When your body is taken over by another tiny human, you’re bound to feel some stress. The changes that pregnant women experience affect their physical, mental and emotional health. 

But when your stress is severe— caused by an acute event or ongoing tension— your child could pay the price.

The most common sources of stress in American adults include money, work, the economy, family responsibilities and personal health, according to the recently released “Stress in America” report from the American Psychological Association.

Every one of these common stressors could arguably be affected by the impending birth of a child, which also brings dramatically shifting hormones.

“It’s very common for women to feel stressed during pregnancy,” says Dr. Spencer Richlin, of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut. “But stress alone doesn’t typically result in serious consequences for Mom or Baby.”

Pregnant women experience the same acute effects of stress— difficulty sleeping, potential changes in eating habits and strain on relationships with the people around them— as non-pregnant people. But for women carrying a child, quality sleep, a proper diet and a good support system are all the more important.

Generally, like stress in non-pregnant adults, if the stress of pregnancy is handled in a healthy manner, the effects aren’t a serious hazard. But sometimes, serious effects occur.

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Potential effects of stress in pregnancy

Stress can impact your risk of heart disease and psychological afflictions. In pregnant women and their developing fetuses, it has unique risks.

Research has linked ongoing stress in expectant mothers with low fetal birth weight. One study found the risk of very low birth weight, or less than 3.5 pounds, is one and a half times greater in a pregnant woman under chronic stress. Other physical risks to the fetus include the possibility of preterm birth and, in the most severe cases, miscarriage.

Emerging research has also begun looking at the link between prenatal maternal stress and behavioral changes in children as they grow. These studies suggest stress during pregnancy could be related to temperament, attention, and emotional and behavioral problems in infants and children.

But worrying about the potential risks of stress surely won’t put your mind at ease.

READ MORE: Babies are expensive. Get help paying for your care.

Reducing stress during pregnancy

Stress during pregnancy is normal, and treating it is relatively straightforward.

1. Identify your stressors. 

“We first try to identify the source of their stress so we can devise a personalized and targeted plan to help her relax,” Richlin says of his patients. By identifying specific areas of tension, you can work to remove them from your life or minimize their effect.

2. Get regular exercise.

For stress relief and to help moderate weight gain, keep a regular exercise regimen.

“Pregnant women should absolutely continue their favorite physical activities, especially if it is something they’ve done for many years,” says Richlin, though he cautions against trying new exercise programs or those that could result in a loss of balance.

3. Lean on your support system. 

When you’re pregnant, the people around you tend to want to nurture you. Let them, and lean on them when you need someone to talk to.
“Sometimes I recommend my patients take nightly walks with their partners,” says Richlin, who says the activity kills two birds: getting moderate exercise and strengthening the relationship. He also suggests mothers continue to socialize and have fun with their friends.

4. Be honest about your finances.

For many expectant mothers, the financial stress of having a child can be overwhelming. Labor and delivery, even with insurance, can cost thousands. Add that to the approximately $12,000 in additional annual expenses you’ll have with a new mouth to feed, and there’s definite cause for concern.

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Take an honest look at your financial situation, and budget for the upcoming expenses as much as possible. If it’s overwhelming, enlist the help of a financial advisor experienced in helping families of all income levels plan for their new arrival.

5. Talk with your doctor. 

You doctor may have resources to help you manage stress including support groups, fitness plans specific to pregnancy, or counselors trained in helping women cope with all of the changes they experience during this phase of life.

READ MORE: Does your health insurance cover pregnancy care?

6. Relax. 

With so much effort to prepare for the baby, sometimes pregnant women forget to relax. Now is a great time to try yoga or meditation, or simply carve out some alone time. Before you know it, you’ll be chasing your little one around, and quiet moments will be few and far between.