Researchers, doctors, and health authorities are conflicted on whether stress is a significant risk factor for pregnancy loss, with some claiming it to be a myth.

Some experts claim stress is not a contributing factor to pregnancy loss, while others suggest stress may increase the risk in various ways.

Stress may lead to other complications during pregnancy, which could affect the health of the pregnant person and the fetus.

This article looks at whether stress causes pregnancy loss, other problems stress may cause during pregnancy, and more.

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This feature mentions pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or both. Please read at your own discretion.

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Some research suggests that stress may increase a person’s risk of pregnancy loss, although evidence is inconclusive.

Some sources, such as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), claim that it is a misconception that stress causes pregnancy loss.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also says that stress does not cause pregnancy loss.

According to ACOG, pregnancy loss is typically a random event. While a person may blame a recent period of stress or other occurrences such as a fright or a fall, these things are most often not the cause of early pregnancy loss.

Other sources, including a 2017 review and meta-analysis, suggest psychological factors such as stress can have a significant effect on early pregnancy loss.

The review found that several high quality studies supported the theory that psychological stress, such as occupational stress and stressful life events, may increase the risk of pregnancy loss.

The researchers believe that stress may increase the risk of pregnancy loss due to hormonal changes, such as an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone affects the placenta and affects the functioning of other hormones.

Expert opinions on whether stress contributes to the risk of pregnancy loss are conflicted. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that emphasizing the role of lifestyle factors such as stress in pregnancy loss can be harmful, as it can result in people blaming themselves for their pregnancy loss.

High levels of sustained stress may cause various problems during pregnancy, which can affect the pregnant person and the fetus.

According to the advocacy group March of Dimes, these include:

  • High blood pressure: Stress may lead to an increase in blood pressure. Having high blood pressure during pregnancy can increase the risk of stroke, preeclampsia, eclampsia, and placental abruption in the pregnant person. It can also lead to preterm delivery and low birth weight for the baby.
  • Eating too much or too little: Stress can cause a person to eat too much or not enough food, which can lead them to gain or lose excessive amounts of weight during pregnancy. This may increase a person’s risk of preterm labor and health complications such as gestational diabetes.
  • Higher risk of alcohol and drug use: Stress may increase the risk of alcohol or drug use during pregnancy, which could affect the health of the pregnant person and the baby.

Stress during pregnancy is typical, even when someone welcomes their pregnancy. People experience stress while pregnant for a variety of reasons.

Stress during pregnancy commonly occurs in response to:

  • physical symptoms, such as morning sickness, back pain, and tiredness
  • changes in the body
  • changes in hormones, which may cause mood changes
  • worries about the experience of labor and giving birth
  • worries about caring for the baby after birth

Stress during pregnancy is natural and typically unlikely to cause problems. However, some people may experience more sustained, high levels of stress, serious mental health conditions, or worsened existing mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

A person needs to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional if they experience mental health difficulties during pregnancy.

The National Child & Maternal Health Education Program also offers information and resources on mental health for pregnant people.

The following may help a person manage stress during pregnancy:

  • receiving treatment from a mental health professional, such as talk therapy
  • reaching out to friends, family, or support groups
  • eating a balanced diet with regular meals
  • getting physical activity, if possible, by the advice of a healthcare professional
  • using relaxation techniques, such as mindful meditation and breathing exercises
  • attending online or in-person childbirth education classes

There are various potential causes of pregnancy loss, and in many cases, the cause remains unknown.

Causes can include:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS causes the ovaries to become enlarged due to hormonal changes.
  • Problems in the womb: Problems in the womb, such as an atypically-shaped womb or fibroids, may cause pregnancy loss during the second trimester.
  • Weak cervix: Surgery or injury can cause the cervix to weaken and open too early during the pregnancy.
  • Problem with the placenta: The placenta is the organ that links the body’s blood supply with the blood supply of the fetus. A problem in the placenta can disrupt the blood supply to the fetus.
  • Medications: Certain medications may increase the risk of pregnancy loss, including retinoids for certain skin conditions, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and inflammation, and misoprostol for stomach ulcers.
  • Drug use: Smoking tobacco, using drugs, drinking alcohol, and consuming excessive amounts of caffeine can increase the risk of pregnancy loss.
  • Health conditions: Some conditions that may increase a person’s risk of pregnancy loss include food poisoning, some sexually transmitted infections, diabetes, lupus, and thyroid problems.

A person needs to contact a doctor if they experience signs of pregnancy loss while pregnant.

These can include:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • tissue or fluid discharge from the vagina
  • cramping in the lower abdomen
  • disappearance of pregnancy symptoms, such as tender breasts and nausea

Some cases of pregnancy loss occur due to ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg begins to develop outside the womb.

Ectopic pregnancies may cause severe health complications, such as internal bleeding. A person needs to call 911 or visit their nearest emergency medical center if they experience signs of ectopic pregnancy.

These include:

There is conflicting evidence and advice on whether stress can cause pregnancy loss.

Some expert sources claim that it is a misconception that stress is a major contributor to early pregnancy loss, while others claim it may play a significant role.

Stress is often a natural part of pregnancy, and many people give birth to healthy babies despite experiencing it. There are also various potential reasons why pregnancy loss may occur that are often beyond a person’s control.

Severe, chronic stress may cause health problems, which could also affect the health of the fetus. A person needs to seek help for severe stress or any mental health condition during pregnancy.