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Stress and pregnancy

4-minute read

Being pregnant can bring up a range of emotions for you, including feeling anxious or stressed, but this is completely normal. Stress is a normal reaction to a major change (such as pregnancy). In some cases, stress may even be good for people because it can push them to take action in the face of new challenges. However, too much stress can be overwhelming and could even lead to health problems both for you and your baby.

What can cause stress in pregnancy?

For some women, finding out that they are pregnant can be a stressful experience in itself. You could feel like you have lost control or don’t have enough resources to manage what you’ll be experiencing. Stress can come from having a pregnancy that is unplanned, or becoming pregnant after previous negative experiences with a pregnancy, birth or motherhood, such as a miscarriage or the death of a baby.

It can be stressful while waiting for the results of your antenatal tests, and dealing with the physical changes of pregnancy or a complicated pregnancy.

The situation at home may cause stress, such as being a single parent or teenager and wondering how you will cope, or experiencing relationship difficulties, which could include family violence.

Pregnancy can lead to practical challenges, such as financial difficulties, moving house and job changes.

Emotional stresses, such as grief, such as a death in the family, past anxiety, depression or other mental illness, can cause more stress during pregnancy, as can drug and alcohol problems.

If more than one of the above are happening to you at the same time, you could experience even more stress.

How can stress affect my baby and me?

Chronic (ongoing) stress can affect your own health or wellbeing, and can include experiencing headaches, problems sleeping, fast breathing and a racing pulse.

Some people might also experience:

  • obsessive thoughts
  • worry or anxiety
  • anger
  • eating problems (too much or too little food, or the wrong types of food)
  • trouble relaxing or winding down

Chronic stress could also cause problems for your baby. These can include effects on your unborn baby’s growth and the length of gestation (your pregnancy). They can also increase the risk of problems in your baby’s future physical and mental development, as well as behavioural issues in childhood.

Reducing stress while you are pregnant

It’s important to look after your mental wellbeing during pregnancy, just as it’s important to look after your physical health. When you are feeling well, content and happy, you are better able to manage stress. When your stress is managed, it is not likely to have any serious effects on you or your baby.

To reduce stress, you could try the following:

  • Pay attention to the triggers that make you stressed and notice what happens when you feel stressed.
  • Try to slow down, rest and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to help keep you and your baby healthy.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your concerns and how you’re feeling.

Physical activity and relaxation can also help to reduce stress:

  • Take part in regular exercise, suitable for pregnancy.
  • Do yoga, meditation, breathing, or relaxation through classes, or using apps, videos or podcasts.
  • Engage in a favourite distraction activity such as reading, watching TV or a hobby.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel calm.

You don’t need to cope on your own. Try to ask for help when you need it and accept people’s offers to help you.

Further help

If you need more help to manage your stress, you can contact:

Sometimes the health professionals you talk with may not have enough time to answer all of your questions or talk through all of your concerns. If you need to discuss any issues further, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse for advice and support.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2020


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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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