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Expert Advice

Stress and pregnancy: How it affects your baby

Pregnant and stressed out? Why stress management is important to your health and your baby’s.

By Fiona Wright
Pregnancy is an exciting, challenging and often stressful time as your body changes and you emotionally and mentally prepare for the new life you are set to bring into the world.
In an ideal world, these nine months should be a time for relaxation and calmness.
Thankfully, there are ways to cope with stress and relaxation techniques you can follow.
Causes of stress during pregnancy
The causes of stress during pregnancy can differ widely. For some mamas-to-be, being pregnant is stressful in itself as they struggle to cope with the physical changes. For others, there can be bigger factors at play, such as a fall-out with family, a relationship breakdown, a passing of a loved one and a culmination everyday stresses like, battling traffic and managing a household.
Symptoms of stress
Stress can cause many physical, emotional, mental, and social symptoms, including:
• Headaches
• Problems sleeping
• Fast breathing and a racing pulse
• 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
Severe, long-term stress can cause the following complications when left untreated:
• High blood pressure
• Gestational diabetes
• Weakened immune system
• Severe depression
There was concern for Meghan Markle's stress levels after a public fall-out with her father while she was in her third trimester. (Image: Getty Images)
How stress can affect your unborn baby
Chronic stress can have an effect on your unborn baby's physical and mental development. Emotional stress stimulates the release of cortisol hormone, which increases with the severity of stress.
In extreme situations, the following could occur:
• The baby could be born preterm, which could result in digestive problems, respiratory issues, low immunity and death of the infant in some cases.
• Full-term babies may be born underweight and have poor immune system. It can also cause hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply during birthtime), which can lead to long-term developmental consequences in babies.
• Increased risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in later life.
To reduce stress, try the following:
• Try relaxation techniques such as prenatal yoga (like Meghan), meditation or simply relax with a book or in front of your favourite TV show.
• Go for walk or do some light physical activity.
• Talk to friends, family or a health professional to work through your troubles and for emotional support.
• Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
• Be aware of what is making you stressed and work through a way to calmly deal with it.
• Spend time with people who make you feel calm and ask for help when you need it.
Help and support
If you are unable to cope with stress, there is support and resources available to help:
• Your doctor, who can help you or refer you to a counsellor
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)
Beyond Blue

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