Stress and Pregnancy
Rarely a day passes without hearing something about stress in the news. But, still you might wonder what actually is stress? How do you know if you have stress and how does stress affect your pregnancy?
What is Stress?
The term stress is used to describe circumstances in our environment that challenge our bodies both physically and psychologically. Stress is not always bad. In fact, some stress is a necessary part of life that helps compel us into action, increasing our alertness and awareness.
When we encounter
a stress-creating stimulus, our body responds by secreting hormones that
stimulate our nervous system and prepare us to move, or react. If the
stimulus is mild or perceived as non-threatening, then there is little
hormone release and we react in a healthy fashion. An example is, when
we move to avoid an obstacle while walking.
At times however,
excess stress-creating stimuli may overwhelm our abilities to respond
and cause a negative effect, often called "distress". In this case, the
stimuli may present either a "real" or "perceived" threat to us. The body
responds immediately, pouring out hormones, which result in increased
heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, as well as sweaty palms and
cool, clammy skin. Stressful events can also trigger emotional feelings
of anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger.
For most, brief stressful
encounters are well tolerated. Prolonged stress, however, has been linked
to many health problems including sleep disturbances, ulcers, high blood
pressure, heart disease, stroke and depressed immune function. While the
results are inconclusive, recent research suggests that excess stress
may contribute to infertility and pregnancy risks.
is the Right Amount of Stress?
Because each of us finds different situations stressful, the optimal level
of stress varies from person to person. A task that one person finds enjoyable
can be highly stressful to another. For example, your sister may love
the thrill of speeding downhill on skis, but may panic while taking a
driving exam. You, on the other hand, may feel terrified at the thought
of even getting on skis, but feel very comfortable taking exams.
A person (pregnant
or not) who is coping well with stress, feels relaxed and energized, and
probably does not face health risks from stress. While another, who is
coping poorly, may feel tired, drained, anxious and is more likely to
suffer the health risks of excess stress.
Stress Affect Fertility and Pregnancy?
on the effects of stress on fertility are limited. It appears
that some women with high stress levels may have hormonal changes,
irregular ovulation or on occasion, fallopian tube spasm. In men,
stress may be one of many factors responsible for decreased sperm
Infertility and Stress
is clear that infertility is a highly stressful experience, for both
men and women. Infertile couples experience chronic stress each month,
first hoping that they will conceive and then dealing with the disappointment
if they do not. Infertility treatments can place additional stress
on couples. The medical evaluations to determine the source of infertility
and the treatment interventions can create tremendous financial and
emotional strain for couples. Some stress research has shown that
women undergoing infertility treatment, experience an equal or higher
level of "stress" of those faced with the life-threatening illnesses
of cancer or heart disease.
suggest that high levels of stress may pose special risks during
pregnancy. Pregnancy presents a unique set of circumstances that
can mean joy and bliss in some, but overwhelming anxiety and stress
effects of pregnancy (such as hormone-related mood swings, nausea,
fatigue, frequent urination, swelling and backache) can be stressful.
In addition, many have emotional stress due to concerns about the
baby's health and parenting responsibilities.
rest and limiting activities that cause discomfort can minimize
some of the physical discomforts. Support persons and health care
providers can also provide help in dealing with the concerns and
stresses of pregnancy.
indicates that high stress levels may pose special risks during
pregnancy. Several recent studies found that women who had preterm
delivery or low birth-weight infants, had high levels of stress
(such as a family death, divorce, job loss) during their pregnancy.
Researchers are trying to clarify exactly how stress contributes
to these outcomes. It may be that women who are experiencing high
stress levels, have poor health habits and may even be prone to
using alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. Another recent observation
is that the stress hormone 'cortisol' can cross the placental barrier
when a pregnant women is under a high degree of stress and dietary
protein is low. High cortisol levels can effect fetal brain development,
is needed before proving that stress resulted in these pregnancy
risks. No doubt, persistent, unrelieved stress causes damaging "wear
and tear" on the body.
A key ingredient to a happy, healthy pregnancy is keeping your stress
level under control. You can begin by identifying the personal and work-related
sources of stress in your life. Determine if you are having any physical
symptoms of excess stress, such as nervousness, upset stomach, headaches,
fatigue or sleep disturbances. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms
of excess or unrelieved stress, there are several things you can do reduce
the amount of stress in your life, or improve your ability to manage it.
and take control of your stressors. If you feel overwhelmed with
responsibility, look for ways to eliminate some commitments. It
may mean postponing school, reducing your work hours or getting
help with child care and housework.
- Seek help
from your support network (partner, family, friends and others).
- Avoid excessive
intake of caffeine and other stimulants.
regularly to release physical and emotional tension.
- Learn to
reduce stress by using relaxation
techniques or meditation.
Pregnancy is a special
life event that presents unique physical and psychological challenges.
Many realize this is time to take special care of their bodies and enjoy
the precious moments of pregnancy. However, if you feel overwhelmed by
the stress of pregnancy or infertility, get help from a mental health
professional, for your health and your baby's health.