Can Stress During Pregnancy Cause Miscarriage?

stressed pregnant woman

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

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. The role of stress in pregnancy is a complicated one.

Some evidence does support the idea that stress could affect a pregnancy. But the evidence is mixed, and many doctors and health authorities say that stress is not a contributing factor for miscarriage.

How Stress May Affect Pregnancy

Research shows that 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.

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

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.

Manage 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 affected 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's a good idea to do 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.

To proactively manage the stress in your life, you might try to:

  • Reduce 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 miscarriages are 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.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. March of Dimes. Stress and pregnancy.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Depression during pregnancy: Risks, signs & treatment.

  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

Additional Reading

By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.