What is stress?
Stress is a response to external challenges, pressures or events. These might include things like looming deadlines, difficult decisions or health scares. But even good or exciting events or changes can be stressful.
Stress is part of life. Everyone experiences stress, and some stress is OK. It can get you ready for action and give you the motivation to get things done.
But too much stress can make it difficult to cope with everyday tasks. Too much stress can affect your body, thoughts and feelings. It can also affect your behaviour. For example, some people who are overstressed might eat too much or get angry.
Stress and pregnancy
Sometimes pregnancy itself can be stressful.
For example, waiting for and getting the results of antenatal tests can cause stress. If you’ve gone through fertility treatment or experienced a previous miscarriage or death of a baby, pregnancy can be physically and emotionally demanding for you and your family.
Pregnancy can also mean many physical and emotional changes. And if your pregnancy was unplanned, having less time to prepare for these changes might be stressful too.
You might also be feeling overwhelmed by information, advice and stories from family, friends and others.
Other events and situations that can cause emotional upheaval and high levels of stress in pregnancy include:
- financial problems
- relationship problems and/or break-up
- the need to move house or the process of moving house
- unemployment or the need to change your job or work hours
- family illness or death of a family member
- family violence
- problems with alcohol and other drugs
- a history of mental health problems, anxiety or depression.
Your stress levels can be higher if several of these things are happening at the same time.
Antenatal appointments with your doctor or midwife are your chance to talk about your health, lifestyle and wellbeing, including things in your life that might be causing stress. For example, if you’re worried about becoming a parent or there are problems in your relationship, including family violence, it’s a good idea for you to talk about it, so you can get support.
It’s not always easy to recognise stress. It might be something you don’t even recognise until it becomes overwhelming.
It can be easier to recognise and deal with stress if you know the things in your life that might cause stress, as well as the signs that you’re feeling stressed.
These questions might help you spot stress in your life:
- Do you often feel worried or anxious? Have you experienced a lot of stress in your life before you became pregnant? It’s a good idea to be aware of your emotions during times of change, including pregnancy.
- Do you lead a busy life? Pregnancy can be a good time to try to slow things down.
- Is there a lot of change going on in your life? Sometimes even positive changes, like a promotion at work, can be stressful if you need to make big adjustments.
- How are things in your home or work environment? For example, is your partner going through a tough time, or are you having trouble getting along with your boss? Sometimes it’s stress in people around us that can make things difficult.
You can also look out for these physical and emotional signs of stress:
- a lot of nervous energy – for example, not being able to sit still, or feeling edgy and ‘jumpy’
- fast breathing or the feeling that your heart is beating faster
- trouble relaxing or sleeping
- a lot of thoughts racing around your mind – for example, thoughts and worries about the future
- feeling unwell – for example, headaches or other aches and pains.
Why it’s important to manage stress in pregnancy
Managing stress is good for your health and your baby’s health during pregnancy and beyond. If you can manage stress, you can reduce your chance of premature birth and your baby’s chance of childhood health problems like asthma and allergies.
Also, when you manage stress, your pregnancy is likely to be a more positive experience overall.
If you have life stresses under control and stress management strategies in place during pregnancy, you might also be able to cope better with new stresses after birth.
You can learn how to recognise and deal with stress. This can help you have a healthier pregnancy and manage life more easily once your baby is born.
Tips for managing stress and pregnancy
Here are tips for managing stress during pregnancy.
Health and lifestyle
- Do some exercise, like walking. As well as lowering stress, it has overall health benefits.
- Try to rest where you can, and avoid booking in too many activities. It’s OK to lie on the couch, take a break and slow things down.
- Do things that distract or engage you, like reading, watching your favourite TV show, baking or painting.
- Try to take pressure off yourself to be perfect. Accept that you’re doing the best you can. Try not to worry if things aren’t quite the way you want them to be – for example, if your house is messy.
- Ask for practical help or say ‘yes’ when someone offers practical help during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
- Try yoga, meditation, breathing exercises or muscle relaxation. If you can’t get to classes, you can look for online videos or use an app.
- If distressing news is making you feel stressed, limit your exposure. For example, you could take regular breaks from social media or news channels.
Family and friends
- Spend time with people who make you feel good and help you de-stress.
- Ask for and accept help with things you’re struggling with. Support from people around you can help you manage stress.
- Consider asking someone to be ‘gatekeeper’ – that is, if you have trouble saying no or slowing down, ask your partner or someone close to you to say no for you.
- Connect with other parents or parents-to-be – for example, you could use social media to connect with them.
Talk with your doctor or midwife about what might be making you feel stressed, and ask for suggestions about what you can do.
If you have money issues, the Commonwealth Financial Counselling program offers free financial counselling to help you with financial problems. Centrelink offers free information and education to everybody through its Financial Information Service.
Smoking or vaping or using alcohol and other drugs to ‘deal with’ stress can be very dangerous for you and your baby. If you need help to quit, talk with your doctor or midwife. You can also call the Quitline on 137 848 or Lifeline on 131 114 for help.
Where to get help with managing stress in pregnancy
If you feel that you aren’t coping with stress, see your GP. GPs can give you general advice or refer you to a psychologist or counsellor for professional help and support.
You can also talk to a doctor or midwife when you have your antenatal appointments. Most hospitals now have programs to help with issues like stress.
You can also contact:
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby – phone 1800 882 436
- PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) – phone 1300 726 306
- Beyond Blue – phone 1300 224 636
- Lifeline – phone 131 114
- MensLine Australia – phone 1300 789 978
- National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service – phone 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).