Home » News » Stress Management » High Stress Increases Pregnancy Risk

High Stress Increases Pregnancy Risk

High stress levels with low social support during pregnancy can place women at risk for premature labor and preeclampsia. A new study shows that mental health anguish can trigger inflammatory responses that can place both the mother and baby at risk.

Preeclampsia, symptoms of which include sudden increases in blood pressure, excessive weight gain and severe headaches, can affect the mother’s kidney, liver and brain function. If left untreated, preeclampsia can result in seizures or even coma during pregnancy. Uncontrolled preeclampsia can threaten the life of both the mother and the baby.

The inflammatory immune system responses involve increases in two proteins — cytokines and C-reactive protein (CRP).

“Stress affects levels of serum cytokines across pregnancy,” found University of Denver at Colorado researchers led by Mary Coussons-Read, Ph.D. Similarly, “psychosocial factors can affect levels of CRP in serum in mid- and late pregnancy.”

The study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, comprised 52 pregnant women ages 18 to 34. Once per trimester, women completed a questionnaire that measured psychological stress and social support. The women also had blood tests to measure cytokine and CRP levels.

“Premature labor in itself in not so bad,” Coussons-Read said; rather, “premature delivery is the problem as it can have lasting effects on infant and child development.” Premature infants can have health problems associated with immature lungs and other body systems, including the nervous system.

Margaret Altemus, M.D., of Weill Medical College at Cornell University, said that the timing and severity of preeclampsia or premature labor are important to outcomes for both mother and child.

“Sometimes premature labor is treated with medication, subsides, and the pregnancy goes to full term,” Altemus said. “But if the premature labor continues, a baby could be born up to14 weeks early, which is very dangerous. Preeclampsia is dangerous, but if it develops late in pregnancy, the delivery can be induced and mother and baby do fine.”

Source: Health Behavior News Service

High Stress Increases Pregnancy Risk

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). High Stress Increases Pregnancy Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.