The Pregnancy | Begin Before Birth

The Mother’s Wellbeing



It is well known that the mother should look after herself during pregnancy, and that she should eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, not drink alcohol, and refrain from smoking


It is not so well known that the mother’s emotional state is important too.


The mother’s stress during pregnancy can have a long lasting effect on her child.


Although, it is important to remember that the majority of children will not be affected.


It is also very important that the mother does not blame herself, or that others blame her, if there are problems with her child


However, we all need to give more support to pregnant women and help to reduce their stress.





What happens in the womb can last a lifetime

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What can help

If you feel stressed, anxious or depressed while you are pregnant don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your partner, friend, family or midwife about it and see if that helps.

Think about what is upsetting or worrying you and if you can change anything in your life to improve things. Take time out of the day for yourself, when you relax listening to music, doing yoga, or anything that suits you.

In addition, receiving reliable information about what to expect during pregnancy and labour may help you feel more in control and relaxed about the whole situation. Antenatal classes are a great way to achieve this.

For more information, you may like to try these 12 tips for managing stress during pregnancy

Together, these measures may be enough to help you feel a lot better.

Some women, however, may have more severe feelings of anxiety or depression that last for weeks or get worse rather than better.

If this is the case the next step should be to talk to your doctor and explain exactly what is going on. They may recommend help with a counselling or other talking treatments.

For women with more severe episodes of depression they may recommend antidepressants. Although no one likes taking medication in pregnancy, for some women the benefits they can bring may outweigh these concerns.

Also your partner may be emotionally cruel to you or physically abusive. This is much more common than most people realize. If this is happening try to talk to someone about it, your midwife or doctor, and try to get the appropriate help.

You may also find it helpful to contact the following groups for more information, advice and support:

Health Talk Online

Association for Postnatal Illness (APNI)

Post Partum Support International (PSI)

Marcé Society

Tommy’s: pregnancy helpline 0800 0147 800, or email


Stress in Pregnancy

Stress is a word that can be used to describe the way we feel, or it can be used to describe something that happens to someone. Many different things are included in the term stress:

  • Feelings of stress, anxiety or depression are very common during pregnancy. They may come and go, or they may persist. In around 15% of pregnant women, these symptoms are quite serious and could affect the development of the fetus. Although it is important to remember that it only increases the risk of problems and most children of even very stressed mothers are fine.
  • Most pregnant women who are experiencing emotional problems during pregnancy do not get any help from their doctor, nurse or midwife. It is very important that the pregnant woman is aware of how she feels, and asks for help when needed.

What is stress?

Different people find different things stressful, and triggers may be quite normal everyday things, or they might be extraordinary events. All of the following have been found to affect fetal development in research studies:

Common Unusual
Feelings of anxiety and depression Bereavement
Daily hassles Accidents
Quarrels with a partner or family member Natural disasters like floods or hurricanes
Feeling that your partner is emotionally cruel Terrorist attacks
Anxiety about the pregnancy itself War

Although stress is known to affect fetal development, it certainly doesn’t affect every fetus. Some mothers can feel quite stressed, without this having any effect at all.

How can stress be measured?

  • Researchers use different types of questionnaire to assess emotions and emotional problems.
  • These questionnaires ask about particular emotions or feelings and how often they are experienced.
  • They allow us to ‘measure’ your emotions and assess how problematic they are for you, both psychologically and physically.


To assess this during pregnancy, researchers use a questionnaire called the Spielberger Anxiety Inventory. This is made up of lots of statements which you rate as ‘almost always true’, ‘often true’, ‘sometimes true’, or ‘almost never true’.

The statements include things like:

  • I feel nervous and restless
  • I feel that difficulties are piling up so that I cannot overcome them
  • I worry too much about things that don’t really matter
  • I get in a state of emotional turmoil as I think over my recent concerns and interests


To assess this during pregnancy, researchers use a questionnaire called the Edinburgh Depression Scale. This is made up of lots of statements that you rate according to how often you feel like that. The statements include things like:

  • I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong
  • I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping
  • I have been so unhappy that I have been crying
  • The thought of harming myself has occurred to me

What does stress do to the body?

There are two main types of effect that stress has on the body.

The first is the immediate response to stress. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response and can occur within seconds. Adrenaline and noradrenaline (also known as epinephrine and norepinephrine) are released, and they prepare our body for immediate action in an emergency situation.

The second response is a more gradual one. Over 20 minutes or so, our bodies release more of a hormone called cortisol. This helps our bodies to withstand ongoing physical and mental stress.

However the relationship between how someone feels, and the responses of these two systems is quite complex, and we can feel stressed without a release of adrenaline or cortisol.