The belief that the maternal emotional state during pregnancy may influence the development of her fetus has existed since ancient times across all cultures. Empirical studies examining the effects of prenatal psychological stress first appeared in the literature in the 1950s.1 The transition to parenthood involves major psychological and social changes. For women, it is a period of heightened maternal emotions, and many experience physiological and physical changes and desire to adapt to these changes. The pregnancy experience for some women today is characterised by a lack of adequate resources, both socioeconomic and psychosocial. Both psychological and social stressors can influence the maternal mental state and can cause anxiety and depression in pregnancy.
While some degree of stress in our lives is normal, once this stress starts taking over, it can become distress and impact on your ability to function at your full capacity.
Often stress is associated with a feeling of losing control or not having the resources or ability to manage challenges that lie ahead.
Factors that may increase stress:
Both physical stress and mental stress can result in an increase of hormones to be produced. These hormones increase your blood pressure and reduce the flow of blood to the placenta. This can cause the amount of food and oxygen to the baby to be reduced which can cause your baby to develop more slowly than normal.
Certain hormones and proteins in the blood that help control the contraction of the uterus and the production of infection fighting cells are increased in times of stress. These can lead to increased risk of infections, uterine irritability and thereby increasing the risk of preterm birth.
High blood pressure also increases the chance for preterm labour. Too much stress also can cause you to have trouble sleeping, headaches, loss of appetite or to overeat which can be harmful to the baby.
Stress can be acute or chronic, with acute stress it is short lived and the body returns to its normal state whereas chronic stress is ongoing and the body may never return to its normal state. With acute stress e.g., having an occasional fight with your partner you are not at a higher risk to go into preterm labour whereas with chronic stress e.g., dealing with a divorce or a death of a loved one it can increase your chance of preterm labour.
How can you reduce stress during pregnancy?
Many pregnant women and their partners find that using various relaxation techniques can help to reduce levels of stress and maintain a feeling of wellbeing during pregnancy. These techniques can be undertaken for free, at any time and in any quiet space that you have to yourself. This makes them relatively easy strategies to employ if you are looking to feel more relaxed and less stressed during your pregnancy.
Some recommended techniques that women find effective during pregnancy include:
Guided muscle relaxation
This technique involves tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups around your body. This can help release the muscle tension caused by stress. It can also assist you with sleeping if you are dealing with pregnancy-related insomnia.
Become aware of your breathing. Breathing in and out deeply and evenly can ensure you have the right balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your system. This form of controlled breathing keeps your mind and body functioning well. It can also lower your blood pressure, promote feelings of calmness and help you to de-stress and relax.
Guided mental imagery
Close your eyes and imagine that you are in a safe, calm and relaxing place. This can be an effective way to remove yourself from current stressors in your environment and, as a result, relieve feelings of stress.
There are many apps, websites and podcasts available to help you with these self-help strategies for relaxation. Keep in mind though, that some of the digital tools work better for some people than others. Don’t be surprised if it requires some trial and error to find the one that works best for you; you may indeed prefer to join a community group class.
Other ways to manage stress during pregnancy include:
The people around you may help with stress relief too. Here are some ways to reduce stress with the help of others:
COPE – Centre for Perinatal Excellence
Reduce stress during pregnancy with the Ready to COPE app - https://www.cope.org.au/readytocope/
Women who are pregnant or have recently had a baby can download Ready to COPE, a free app that delivers timely information, advice and reassurance throughout pregnancy and the first year of parenthood.
Miracle Babies Foundation
Panda - Perinatal Mental Health
Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances. To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].