In addition to directly causing problems during pregnancy, the hormones produced by stress can also weaken your immune system. People who are highly stressed are in a constant state of alert, but the burst of hormones like cortisol involved in the fight-or-flight response is supposed to be short-term. Chronic stress, however, can result in reduced numbers of cells that fight off viral and bacterial infections. The stress response can also cause the nervous system to secrete substances that bind to white blood cells (which defend the body from disease) and make them less effective. Pregnant women already have lowered immune systems, so stress has even more of an impact on them. This equals an increase in illnesses that your body would normally be able to fight off.
Often, pregnant women can't take the same kinds of medications that would normally bring them quick relief when they're sick, so illnesses can last longer or they're more likely to have to suffer through some of the symptoms. Many different kinds of ailments can impact your pregnancy, as well. The flu, for example, is more likely to turn into pneumonia when you're pregnant -- just when you already have pressure on your lungs due to your growing belly and need more oxygen to support your baby.
In addition, you may also be more vulnerable to uterine infections when you have a compromised immune system. These may involve the placenta and amniotic sac and can be extremely dangerous. The treatment is high doses of antibiotics and inducing labor as soon as it is safe to do so. Uterine infections can interfere with the organ's ability to contract; severe ones may lead to blood clots. The baby can also be infected -- rarely, he or she may develop sepsis (infection in the bloodstream) or conditions like cerebral palsy.
It may surprise you to learn that chronic stress during pregnancy can have effects that you may not even notice until after you've given birth. Read on to find out how your stress can become your baby's stress.