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Worrying For Two: Managing Stress During Pregnancy

This study suggests maternal stress during pregnancy could affect reproductive development in male offspring.

August 16, 2019

Pregnancy can be a stressful time, to say the least. So many things are changing. There’s planning to do, and doctors to see—you’re growing a person inside of you for crying out loud!

Too much stress is always bad for your health but especially so when you’re pregnant.

In a recent study, researchers uncovered another negative effect that stress can potentially have on pregnancy: low sperm count in male offspring.

Keep reading to find out:

  • The study’s background, method, and findings
  • Other ways stress can be harmful
  • Tips for managing stress while pregnant

The Study: Effects of Stress on Pregnancies


Although male infertility affects around a third of male-female couples who can’t conceive, much is still unknown about its exact cause. Prior studies have suggested that certain chemicals result in abnormal prenatal reproductive development in males. Because stress releases a similar kind of chemical, researchers are setting out to learn more about maternal stress and its effects on male reproductive function.


The study began in 1989. Science Daily reports the “findings come from the Western Australia's Raine Study, a multi-generational study that recruited nearly 3,000 women in their 18th week of pregnancy in the period between May 1989 and November 1991. The mothers completed questionnaires at 18 and 34 weeks' gestation, and each survey included questions about stressful life events during the preceding four months of pregnancy.”

These “stress life events” include, but are not limited to:

  • Death of a close relative or friend
  • Marital problems, separation, or divorce
  • Problems with children
  • Involuntary job loss (personally experienced or experienced by a partner)
  • Financial trouble
  • Pregnancy concerns
  • Moving

The male babies born were asked to provide samples in order to test sperm quality and testosterone concentrations upon their 20th birthdays.


The results showed that the men who had been exposed to a stressful life event during early gestation (0-18 weeks) had lower quality sperm and weaker testosterone concentrations than the men who were not exposed, and men who were exposed later in the gestation period (18-34 weeks).

“This suggests that maternal exposure to stressful life events during early pregnancy, a vulnerable period for the development of male reproductive organs, may have important life-long adverse effects on men's fertility,” the researchers write.

However, the researchers also note that it is unlikely that maternal stress alone could be responsible for male infertility. The more plausible hypothesis is that stress could be one of several contributing factors.

Additional Impacts of Stress

Before we get to how stress can affect your pregnancy, let’s talk about how stress can affect you as an individual.

Stressed young woman sits on bench
During pregnancy, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself on your own behalf, not just your baby’s! But if you’ve never learned how to manage your stress before, now’s as good a time as any.

While a little bit of stress is natural, sustained periods of heavy stress can have both physical and psychological negative effects.

Physical effects of stress

  • Sore or achy muscles and joints
  • Spasms of inexplicable pain
  • Hives, excessive sweating, or hair loss
  • Stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Headaches, or tension in your jaw and/or neck
  • A weaker immune system
  • High blood pressure

Psychological effects of stress

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Constantly feeling irritated or angry
  • Poor judgement
  • Feeling depressed

Now, how can stress affect your pregnancy?

Women who suffer severe, prolonged stress during pregnancy are more likely to have a premature baby or an underweight baby. This can lead to complications following the birth of the baby.

Quick tips for stress-management

Stress can make being pregnant even more difficult than it already is, especially if your stress is pregnancy-related.

Young mother sits on couch, overwhelmed with stress.
It might be a long 9 months, but pregnancy is, after all, only temporary. Try to comfort yourself with the thought that this situation won’t last forever.

Here are some quick tips to help you handle your stress:

  • Reflect: Try to identify the individual things that you’re stressed about. This will make it easier to confront your fears and manage your worries.  
  • Reach out: Talk to a family member, friend, or partner. If you think you need additional help or want some outside perspective, find a therapist or group to go to.  
  • Journal: Start keeping a journal. The act of writing down your thoughts can be very therapeutic. And, if you don’t know what exactly you’re worried about, this could help you figure it out.
  • Express yourself: Dedicate time to doing something creative, like painting, playing music, or building something. If you’re not much of an artist, try an adult coloring book!
  • Get moving: If you haven’t already, ask your doctor about exercise. Once you determine what’s safe, try to find a physical activity that you enjoy.
  • Get educated: Take a childbirth class to make you feel more prepared. If that sounds stress-inducing, try easing into it by looking up basic tips (like breathing exercises) first, then build up to finding a class.
  • Have a game plan: Talk to your employer so you can plan ahead and feel more reassured about maternity leave.
  • Accommodate: If you can’t continue having fun the ways you did before, find activities to replace them. For instance, if you miss going out to the bar with your friends, try asking them to stay in and have a movie night instead!
Young mother relaxes in a serene lake setting with mountains in the distance
Make time for yourself, whatever that means for you. No one should have to go through pregnancy alone— don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Check out these online resources for advice and opportunities to bond with other pregnant women online!

Sometimes stress is unavoidable, and being pregnant introduces a whole new realm of stress into your life. Just remember that you’re allowed to feel however you’re feeling, and try to manage your stress the best you can. And never forget: You’re one tough mother—and going to be a great mom.


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