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4 min read

How Does Stress Affect Pregnancy? Plus, Ways To Reduce Perinatal Stress

Pregnancy is often described solely by its positives. Very few seem to want to address the fact that, much like every other chapter of life, all is not necessarily sunshine and rainbows.

Make no mistake: Your pregnancy journey is undoubtedly beautiful, unique, and net positive. But let's be honest. Sometimes, when work is demanding, your joints burn, none of your clothes fit and you can't seem to shake an impending sense of massive responsibility, pregnancy can be very, very stressful.

Beyond the obvious circumstantial stressors often present during pregnancy, there are also hormonal changes that can contribute physiologically to excessive stress.

Let's do a deep dive into stress during pregnancy to learn the contributors behind it, how it can affect your health as well as the child's, and what can be done to reduce stress levels before childbirth.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pregnancy can contribute to stress circumstantially with social and life changes, as well as hormonally.
  • Stress itself can cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Therapy and exercise can help naturally reduce stress during a pregnancy.

Pregnancy Stress Resources on This Page:

How Pregnancy Can Contribute to Stress

How Hormonal Changes Can Cause Stress

Can stress affect my baby's health?

Tips for Reducing Stress During Pregnancy

Prenatal Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

How Pregnancy Can Contribute to Stress

Circumstantially, pregnancy causes stress in a few different ways.

First, there is the physical nature of pregnancy itself. Weight gain, skin changes, and join pain make mobility more difficult, making it harder for you to work, socialize, and go about your business the way you used to.

In our modern and very busy world, where life is already stressful enough as it is, this physical difficulty can push stress levels over the top.

There are also, whether fairly or unfairly, social changes that come with pregnancy. Friend groups have a tendency to center around certain places, people, or activities. Because of myriad dietary restrictions, pregnancy can often impact your social life by preventing you from going to places or participating in activities that used to be central to your social life.

For example, if you and your friends have a weekend tradition of going out for oysters and wine, pregnancy will prevent you from taking part. Sure, you can still go and hang out with your friends at the oyster bar; but without participating in the activity itself, it's easy to feel awkward or left out. This can definitely contribute to stress.

Lastly, pregnancy can cause stress through mental means: Many soon-to-be parents worry about what life will be like once the child arrives. Particularly relevant for first-time parents, the knowledge that the days of doing, for the most part, whatever you want are coming to an end can certainly add to stress.

How Hormonal Changes Can Cause Stress

Circumstantial stress is definitely a big contributor to pregnancy-related stress - but it's not the only one.

Pregnancy is, by nature, a hormonal process. Because of this, many pregnant women have mood swings and difficulty regulating emotional responses to stressful stimuli.

Stress has a tendency to snowball. Some stress can easily turn into more stress, which can then turn into a lot of stress.

Can stress affect my baby's health?

In short, yes. High levels of stress during pregnancy can certainly have an effect on the overall health of both mother and child.

Stress is caused by a hormone called cortisol. When pregnant women are exposed to too much cortisol, it can have a direct effect on the development of their baby.

Women who experience severe and prolonged stress when pregnant are at a significantly higher risk of giving birth prematurely. They are also at a higher risk of miscarriage.

Additionally, some research shows that babies born to severely stressed mothers are at risk for birth defects and conditions later in life.

Tips for Reducing Stress During Pregnancy

Luckily, there are many things expecting mothers can do to reduce the amount of stress they experience during pregnancy.

Here are some examples of how you can practice self-care and relaxation techniques to reduce prenatal stress for the benefit of yourself and your child.


Baths, an admittedly cliche but altogether effective option for relaxation, have numerous benefits that many don't even think about.

Yes, a warm bath with bubbles or aromatherapy is relaxing in its own right, but there is another reason why they serve to reduce stress: sensory deprivation.

We live in an era where going without technology and, by extension, insane amounts of stimulation for more than 30 waking minutes is almost unheard of. We are, all of us, nearly always on our laptops working, on our phones looking at content of all sorts, or in front of the TV bingeing our favorite show.

That's fine, but it does mean that we have an excess of stimulation coursing through our brains on a day-to-day basis.

Taking a bath, just for an hour or so, deprived of any tech and left alone to soak and relax, can work wonders on the levels of cortisol present in your bloodstream.


As we know, stress is a game of hormones. Cortisol comes in, and you feel stressed.

But there are other chemicals that your brain uses to actually combat stress. One of them, a class of neurotransmitters called endorphins, is stimulated after about 30 minutes of vigorous exercise.

Of course, being pregnant means you may need to make some changes to your exercise routine. You probably shouldn't be doing any Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, for example.

But swimming and light cardio can be both strenuous enough to relieve stress and safe for your baby, so give them a try!


Stress often builds up because life just gets overwhelming. Between work, family tension, relationship concerns, trauma, and genetic predispositions to mental health conditions, sometimes you just need someone to rely on and help guide you through it.

Therapy with a licensed professional can be a very good way to both "unload" on a listening ear as well as get meaningful insight into how your past is affecting your present, and what you can do about it.

Prenatal Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

If you're feeling the stress of pregnancy, it's important to get help.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of dedicated perinatal therapists in Brooklyn is here for just that.

Give us a call, and our patient coordinator will help you find the therapist that best fits your needs.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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