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Will stress during pregnancy affect my baby?

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It is normal to feel some stress during pregnancy. Your body is going through many changes, and as your hormones change, so do your moods. Too much stress can cause you to have trouble sleeping, headaches, loss of appetite, or a tendency to overeat—all of which can be harmful to you and your developing baby.

High levels of stress can also cause high blood pressure, which increases your chance of having preterm labor or a low-birth-weight infant.1

You should talk about stress with your health care provider and loved ones. If you are feeling stress because of uncertainty or fear about becoming a mother, experiencing work-related stress, or worrying about miscarriage, talk to your health care provider during your prenatal visits.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Pregnancy

PTSD is a more serious type of stress that can negatively affect your baby. PTSD occurs when you have problems after seeing or going through a painful event, such as rape, abuse, a natural disaster, or the death of a loved one. You may experience2:

  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks and upsetting memories
  • Nightmares
  • Strong physical reactions to situations, people, or things that remind you of the event
  • Avoidance of places, activities, and people you once enjoyed
  • Feeling more aware of things
  • Guilt

PTSD occurs in as many as 8% of women during pregnancy, increasing their infant’s risk of preterm birth or low birth weight. PTSD also increases the risk for behaviors such as smoking and drinking, which contribute to other problems.3

Reducing stress is important for preventing problems during your pregnancy and for reducing your risk for health problems that may affect your developing child. Identify the source of your stress and take steps to remove it or lessen it. Make sure you get enough exercise (under a doctor’s supervision), eat healthy foods, and get lots of sleep.

If you think you may be depressed, talk to your health care provider. Getting treatment and counseling can help.

  1. March of Dimes. (2006, November). Preterm labor: Stress and prematurity. Retrieved May 18, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]
  2. PubMed Health. (2012, February 13). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from [top]
  3. March of Dimes. (2012, January). Emotional and life changes: Stress and pregnancy. Retrieved May 18, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]

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