Stress and Pregnancy

Pregnant women face many additional stressors than most people and as someone who may eventually experience it, this blog attempts to get a better understanding of these stressors and their impact, as well as potential ways to manage and cope under those circumstances. Throughout our chapter on stress, we discussed how women experience more stress over men, as do mothers over fathers and young girls over boys (Adapted Vulnerability-Stress-Adaptation Model Theory Module). In this blog post, we will discuss the effects of stressors on pregnant women and the ways that this stress is managed under these unique conditions.

Feminist Theory 

     The feminist theory of sociology focuses on the harmfulness of discrimination towards all different identifications such as class, age, sexuality, race, and naturally, race and gender (Knox et al., 2023). In the context of relationships, feminists address the negative impact of patriarchy (male dominance) on women, ranging from physical to mental and emotional (Knox et al., 2023). These kinds of conditions and standards encourage the presence of inequalities throughout society.  In applying this theory to the stress that women experience while pregnant, we can consider challenges that women face in the workplace, home, or other social situations. This could also extend to include the overlapping identities of women that uniquely impact their experiences such as race and class. 

     Pregnancy comes with its own unique set of challenges and complications that can contribute to higher levels of stress. Women who are pregnant face these challenges and are also expected to manage their routine or daily stressors simultaneously. In the US, 56% of pregnant women participate in full time work and 82% of those women continue up until the month before to a couple weeks before giving birth (The Committee on Obstetric Practice, 2018). Additionally, the US is the “only developed country that does not have a national paid maternity or parental leave program” (The Committee on Obstetric Practice, 2018, Introduction section, para. 1). These standards put women who are pregnant in a more vulnerable state than they were to begin with and can create greater levels of stress about financial stability, job protection, and access to healthcare. According to feminist theory, women of lower socioeconomic status and women of color may face additional challenges under these circumstances. Concerns about job protection and healthcare while experiencing pregnancy can be very anxiety-inducing and possibly build tension that may become harmful to the woman or the baby. One study explored the impacts of working daytime standard work hours and working non-standard hours on women who are pregnant. Both sets of long working hours were shown to cause significant fatigue and raise cortisol levels, reducing the growth progression of the fetus and placenta and increasing the woman’s blood pressure (Cai et al., 2019). Another study (of predominantly white women) found that experiences with pregnancy discrimination was related to an increase in stress levels, which further negatively impacted their mental and physical health through depressive symptoms, changes in weights, and frequency of visits for check-ups (Mehra et al., 2023). Aside from financial and medical impacts, self-care practices have also been found to have a relationship with stress levels of a woman who is pregnant as it relates to her perceived social support. The study found and acknowledged that lower social support contributed to a reduction in self-care practices and general health (Samani et al., 2023). As one would imagine, the presence of a stronger social support system is a significantly positive factor in coping with stress (Samani et al., 2023). These kinds of harmful experiences can contribute to a more stressful pregnancy experience and can directly impact the woman, the baby, and the people closest to her. These kinds of conditions can shift family dynamics, put women in more vulnerable positions where they must rely on other sources, and encourage the continuation of patriarchal practices.


     Intersectionality is the study of the relationship between overlapping identities of an individual and how they shape one’s personal experiences (Crenshaw, 1989). Specifically, the experiences explored tend to be of discrimination and oppression. This theory is in close relation to the feminist theory as they share many similar features, some of which has been previously discussed. As it relates to women who are pregnant, these overlapping identities have the potential to impact their experiences in different ways. 

     Though the US has some policies on workplace discrimination against pregnant women, this type of treatment is still commonly experienced by women, both formally and informally (Mehra et al., 2023). Of these experiences, minority women, specifically black women, are disproportionately represented in reported complaints (Mehra et al., 2023). This kind of negative treatment can be an added stressor for a pregnant woman of color who is also trying to navigate her daily stressors, take care of herself, and help plan to build a family. On another hand, socioeconomic status plays a significant role during pregnancy and life after. In a study on the experiences of black women who were pregnant, participants shared a variety of negative interactions between employers, potential employers, and coworkers. One experience that was shared involved feelings of isolation and being questioned about her levels of competency and performance, which she felt was due to a combination of her pregnancy and her race (Mehra et al., 2023). As it relates to socioeconomic status, the median income for households with a single, female head in 2020 was almost $20,000 less than that of a household with a single, male head (Knox et al., 2023). These kinds of disparities contribute to an additional load of stressors on women who are pregnant, creating an unhealthy environment and experience. These impacts can go further than the woman and extend to other parts of the family, creating tension and threatening other areas of the relationship. 

Personal Experience

     Though I have never been pregnant, I have seen my sisters, sisters-in-law, and other family friends go through their pregnancies. Most of the time, they were in relationships or had someone else for immediate support, though none had enough financial stability to take more time off work than possible. Some of the pregnancies were second or third pregnancies, so they also had the responsibility of actively parenting and taking care of their other children. Fortunately for them, I was old enough to watch their other kids sometimes (basically for free), which is something that not everyone has access to. I did observe waves of high levels of trust due to work conditions, family responsibilities and other stressors discussed. We were a strong support system for these women and I believe that was something very valuable and helpful to them during their experiences.  

Ways to Manage 

     Many ways for pregnant women to manage their stress are similar to general strategies. These include but are not limited to breathing exercises, eating healthy, exercising, and communication (PennMedicine Lancaster General Health). More specific practices may include meditation, yoga, extra sleep, and the incorporation of other lower-level activities (March of Dimes, 2023). As for ways in which this kind of stress can be relieved from pregnant women, more policies and standards can be put in place to protect women in the workplace if they are pregnant. Creating a more supportive and healthy environment can improve the overall health and well-being of the woman and her child, eliminate some of the inequalities that have stemmed from these disadvantages, and encourage women who want to be able to provide for their family and their lives.

Bahrami-Samani, S., Omidvar, S., Mohsenzadeh-Ledari, F., Azizi, A., Ashrafpour, M., & Kordbagheri, M. (2023). The relationship between perceived stress and pregnancy distress with self‐care of pregnant women: The mediating role of social support—A cross‐sectional study. Health Science Reports, 6(11), e1730–e1730.

Cai, C., Vandermeer, B., Khurana, R., Nerenberg, K., Featherstone, R., Sebastianski, M., & Davenport, M. H. (2019). The impact of occupational shift work and working hours during pregnancy on health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 221(6), 563–576.


How to Reduce Stress During Pregnancy. (n.d.).


Knox, D., Schacht, C., & Chang, I.-T. J. (2024). Choices in Relationships. SAGE.


Mehra, R., Alspaugh, A., Dunn, J. T., Franck, L. S., McLemore, M. R., Keene, D. E., Kershaw, T. S., & Ickovics, J. R. (2023). “‘Oh gosh, why go?’ cause they are going to look at me and not hire”: intersectional experiences of black women navigating employment during pregnancy and parenting. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 23(1), 17–17.


Stress and pregnancy. March of Dimes. (2023).


The Committee on Obstetric Practice. (2018). Employment considerations during pregnancy and the postpartum period. ACOG.