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How To Manage Stress During Pregnancy
Updated on
June 9, 2023

How To Manage Stress During Pregnancy

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How To Manage Stress During Pregnancy.
How To Manage Stress During Pregnancy

By Christine Sterling, M.D., FACOG

“My doctor told me work-related stress doesn’t impact pregnancy. But I don’t know…” Julie sighed and looked up at me. “My gut tells me this amount of stress isn’t good for pregnancy.”

I smiled back at her. “You aren’t wrong Julie. Listen to your gut.”

Here’s the truth—I wish Julie was wrong. I wish stress didn’t impact pregnancy. Our modern lives are very stressful, and the fact that stress matters almost makes it more stressful.

But I won’t lie to you. I don’t want you to stress about stress, but I also believe you deserve to know the truth. Research clearly shows stress can not only impact pregnancy outcomes, but that it can affect our children’s long-term health outcomes as well. So let’s rip off the Band-Aid and look at what the data shows us.

What Research Tells Us About Stress in Pregnancy

Stress comes in many forms. Many people deal with the stress of busy schedules, work problems, worries about the health of their pregnancy, money, relationship issues, caring for family members—the list goes on.

While we can’t live an entirely stress-free life, it is important to take steps to reduce stress in pregnancy (more on this below).

In general, stress can affect the body in main ways. Some symptoms can be, but are not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia or sleep problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Heartburn
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Fertility isses
  • Depression
  • More frequent colds or illnesses

Research* suggests stress in pregnancy may increase the risk of:

  • Blood pressure problems (including preeclampsia) in the pregnant person
  • Preterm birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Other health conditions

Okay… so now what?

I know you don’t need more on your plate. There’s a lot of information out there, and endless opinions, about what people should and shouldn’t be doing in pregnancy. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially because you want to make sure you’re doing everything “right.”

You want to take the right prenatal, eat the right foods, and do all the things so you can be the best parent for your little one. You want to nourish your little one in a loving and calm environment. How do I know this? Because I’m just like you.

Yes, I am a board-certified ob-gyn. I’m also a millennial mom-of-three. So relax your shoulders, let go of the tension in your jaw and take a breath. I am not here to add more to your plate. I am here to help you redirect some of your time and energy away from the things that increase your stress, so you can focus on nourishing yourself and your baby.

6 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress in Pregnancy

Much of the stress we experience is out of our control. We don’t want to lose jobs or family members, or to experience racism, sexism or anti-Semitism. We don’t want to deal with natural disasters. And yet, these stresses come. The goal in pregnancy should be to reduce unnecessary stress and to process the inevitable stress as it comes.

Here are some ways to reduce and process stress in pregnancy:

Get clear on your priorities. Much of your time is spent doing what you are “supposed” to do. Unfortunately, these “shoulds” often drain our energy and don’t contribute to our overall well-being or happiness. I go into more detail about how to prioritize your energy in my free class “6 Things to Stop Doing When You’re Pregnant.”

Start a mindfulness practice Research shows that mindfulness can not only reduce anxiety, but it can actually improve your health. Even just a few minutes a day can help. Here are some ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life.

  • Meditation There are lots of great meditation apps available (Expectful—it’s specifically for pregnancy—Calm and Headspace are a few) that can help you establish your practice. Even a few minutes a day can be beneficial.
  • Breathing Exercises There are numerous types of breathing exercises that can help you cultivate calm. One example is Square Breathing. In this technique you breathe in for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds, all while imagining your breath is creating a square (up for 4, over for 4, down for 4, back over for 4).
  • Single Tasking Yes, the opposite of multitasking can not only be great for your productivity, it can help you feel less stressed! Single tasking is staying in the present moment while doing one task, and it’s an important facet of mindfulness.

Exercise If approved by your healthcare provider, 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is associated with improved pregnancy outcomes and stress relief.

Therapy/counseling with a licensed mental health care provider Many people find that talking with a professional can be beneficial for their mental health and overall well-being.

If you want to learn a step-by-step process to reduce stress in pregnancy sign up for my free class “6 Things to Stop Doing When You’re Pregnant.”

We are the first homes our children ever know. Creating a nourishing and calm home for them starts with creating a nourishing and calm you. Knowing the truth about stress in pregnancy is a beautiful opportunity to stop doing all the things you are “supposed” to do, and start focusing on being centered, calm and well.

Dr. Christine Sterling is a board-certified ObGyn and founder of Sterling Parents, a membership that helps you enjoy your pregnancy without overwhelm by providing trusted answers, expert advice and heartfelt support all in one place, so you can focus on nourishing your pregnancy and yourself. Her members enjoy direct access to her for questions, advice and so much more.


Traylor CS, Johnson JD, Kimmel MC, Manuck TA. Effects of psychological stress on adverse pregnancy outcomes and nonpharmacologic approaches for reduction: an expert review. Am J Obstet Gynecol MFM. 2020 Nov;2(4):100229. doi: 10.1016/j.ajogmf.2020.100229. Epub 2020 Sep 24. PMID: 32995736; PMCID: PMC7513755.

Wadhwa PD, Entringer S, Buss C, Lu MC. The contribution of maternal stress to preterm birth: issues and considerations. Clin Perinatol. 2011 Sep;38(3):351-84. doi: 10.1016/j.clp.2011.06.007. PMID: 21890014; PMCID: PMC3179976.

Kinney, Dennis K et al. “Prenatal stress and risk for autism.” Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews vol. 32,8 (2008): 1519-32. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.06.004

Coussons-Read, Mary E et al. “Psychosocial stress increases inflammatory markers and alters cytokine production across pregnancy.” Brain, behavior, and immunity vol. 21,3 (2007): 343-50. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2006.08.006 Landon, M. B., Berghella, V., Cahill, A. G., Driscoll, D. A., Galan, H. L., Grobman, W. A., . . . Kilpatrick, S. J. (2021). Gabbe’s obstetrics: Normal & problem pregnancies (8th ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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