Is Stress During Pregnancy Bad For the Baby?

One of the biggest questions that mums-to-be want to know the answer to is related to stress. Is stress during pregnancy bad for the baby? And during the current pandemic, when it can be very difficult to keep anxiety under control, this question is more relevant than ever.

Stressed out pregnant woman

It’s important to remember that stress is a normal response to any threatening situation, so it’s completely understandable that many mums-to-be are feeling very anxious right now.  Try to focus on the fact that, although there is still much doctors don’t know about how pregnancy can be affected by the virus, pregnant women don’t appear to become more unwell than other healthy adults.

"If there were huge risks, we would have seen them by now," says Christoph Lees, professor of obstetrics at Imperial College London.

Like most healthy adults, the vast majority of pregnant women will have mild or moderate symptoms and recover.

Of course, knowing that you are unlikely to be more at risk than other healthy adults will help a little. But it’s missing out on some of your hospital appointments, finding it harder to contact doctors and midwives, having less one-to-one support from friends and family, as well as the uncertainty surrounding your birth plan, that will be adding to your anxiety right now.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress you should call you doctor immediately.  You can also self-refer to local IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) services or look for advice from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

There are many self-help tips for mums-to-be who feel they can manage their stress levels themselves.  We cover off a few of them later on in this blog. However, first let’s look at what effect stress can have on your baby. 

Is stress during pregnancy bad for the baby?

The simple answer is not always.

Even without a pandemic to worry about, stress is often a normal part of everyday life, and it’s not even always a bad thing. Mild short term stress can actually boost your cognitive function and immune system, toughen you up mentally and one study found that children of women with a moderate amount of stress in pregnancy had more advanced early development skills by the age of two.

However, long-term chronic stress is another matter. This can increase your chance of complications like premature birth or low birth rate. And being physically stressed in pregnancy could lead to a low heart rate for your growing baby.

A recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also identified that physically and psychologically stressed mothers were less likely to give birth to a boy.

However, mental health and post-partum depression are widely discussed topics now. Screening for depression and anxiety is starting to become a normal part of the prenatal process. Even in lockdown your midwife will check on your mental wellbeing during your antenatal appointments.

So, to answer the question ‘is stress during pregnancy bad for the baby’, it’s pretty clear that while stress isn’t necessarily always bad for mums-to-be or the baby, prolonged periods of stress, or heightened stress, does increase the likelihood of prenatal complications and should be addressed as soon as possible.

How to reduce stress

If you think you need help you should call your doctor or midwife as soon as you can.  However, now’s the time to trust yourself and your own instincts. If you think your anxiety is manageable during this period of lockdown then there are many things you can do to reduce your stress levels at home.

Try to avoid constant news updates

We’re not saying don’t keep up-to-date on government advice for pregnant women but try to cut down the amount of information you consume and when you do check the news, make sure it’s from a reliable source. If you find it all too much ask your partner, or friends and family to update you.

Keep talking to friends and family

Happy pregnant woman on the phone

Talking to someone you love about how you’re feeling can really help. They’re there to support you on this journey, so don’t feel like you need to go through this alone.

Stick to a routine

Consistency is key - especially when your body, and the world around you, are constantly changing. Set aside some time in the morning or evening to do the same few things - be it skincare routine, some reading, or even watching the same show. This will hopefully keep your mind at ease and allow you some special time to unwind and relax. One of our favourite things is to apply Secret Saviours moisturising Night Cream before bed each night. 

Talk to your midwife

Your midwife will be very familiar with anxiety in pregnancy and only too aware that for many mums-to-be this will be heightened at the moment. They’ll be able to help you assess whether your stress is manageable or not during this time.

Don’t be hard on yourself

It’s perfectly natural to be feeling stressed right now.  Don’t feel guilty or worry that you sometimes struggle to feel happy about the little life growing inside you. Try to focus on the future and the bundle of joy that you’re preparing to bring into the world.

Focus on your own health

pregnant woman blowing soap bubbles whilst sat on the side of a white bath

Try to concentrate on your own wellbeing.  Eat the right foods, keep up your exercises (we’ve got loads of free fitness routines you can follow on our website) and try to get enough sleep each night.  There’s no time like the present to pamper yourself either – lots of long soaks in the bath or paint your nails.  Better still, if you have a partner at home, encourage them to learn how to pregnancy massage!

Bond with your baby

Bonding with your baby is good for your mental health. Sing them songs, read them books, or just take a few minutes every day to talk with them. This is a great thing for your partner and you to do together.

While it may seem like a lot to deal with, being open and honest about your feelings will help you ease the stress.

We always recommend that if you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhibiting the signs of anxiety and depression, then consult your GP, as it may be more than just pregnancy-related stress. Even in lockdown your doctor will be able to help you through these feelings.

If you’re asking yourself ‘is stress during pregnancy bad for the baby’, remember that staying relaxed and calm is what’s best for your bundle of joy. While a few stressful moments are to be expected, especially during this pandemic, surrounding yourself with a wonderful support network and making time for yourself to relax and unwind are key to a healthy baby.