Can stress, PTSD, or depression affect your pregnancy?

Contemplative womanWe receive a number of questions about the effects of stress and depression on pregnancy. Here is some information that can help you better understand these conditions, how they can affect your pregnancy, and when you should talk to your provider.

Stress

Feeling stress during pregnancy is very common. There are so many changes happening all at once—to your body, your emotions, and your family—it is hard not to feel overwhelmed. But too much stress can make you uncomfortable. Stress can make you have trouble sleeping or have headaches. Regular stress during pregnancy, such as work deadlines and sitting in traffic, probably don’t add to pregnancy problems.

However, more serious types of stress may increase your chances for premature birth. Serious types of stress include:

  • Negative life events. Such as divorce, serious illness or death in the family.
  • Catastrophic events. Earthquakes, hurricanes or terrorist attacks.
  • Long-lasting stress. This type of stress can be caused by having financial problems, being abused, having serious health problems or being depressed.
  • Racism. Some women may face stress from racism during their lives. This may help explain why African-American women in the United States are more likely to have premature and low-birthweight babies than women from other racial or ethnic groups.
  • Pregnancy-related stress. Some women may feel serious stress about pregnancy. They may be worried about miscarriage, the health of their baby or about how they’ll cope with labor and birth or becoming a parent. If you feel this way, talk to your health care provider.

We don’t completely understand the effects of stress on pregnancy. But stress-related hormones may play a role in causing some pregnancy complications.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD occurs in some people after they have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. People with PTSD may have:

  • Serious anxiety
  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Nightmares
  • Physical responses (like a racing heartbeat or sweating) when reminded of the event

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. A 2014 study looked at the effects of PTSD on pregnancy. Researchers reviewed over 16,000 births and found that having PTSD in the year before delivery increased a woman’s chance of giving birth early by 35%.

Depression

Depression is a medical condition in which strong feelings of sadness last for a long time and interfere with your daily life. People who have depression need treatment to help them get better. About 1 in 5 women has depression sometime in her life. And 1 in 7 women is treated for depression at some time between the year before pregnancy and the year after pregnancy.

If you’re pregnant and have depression that’s not treated, you’re more likely to have:

  • A premature baby.
  • A baby born at a low birthweight.
  • A baby who is more irritable, less active, less attentive and has fewer facial expressions than babies born to moms who don’t have depression during pregnancy

Being pregnant can make depression worse or make it come back if you’ve been treated and are feeling better. If you have depression that’s not treated, you may have trouble taking care of yourself during pregnancy. And if you have depression during pregnancy that’s not treated, you’re more likely to have postpartum depression (PPD) after pregnancy. PPD can make it hard for you to care for and bond with your baby. Treatment for depression during pregnancy can help prevent these problems.

If you are concerned that you may have one of these conditions, please talk to your health care provider. She can help you to get the appropriate treatment so that you and your baby can be as healthy as possible.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org

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