There are many issues pregnant women worry about during their pregnancies.
It can be stressful talking with human resources about maternity leave, getting the nursery painted, studying or finishing off loose ends at work, as well as working out if there enough money to cover the rent each month.
The to-do lists and questions about life can seem never ending, and more so as you prepare for the arrival of your new addition.
If life seems to be going a million miles an hour and your stress levels are starting to feel sky high, you might wonder if all this stress could cause you to go into labour.
This might be particularly concerning if you’re not quite full term and feeling lots of stressors piling up. Of course, everyday life can be stressful. But add in unexpected circumstances such as a loss or break-up in the family or a physical stress (an injury or chronic pain), and it's easy to see that most women wont be sailing through an entire pregnancy, without experiencing at least some stress.
Can Stress Cause You To Go Into Labour?
While stress can be a part of life, can too much stress impact when you’ll go into labour?
Can a sudden rise in stress trigger labour to begin?
In short, stress hormones can impact pregnancy, but whether or not it can result in labour is a bit more complex.
Stress Hormones And Pregnancy
Conception, pregnancy and birth are very complex hormonal processes. While they’re natural processes, our bodies do a lot of work to conceive, grow, birth and breastfeed a baby.
During each stage of that process, several hormones work together to nourish and protect the baby, then eventually they all work together to birth the baby. However, the hormones of pregnancy and birth can be impacted by other hormones in our body.
When we experience ongoing stress, our bodies release cortisol (a major stress hormone), as well as pro-inflammatory proteins (cytokines) from immune cells.
We all experience little daily stressors, and sometimes big events which are very stressful. If you have a good support system, have learned everyday stress coping techniques, and if you practice self-care, you’re likely able to manage those stressful situations in a healthy way.
However, for those who have ongoing stress (everyday stress and especially big events), it may lead to releasing cortisol and cytokines, which may then have an effect on pregnancy.
Inflammation which is caused by the cytokines and elevated levels of cortisol are linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes including:
Reading that list can be a bit frightening, and you may think, “Um, don’t we all experience stress sometimes?!?”
Of course, we all experience stress sometimes. However, it’s important to realise that if you’re able to cope with daily stressors, your body is unlikely to be releasing ongoing inflammatory proteins and cortisol, which is what’s linked to adverse birth outcomes. Ongoing, poorly managed stress is what is related to pre-term birth and other adverse outcomes.
Can Sudden Stressful Situations Cause You To Go Into Labour?
Perhaps you’re able to keep a handle on everyday stress, but what about a sudden stressful event? The loss of a loved one, being laid off from work or having to suddenly move can all be unexpected and very stressful situations.
The evidence linking stress to triggering labour is related to ongoing, chronic stress. This means your body would have elevated levels of cortisol and cytokines for an extended period time, maybe even the length of your pregnancy. When these are elevated for a long period of time, the hormones can impact many bodily functions, and therefore your pregnancy.
It would be very unusual for a sudden and isolated incident of stress to trigger labour. Sometimes stress is the result of something physical, such as a car accident. In these situations, labour might be triggered, but it’s more than likely due to the physical impact of the event, rather than the emotional stress of the situation.
Managing Stress During Pregnancy
We can't always control our environments. Sometimes work will be stressful, toddlers will press all our buttons and unexpected bills might pop up. However, we can take steps to help control stress during pregnancy. An external stressor doesn’t always need to become a physical response.
Taking steps to manage stress, learning how to cope with stress and practicing self-care to recharge ourselves can make your pregnancy journey healthier.
Consider some of the following for effective stress management:
- Meditation (or prayer if religious) to take time to refocus
- Journaling to help process your experiences
- Enlisting help around the house with day to day tasks to lighten your load
- Coordinate childcare help or support to provide you with rest as needed
- Epsom salt baths or soaks, as well as aromatherapy
- Meet with a therapist (ideally experienced in prenatal issues) to help process challenging experiences
- Choose a maternity healthcare provider that offers continuity of care so coordinating your maternity care isn’t stressful
- Start planning and budgeting your maternity leave early in your pregnancy to avoid last minute rushing and stress
- If making your basic financial needs met is a major and ongoing stressor, find out what local resources are available for financial assistance, baby items, food, etc
- Make time for self-care, do an activity you enjoy
Recommended Reading: For more tips to help control stress during pregnancy check out BellyBelly’s article Stress During Pregnancy – 10 Tips To Combat Stress.