Can Stress During Pregnancy Cause Miscarriage?

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Depending on whom you ask, stress during pregnancy is either a risk factor for miscarriage and stillbirth or it's an outright myth that stress has any relation to pregnancy loss.

Myths have long linked bad moods during pregnancy to strange consequences, but some evidence supports the idea that stress could affect a pregnancy. On the other hand, the evidence is mixed and many doctors and health authorities say that stress is not a contributing factor for miscarriage.

Learn about the role of stress as it relates to miscarriage.

The Connection

Stress during pregnancy can increase the risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes, including maternal health complications and prematurity. In addition, some studies have found a possible connection between stress and early pregnancy loss.

The stressors of pregnancy can trigger depression in some people. Sometimes to cope with stress or depression, people use harmful substances like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Using harmful substances can increase the risk of certain pregnancy complications, including miscarriage.

A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis found that stress before and during pregnancy was associated with pregnancy loss. The results of the study indicate that while chromosomal abnormalities are the predominant cause of miscarriage, psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by as much as 42%.

Researchers hypothesize that the connection of stress to miscarriage could have to do with the hormonal implications of stress on the body. For instance, increased cortisol affects the placenta and it impacts how other hormones behave. Prolactin, for example, which stimulates the production of progesterone, is decreased by stress, which means both hormones may be suppressed by stress.

A 2016 study of pregnant people in Denmark found that miscarriages increased one month following an economic downturn, suggesting that social stressors may play a role in early pregnancy loss.

The Consensus

Meanwhile, a 2014 systematic review study looking at cortisol levels and in vitro fertilization outcomes, including miscarriage, showed mixed results. Four studies found that lower cortisol was associated with the establishment of clinical pregnancy, while three studies found a correlation between higher cortisol levels and pregnancy.

Importantly, major medical organizations and health authorities do not consider stress a risk factor for miscarriage, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the WHO, an emphasis on lifestyle factors as ways to reduce the risk of miscarriage can lead to people feeling as though they did something to cause a miscarriage.

Stress During Pregnancy

It is unlikely that normal everyday stress, such as worrying about your finances or deadlines at work, would lead to a miscarriage, but stress during pregnancy may affect your pregnancy in other ways. So, it's always a good idea to make stress management a priority in your life.

Response to stress is impacted by things like social support, genetic vulnerability, and life history.

Stress may be unavoidable for many people, especially if you're dealing with something like infertility or recurrent miscarriages, but it might be a good idea to look into doing whatever you can to alleviate anxiety. In doing so, you'll improve your overall health.

Simply put, there is no downside to incorporating more relaxation and stress management into your life.

Stress Management

Part of maintaining a healthy body involves proactively managing the stress in your life. There are some stressors that simply can't be avoided when you're pregnant, but what you can do is alter the way you experience stress. Some ideas include:

  • Reduce your obligations, if you can.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Carve out time for friends.
  • Get extra rest.
  • Practice open communication with your partner and family.
  • Ask for help.
  • Join a pregnancy support group.
  • Practice yoga or other relaxation techniques.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Seek professional support.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes people look back and conclude that they had a miscarriage because they were too stressed out. This can sometimes lead to self-blame, especially in unexplained miscarriages. If you have experienced a pregnancy loss, remember that you didn't do anything wrong. The causes of most miscarries are largely not known.

Thinking about reducing stress can sometimes cause people to worry about worrying. Take heart and know that every pregnant person worries at least a little bit during the pregnancy, whether it's about the pregnancy or about other life factors. Some worry a lot. And yet the majority of people give birth to healthy babies.

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  1. March of Dimes. Stress and pregnancy. Updated October 2019.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Depression during pregnancy: Risks, signs & treatment. Updated June 11, 2020. 

  3. Qu F, Wu Y, Zhu Y et al. The association between psychological stress and miscarriage: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01792-3

  4. Bruckner TA, Mortensen LH, Catalano RA. Spontaneous pregnancy loss in Denmark following economic downturnsAm J Epidemiol. 2016;183(8):701-8. doi:10.1093/aje/kww003

  5. Massey AJ, Campbell B, Raine-fenning N, Aujla N, Vedhara K. The association of physiological cortisol and IVF treatment outcomes: a systematic review. Reprod Med Biol. 2014;13(4):161-176. doi:10.1007/s12522-014-0179-z

  6. World Health Organization. Why we need to talk about losing a baby

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