Modern life can be stressful.
Work, family or relationship pressures – coupled with pregnancy hormones – can leave you feeling emotionally exhausted. Learn how lifestyle changes can minimise stress and discover quick coping strategies that may help to restore calm.
Your baby, this week
Discover the science behind your baby's developments, week-by-week
The causes of pregnancy stress
When you’re already experiencing the heightened emotions brought on by pregnancy hormones, small problems can feel like big issues. As exciting as pregnancy can be, the reality is that you’ll have an entirely new to-do list filled with tasks like buying baby equipment, decorating the nursery and handing over responsibilities at work, to name but a few. For some, the announcement of a new arrival can cause relationship tensions. Well-meaning relatives are keen to be involved, and you may have to tread carefully around sensitive siblings and friends who are trying to conceive themselves. Then there’s the challenge of staying on top of things at work when you’re feeling queasy and exhausted. It can all start to feel a little overwhelming.
The effects of pregnancy stress
In recent years, scientists have sought to understand the effects of maternal stress on the foetus in pregnancy. Their studies show that babies are indeed sensitive to a mother’s psychological stress. For example, maternal stress, anxiety and depression may affect a baby’s immune response in later life and has been linked to the development of childhood asthma.1
The good news is that there are plenty of simple and practical ways to lower your stress levels, improve your emotional resilience and, in turn, reduce the effects of stress. It’s almost impossible to remove stress from your life completely, but managing stress may be the next best thing.
Building emotional resilience
Emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to outside stresses; the more emotionally resilient you are, the more you may be able to cope should a crisis arise. While some people naturally take life’s challenges in their stride, for others, emotional upheavals and even day-to-day stresses can prove more difficult to shake. However you handle stress, it’s possible to strengthen your emotional resilience.
Try these techniques:
- Notice your emotions and address them head-on. Try writing down what you’re feeling, when you’re feeling it; this can help you to notice negative thought patterns.
- Adopt an optimistic attitude and positive inner voice. Take any negative thoughts and re-write them as positive ones.
- Spend time with friends on a regular basis. A problem shared is a problem halved, and hearing the perspective of someone who knows and loves you can prove invaluable.
- Dedicate some of your energy to a hobby or interest. Not only will taking time out prove relaxing, it can give you the chance to practice using your positive inner voice to build your confidence.
- Practise speaking your mind. This can take courage, but if something is bothering you it’s better to address it quickly (and calmly) instead of letting it fester.
Minimising stress long-term
- Our bodies and minds are intrinsically linked, which means there are many physical and practical ways to reduce stress in pregnancy.
- Take regular exercise. Exercise in pregnancy relieves stress1 and has many benefits for both you and your baby, too. You’ll find all of the advice you need to get started – plus pregnancy safe workouts devised by qualified coaches – at Active for 2.
- Get plenty of rest; go to bed early and take naps if you need to. Admittedly, it can be easier said than done, so we’ve got some useful advice to help you get a good night’s sleep in pregnancy.
- Eat healthy foods that release energy slowly, like wholemeal breads, cereals and nuts, and avoid foods which cause your blood sugar to spike then drop, like chocolate, sweets and biscuits. Food really can affect your mood.2
- Add plenty of healthy fats to your diet. Omega-3 and -6 maintain brain function2 and can be found in foods such as oily fish, nuts and avocados.
- Stay well hydrated. If you’re struggling to think clearly it could be down to dehydration.2
- Consider ditching caffeine altogether if you’re prone to anxiety or depression. It’s a stimulant which can trigger symptoms.2
- Practise positivity. Take five minutes in the morning to think positively about your day and what you hope to achieve. To end your day, spend five minutes thinking about the good things that have happened.
5 quick stress-busting techniques
Of course, stressful events may well crop up that are out of your control. So, should you feel your stress levels increasing, try these quick techniques to calm down:
- Take a break; stand up, stretch, and walk, and take yourself out of the environment completely by stepping outside if necessary.
- Breathe deeply; inhale through your nose for five seconds so that your breath fills your belly, then breathe out through your mouth for another five seconds.3
- Distract yourself by watching a funny clip or a few minutes of stand-up comedy online – whatever makes you smile. Laughter really can be the best medicine.
- Choose a calming aromatherapy oil and keep it to hand. Inhale deeply when you need to relax.
- Listen to music, ideally something calming or uplifting. In one study, listening to music before surgery was found to have a significant anxiety-reducing effect on patients.4
If you’re starting to feel like your stress levels are becoming unmanageable, or you’re worrying all the time, you might be suffering from a Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). 1 in 10 women suffer from anxiety in pregnancy5 but the good news is there are numerous ways to manage it. Read about the symptoms of prenatal anxiety and depression, and the treatment and support available.
If you’re worrying about something in particular – whether it’s a pregnancy niggle or you’re anxious about giving birth - the experts on our Careline may be able to put your mind at rest. Why not give them a call and talk it through? You can reach them by phone on 0800 996 1000, Live Chat, WhatsApp or email them at any time, day or night.
1 Marques AH, Bjorke-Monsen AL, Teixeira AL, Silverman MN. Maternal stress, nutrition and physical activity: impact on immune function, CNS development and psychopathology. Brain Research. 2015;1617:28–46.
2 Mind. Food and Mood December 2017. Available at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/#.WrJ8s5OLTok Accessed on April 2018/
3 NHS UK. Breathing exercise for stress 2015. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ways-relieve-stress/ Accessed on April 2018.
4 Thoma M et al. The effect of music on the human stress response. PloS 2013 (8) Available athttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3734071/
5 Tommy’s. Anxiety and panic attacks in pregnancy. https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/mental-wellbeing/specific-mental-health-conditions/anxiety-and-panic-attacks-pregnancy Accessed April 2018.
Last reviewed: 4th May 2018
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.