutic techniques, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (ITP) are the most common and well-studied among pregnant women.
  • CBT assists you to identify and change negative beliefs that are the source of your unpleasant feelings.
  • Relationship troubles, according to ITP, are a contributing factor to depression or anxiety. It helps improve your connections with others, which aids in the treatment of your depression.

Support groups

  • You should think about joining a pregnant women's support group. A peer or a professional can lead a support group.
  • They allow you to connect with other pregnant women who are going through similar problems and learn how to manage more efficiently.
  • Both peer-led support groups and therapy groups have been found to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as cortisol levels, which are an indicator of lower stress.
  • Support groups alone or in conjunction with individual therapy can be beneficial.

Stress is common during pregnancy, but it does not have to overwhelm you. Taking care of your physical health, reaching out to others, calming your thoughts, and addressing the origins of your stress can all assist you to cope.

What changes should women expect after pregnancy?

You may experience both physical and emotional changes after the birth of your child.

Physical symptoms

  • Breasts may be painfully engorged for several days, and your nipples may be sore.
  • The first bowel movement may occur a few days after delivery, and it may be uncomfortable due to sensitive hemorrhoids, healing surgical stitches, and stiff muscles.
  • The stitches may make it unpleasant to sit or walk for a short time while it heals. It might be difficult to cough or sneeze throughout the healing process.
  • The body's reaction to changing hormone and blood flow levels might disrupt your internal thermostat, resulting in hot and cold flashes.
  • The straining of your muscles during delivery can cause you to pass urine (pee) when you cough, laugh or strain, or it could make controlling your bowel movements difficult, especially if you had long labor before a vaginal delivery.
  • Your uterus will continue to contract for a few days after delivery. These are most visible when your baby nurses or when you are administered medicine to stop bleeding.
  • Vaginal discharge may be heavier than your period at first, and it may contain clots. Vaginal discharge progressively fades to white or yellow and finally ends within a few weeks.
  • Weight will most likely be about 12 or 13 pounds (the weight of the baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid) less than your full-term weight. Then, further water weight drops off during the first week when your body regains its balance.

Emotional symptoms

  • Many new mothers experience anger, melancholy, sobbing, or anxiety in the first few days after giving birth.
  • These baby blues are normal and may be caused by physical changes (such as hormone shifts, tiredness, and unexpected birth experiences), as well as an emotional transformation as you adjust to new roles and your new baby.
  • Baby blues usually pass in one to two weeks.
  • Mood swings, worry, guilt, and chronic sadness may be more significant.
  • Depression can be detected up to a year after childbirth, and it is more likely in women who have a history of depression, many life stresses, and a family history of depression.
  • Your relationship with your partner may change after childbirth. It will take time for a new sense of balance to form in your household.
  • During this transition period, your sexual desires may differ from those of your partner. That's OK. To make things clearer, talk openly about your expectations and what you are experiencing.

Getting back in shape after having a kid does not have to be a traumatic experience. Exercise will make you feel better but follow your doctor's advice.

  • Begin walking
  • Kegels and pelvic tilts should be done
  • Perform basic crunches
  • Breastfeed your child to regain your breast shape
  • Start doing weight training and short bursts of cardio
  • Add some hill intervals (short bursts of higher intensity drills) to your cardio to engage the glutes, hamstrings, and quads

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Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

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Collier S. How can you manage anxiety during pregnancy? Harvard Health Publishing.

Madhusoodanan J. How maternal mood shapes the developing brain. Knowable Magazine.

Children's National Hospital. Maternal anxiety affects the fetal brain.

American Academy of Family Physicians. Recovering from Delivery (Postpartum Recovery).