Pregnancy is a time of many changes. Your body, your emotions and the life of your family are changing. You may welcome these changes, but they can add new stresses to your life.
High levels of stress that continue for a long time may cause health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease. When you’re pregnant, this type of stress can increase the chances of having a premature baby (born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy) or a low-birthweight baby (weighing less than 5½ pounds). Babies born too soon or too small are at increased risk for health problems.
The causes of stress are different for every woman, but here are some common causes during pregnancy:
Stress is not all bad. When you handle it right, a little stress can help you take on new challenges. Regular stress during pregnancy, such as work deadlines and sitting in traffic, probably don’t add to pregnancy problems.
However, serious types of stress during pregnancy may increase your chances of certain problems, like premature birth. Most women who have serious stress during pregnancy can have healthy babies. But be careful if you experience serious kinds of stress, like:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when you have problems after seeing or experiencing a terrible event, such as rape, abuse, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one. People with PTSD may have:
As many as 8 in 100 women (8 percent) may have PTSD during pregnancy. Women who have PTSD may be more likely than women without it to have a premature or low-birthweight baby. They also are more likely than other women to have risky health behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking street drugs. Doing these things can increase the chances of having pregnancy problems. If you think you may have PTSD, talk to your provider or a mental health professional.
We don’t completely understand the effects of stress on pregnancy. But certain stress-related hormones may play a role in causing certain pregnancy complications. Serious or long-lasting stress may affect your immune system, which protects you from infection. This can increase the chances of getting an infection of the uterus. This type of infection can cause premature birth.
Stress also may affect how you respond to certain situations. Some women deal with stress by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking street drugs, which can lead to pregnancy problems.
Some studies show that high levels of stress in pregnancy may cause certain problems during childhood, like having trouble paying attention or being afraid. It’s possible that stress may also affect your baby’s brain development or immune system.
Here are some ways to reduce stress:
Last reviewed January 2012
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) employees can take time off from work without pay for pregnancy- and family-related health issues. The act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that you can keep your health insurance benefits during the leave. To qualify, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, worked at least 1,250 hours during the last 12 months, and worked at a location where the company has 50 or more employees within 75 miles. This time off is in addition to whatever maternity leave your company offers. Ask your company's human resources representative about maternity leave and FMLA.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act says it's unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related health conditions. Women who are pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same way as other employees with similar abilities or limitations. If you feel you're being discriminated against at work because you're pregnant, contact your company's human resources representative.
That's up to you. Some women tell their bosses as soon as they find out they're pregnant. Others wait a while. Whichever you choose, make sure that your boss hears the news from you. You don't want him to hear it from a coworker or as a rumor. If you're having common pregnancy discomforts, like having to go to the bathroom a lot or feeling tired all the time, you should tell him so he understands why you may be acting differently at work.