Reducing stress during pregnancy
Healthy Pregnancy Pregnancy

Reducing Stress During Pregnancy: TCM Strategies to Calm the Mind and Body for a Healthier Pregnancy

Pregnancy is one of the most transformative and physically demanding experiences any woman can go through. From conception to postpartum, the female body undergoes a multitude of dramatic changes, both visible and invisible, to accommodate and nurture a developing baby. These include hormonal fluctuations, significant weight gains, changes in body shape and skin condition, a weakened immune system, and more. In the midst of this journey, mothers must take steps to ensure their optimal health and well-being. Learn more about achieving a relaxing and healthy pregnancy in this article.

The Connection Between Stress and Pregnancy

2.1. What Is Stress?

Image of a person looking stressed

Stress is our body’s physiological and psychological response to perceived threats or challenges. It is how our body naturally reacts to situations that it sees as demanding or dangerous, and it prepares the body to either confront the stressor or flee from it. 

When a person experiences stress, the body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, triggering various physiological changes. These responses, which can include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and a surge in energy, help the individual cope with the problem. 

2.2. What Causes Stress During Pregnancy? 

Stress can arise from various sources, including work, personal relationships, financial difficulties, health concerns, and major life changes. Pregnancy is a season of dramatic changes that introduces numerous other sources of stress that can affect an expectant mother’s health during the prenatal period. 

  • Surge in Hormones and Emotional Sensitivity

Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, such as the increase in oestrogen and progesterone, affect mood and emotions. The body’s response to these changes can cause heightened emotional sensitivity, making expectant mothers more prone to feeling stressed. 

  • Physical Discomforts

Image of a pregnant lady with back pains

Problems such as nausea, fatigue, back pains, and other uncomfortable symptoms are common with pregnancy. These are physically taxing, and can contribute to stress as women adapt to the challenges of their changing bodies. 

  • Health Concerns

Due to the numerous changes and the physically-demanding nature of pregnancy, the well-being of both the expectant mother and developing baby is a significant source of stress. Mothers can worry about potential complications, birth defects, or health issues that may arise. 

  • Changes in Relationships

Pregnancy can lead to shifts in relationships with partners, family, and friends. Dynamics may change, and there may be expectations from different people. These cause stress as the expectant mother navigates interpersonal changes. 

  • Financial Concerns

Prenatal care, delivery, and the baby’s life moving forward can be a source of stress. The cost of healthcare, baby essentials, and the potential need to take time off from work or hire a help can create more financial woes for the parents. 

  • Work-Related Stress

Having to go through numerous physical changes while balancing the demands of work can be stressful, especially if there are concerns about job security and workload. 

  • Uncertainty

The unknown aspects of having a child and becoming parents can create uncertainty and anxiety, particularly for first-time mothers. 

  • Societal Expectations

Pressures to meet certain standards or conform to societal norms regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting can contribute to stress and anxiety. 

  • Lack of Support

Emotional and practical support is crucial during pregnancy, and a lack of it from a partner, family, or friends, can leave the expectant mother feeling isolated and overwhelmed. 

2.3. The Impact of Stress on Maternal and Foetal Health

Some stress during pregnancy is normal, just as it is during other times of life. But constant stress can have effects on the mother and baby and potentially cause complications. 

  • Impact on Maternal Health

Image of a pregnant lady looking stressed

    • Increased Risk of Complications

Elevated stress levels during pregnancy are associated with risks of gestational hypertension and diabetes. It may also disrupt the body’s ability to go into labour and handle the physical demands of childbirth. 

    • Suppressed Immune System

Image representing immunity

Chronic stress can suppress the immune system and increase the expectant mother’s susceptibility to infections and illnesses. 

    • Worsening of Preexisting Conditions

For women with preexisting health conditions, stress during pregnancy can exacerbate these conditions. 

    • Postpartum Depression

Maternal stress is a known risk factor for postpartum depression. The emotional strain experienced during pregnancy can persist or intensify following childbirth, affecting the mother’s ability to care for herself and her newborn.

    • Slow Postpartum Recovery

Stress can also affect the mother’s ability to heal and recover following delivery. Well-conditioned muscles, a nourished and hydrated body, and a positive mood are critical to mitigate postpartum stress or depression, and it’s important to foster feelings of happiness from the prenatal stage to ensure a speedy recovery. 

  • Impact on Baby’s Health

Image of a newborn baby

    • Premature Birth 

Babies are at increased risk of premature birth if their mothers experience high levels of stress during pregnancy. Children born prematurely may face various health challenges, including respiratory issues, developmental delays, and other complications requiring specialised medical attention. 

    • Low Birth Weight

Stress has been linked to lower birth weights in infants, which can increase the baby’s risk of developing health problems in the future. 

    • Issues in Brain Development

Prenatal stress may impact the brain of a developing foetus, influencing cognitive and emotional development, which can affect their learning, behaviour, and mental health beyond childhood. It is important for a mother to maintain optimal physical and emotional health during pregnancy to boost the baby’s neurological growth.

Learn More: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Helps Support Your Mental Health

    • Behavioural and Emotional Problems

High levels of stress during pregnancy can also manifest as difficulties in regulating emotions, attention issues, and an increased risk of anxiety and depression in children. This can affect them even in adulthood. During pregnancy, engaging in activities that elicit joy triggers the release of hormones, such as oxytocin, which is essential for promoting emotional connection between mother and child. These hormonal influences work to cultivate feelings of love, affection, and protectiveness, making positive emotions crucial throughout and beyond the nine months of gestation.

    • Epigenetic Changes

Prenatal stress can induce epigenetic changes, altering the expression of genes in the developing foetus. These changes may influence the child’s susceptibility to various health conditions and impact their overall well-being throughout life. 

2.4. Learning to Identify Signs of Stress During Pregnancy

Signs and symptoms of pregnancy stress

Identifying signs of stress during pregnancy is extremely crucial for safeguarding the well-being of both the expectant mother and the developing baby. Stress can exert a substantial impact on their health, making it essential to recognise and address any issues promptly. 

    • Physical and Physiological Symptoms
      • Headaches
      • Muscle tension, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and back
      • Digestive problems such as indigestion, stomach cramps, or changes in bowel movements
      • Increased heart rate
      • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
    • Emotional Changes
      • Heightened anxiety or excessive worries
      • Unexplained and intense mood fluctuations
      • Increased tendency to become irritable or easily frustrated
    • Behavioural Changes
      • Overeating or undereating
      • Unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking or consuming alcohol
      • Rejecting social interactions or isolating oneself
      • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
      • Procrastinating or avoiding responsibilities
      • Nervous habits such as nail biting

The Role of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Supporting a Healthy and Stress-Free Pregnancy

Image of a woman seeing a TCM physician

3.1. How Does TCM View Stress?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perceives stress as a disturbance in the equilibrium of the body’s vital energies, known as Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang. It believes that excess stress can disrupt the harmonious flow of these energies and manifest in various physical and emotional forms. 

One of the primary consequences of stress in TCM is the stagnation of Qi, which can lead to symptoms such as headaches, digestive disturbances, and mood imbalances. It can also hamper the flow of Blood, which is particularly concerning during pregnancy. According to TCM fertility principles, adequate blood circulation is crucial for a healthy development of the foetus, and any impediment may pose risks and compromise the nourishment of the baby. 

The Yin and Yang aspects of the body can also be affected by stress. Excessive stress may generate an abundance of Yang, the active and warming aspect of the body, leading to symptoms like anxiety, palpitations, and high blood pressure. It also depletes Yin, which is the nourishing aspect of our body responsible for maintaining nourishment. 

Additionally, stress can affect the Five Elements linked to our organ systems and physiological functions. 

  • Wood (Liver and Gallbladder): Excessive stress affecting the Wood element can cause emotional imbalances and trigger irritability, anger, frustration, and headaches.
  • Fire (Heart and Small Intestine): Stress may lead to an overaccumulation of fire energy in the heart, manifesting as anxiety, palpitations, and sleep disturbances.
  • Earth (Spleen and Stomach): Stress disrupts the Earth element and may result in symptoms such as worry, overthinking, and digestive problems. 
  • Metal (Lung and Large Intestine): Stress can worsen symptoms of grief and sadness associated with the Metal element, impacting respiratory health and weakening the immune system. 
  • Water (Kidney and Bladder): Stress may overstimulate the Water-element organs, leading to increased fear, insecurity, and urinary issues. 

Learn More: Boosting Fertility According to Your Element: Wood, Fire, Earth, Water & Metal

3.2. TCM Approaches for Stress Management

If you’re worried about stress causing problems to your pregnancy and the health of your baby, fret not, for TCM offers a number of stress management methods to boost fertility and promote a healthy pregnancy. Learn more about them below or contact Thomson Chinese Medicine to consult with a physician

  • Acupuncture

Image of person getting acupuncture

Acupuncture is a key component of TCM that involves inserting thin needles into acupoints on the body to achieve a specific result. By targeting these points, it aims to balance the flow of Qi throughout the body to ensure a harmonious state of well-being. 

Acupuncture is a popular fertility treatment that can aid in preparing the body for pregnancy. Besides that, it also helps to regulate many aspects of the body to promote a healthy term.

For instance, acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins in our body. Not only does it reduce feelings of anxiety and depression during pregnancy, it also calms the nervous system to offer a number of benefits. They include regulating sleep patterns, relieving any physical discomfort, boosting the immune system, and alleviating symptoms such as nausea and bloating. But that’s not all, acupuncture also prepares the body for labour by promoting relaxation, optimising foetal position and encouraging cervical ripening. 

Learn More: Acupuncture vs Dry Needling: What Are the Differences?

  • Herbal Medicine

Image of TCM herbs

What’s TCM without some herbal remedies? From teas to baths, a number of herbs can be used throughout pregnancy to help the body cope with the numerous changes. However, it is important to first consult with a registered TCM practitioner to determine which herbs are suitable for the expectant mother. Some herbs commonly prescribed by TCM clinics for expecting mothers include: 

    • Adaptogenic Herbs

Herbs such as ginseng (Ren Shen) and astragalus (Huang Qi) enhance the vital Qi energy to support the body’s ability to adapt to stressors while preserving inner balance.

    • Calming Herbs

Albiziae bark (He Huan Pi), sour jujube seed (Suan Zao Ren), and spirit poria (Fu Shen) possess mild sedative properties that promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.

    • Liver-Soothing Herbs

Bupleurem (Chai Hu) and chrysanthemum (Ju Hua) soothe the Liver to promote emotional balance, reducing irritability and frustration associated with stress.

    • Digestive Herbs

Ginger (Sheng Jiang) and peppermint (Bo He) enhances overall comfort by alleviating digestive symptoms like nausea, bloating, and indigestion.

    • Nourishing Yin Herbs

Goji berry (Gou Qi Zi) and rehmannia (Di Huang) replenishes Yin to provide nourishment to the body. 

    • Antioxidant Herbs

Green tea (Lu Cha) and ginkgo biloba (Yin Xing Ye) combats oxidative stress to protect against oxidative damage, which is a contributor to hyperglycemia, miscarriages, and many other issues.

If you’re looking for reliable herbal remedies to aid in improving your pregnancy or postpartum health, Thomson Chinese Medicine offers specialised programmes that you can leverage to support a smooth journey. Learn more here.

  • Mind-Body Practices

TCM employs mind-body practices that focus on balancing the body’s energy, promoting relaxation, and reducing stress. These provide a natural and gentle approach to stress relief, which can be very beneficial for pregnant women. They include:

    • Tai Chi

Image of a pregnant woman doing simple tai chi

A gentle and slow-moving martial art that combines deep breathing with flowing movement. It is known to promote relaxation, improve balance, and enhance overall well-being. During pregnancy, modified Tai Chi routines can be practised to accommodate the changing body, providing a low-impact exercise that keeps you active while helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Do practise the movements with caution and do not perform those that do not feel right or that may cause discomfort or trauma to the abdomen. 

    • Qi Gong and Prenatal Yoga

Qi gong and prenatal yoga are two low-impact exercises that involve coordinated body movements, breath control, and meditation. Qi gong aims to balance the body’s energy and enhance the flow of Qi to promote relaxation and reduce stress, while prenatal yoga works to improve flexibility and strength and encourage focused breathing to help mothers find peace. Similarly, only perform movements that feel right, avoiding actions that may cause discomfort or trauma to the abdomen. 

    • Mindful Eating

From a TCM perspective, food is not only a source of nourishment, but also a means of supporting overall well-being. Mindful eating practices in TCM is believed to enhance the digestive process and support the body in absorbing Qi from the food. This involves paying attention to the colours, textures, flavours, and aromas of the food and taking time to savour each bite. It is also important to listen to the body’s signals and respond to any hunger or fullness cues promptly. 

    • Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises are employed to balance the body’s energy to promote relaxation and reduce stress, contributing to a harmonious internal balance. Some breathing exercises to try include:

      • Abdominal Breathing

This technique focuses on deep and intentional breaths that engage the diaphragm. Each inhale and exhale should encourage the expansion and gentle contraction of the abdomen.

      • Four-Fold Breathing

The Four-Fold breathing technique is a rhythmic and balanced breathing pattern that involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, exhaling for another count of four, and then pausing for another count of four before repeating the cycle. 

      • Calming Breath

The Calming Breath exercise involves inhaling slowly and deeply through the nose, holding the breath briefly, and exhaling slowly through pursed lips. This technique is believed to calm the mind and soothe the nervous system. 

      • Chest and Abdomen Harmony

This breathing method aims to harmonise the energy flow between the chest and abdomen. It involves inhaling deeply, expanding the chest, and then exhaling slowly, allowing the abdomen to gently contract. The goal is to synchronise the movement during the breath cycle, fostering balance within the body. 

    • Acupressure

Acupressure is an ancient healing technique that involves applying pressure to specific points on the body to stimulate the flow of Qi and to promote balance within the body. It is different from TCM acupuncture, which requires the use of needles to stimulate meridian points. During pregnancy, acupressure can be a gentle and effective way to alleviate stress and enhance overall well-being. Here are some acupressure points and techniques that you can try: 

      • Yin Tang (EX-HN3)

Located between the eyebrows. Applying steady and gentle pressure to this point for a few minutes while taking slow, deep breaths, is believed to calm the mind and relieve stress. 

      • Nei Guan (P6)

Located on the inner side of the forearm, about two inches above the wrist crease. Applying pressure to this point helps to alleviate nausea, reduce anxiety, and calm the mind. 

      • Bai Hui (GV20)

Located at the top of the head. This point is believed to connect various energy channels in the body. Gentle pressure here may help alleviate stress and promote a sense of balance. Simply resting your hand on this area for a few minutes may work too.

      • Zu San Li (ST36)

Situated below the knee on the outer side of the leg, about four finger-widths down from the kneecap. This point is associated with promoting overall well-being, and gentle pressure on this point can boost energy and relieve stress. 

  • Diet and Nutrition

Image of fruits and vegetables


TCM places great emphasis on diet and nutrition during pregnancy, viewing it as a crucial factor in maintaining the health of both the mother and the developing foetus. Expectant mothers can make these dietary changes in order to combat the effects of stress and to manage the feelings of stress they experience:

    • Maintain a Balanced Diet

The body is a harmonious system of opposing Yin and Yang forces. To ensure equilibrium, it is recommended that expectant mothers consume a balanced diet comprising both Yin foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and Yang foods, like meats and grains. 

    • Consume Warm, Cooked Foods

Warm foods are believed to be gentler on the digestive system and able to promote better nutrient absorption. This conserves the body’s energy and reduces the energy expenditure required for digestion.

    • Incorporate Nutrient-Dense Foods for Qi and Blood

Prioritise a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods such as lean proteins, high-iron foods, and whole grains. They nourish both Qi and Blood, contributing to overall vitality and resilience to stress.

    • Moderate Sugar and Sweets

Excessive processed sugar intake can lead to a TCM condition known as excess internal Dampness. This can lead to brain fog, water retention, and sluggish metabolism. 

    • Balance Flavours

TCM recognises five flavours—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and pungent. It is believed that balancing these flavours in your diet ensures harmony within the body as each flavour corresponds to different organ systems and elements. 

    • Stay Hydrated

Many pregnant women think that they should limit their water intake if they have water retention. However, this is a misconception. The truth is, your body needs water for optimal fluid metabolism. With ample hydration, you can reduce your chances of fluid accumulation. 

    • Drink Herbal Teas

Herbal teas are known for their nourishing properties and ability to strengthen the body and reduce stress. For example, Chinese red dates and ginger tea fortifies the digestive system. 

Integrating TCM Into Your Pregnancy Journey

4.1. Benefits of TCM Care During Pregnancy

Image of a pregnant woman receiving TCM treatments

TCM has gained recognition for its holistic and natural approach to various aspects of healthcare, and pregnancy is no exception. Incorporating TCM approaches into prenatal care can do wonders for the well-being of both mother and baby. 

  • Holistic and Natural Approach to Prenatal Care 

TCM treatments adopt a holistic approach that considers the connection between body, mind, and spirit. It addresses not only physical symptoms, but also any underlying issues that may affect one’s emotional and mental well-being. Furthermore, natural techniques that do not introduce potentially harmful or artificial substances that can harm the body are employed, promoting overall health without increasing the risk of complications. 

  • Strengthens Body Constitution

TCM not only focuses on addressing immediate symptoms, it also aims to boost the mother’s overall health and immunity, which is important for a smooth pregnancy, delivery, and a speedy postpartum recovery. It is also effective in alleviating pregnancy conditions such as morning sickness, sciatica back pain, water retention, constipation, breeched babies, and even in bringing on labour.  

  • Can Be Integrated Into Western Prenatal Care

TCM modalities are often complementary to Western medicine and can work hand-in-hand to encourage both mother and child’s wellness by supporting the mother at various stages of their journey. 

Learn More: How TCM Promotes a Healthy Pregnancy & Helps Mothers Regain Vitality After Childbirth

4.2. Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is TCM safe during pregnancy?

Yes, when administered by qualified TCM practitioners experienced in prenatal care, TCM can be safe and effective at addressing various concerns related to pregnancy.

2. How can TCM help reduce stress and anxiety during pregnancy?

TCM stress reduction practices like acupuncture, qi gong, meditation, and herbal remedies help to balance energy and promote relaxation. TCM can also build stamina and improve energy levels to reduce fatigue during pregnancy. 

3. Can TCM alleviate pregnancy discomforts like morning sickness and back pain?

Yes, TCM treatments like acupuncture and herbal remedies can offer relief from common pregnancy discomforts like nausea, vomiting, and musculoskeletal pain. 

4. How does TCM prepare the body for labour and childbirth?

TCM techniques like acupuncture promote cervical ripening and encourage uterine contractions, which are crucial for dilation, to prepare the body for labour. 

5. Can TCM support postpartum recovery?

Yes, TCM can aid in postpartum recovery by addressing fatigue, hormonal imbalances, lactation problems, and other post-birth concerns. Thomson Chinese Medicine offers a TCM confinement care programme that meticulously crafts herbal remedies to your needs to support a smooth and revitalising recovery journey. Find out more about it here.

6. Can TCM be combined with conventional prenatal care practices? 

Yes, TCM’s holistic approach to healthy pregnancy can be employed alongside other prenatal care practices to enhance your pregnancy journey. However, do consult your healthcare providers to determine the most suitable care practices. 

7. Will I be able to breastfeed if I’m taking Chinese herbs during and after pregnancy?

Yes, TCM herbs prescribed by physicians are safe for breastfeeding. In fact, some of them can help to ease the breastfeeding process. For example, certain herbs stimulate lactation and prevent mastitis.

8. How can I keep my mind calm and stress-free during pregnancy?

Regular acupuncture sessions with a prenatal focus to calm the mind (Shen) can be helpful. Consult your physician for personalised guidance. 

Pregnancy is a challenging journey for women thanks to the multitude of physical and emotional changes it brings along. For expectant mothers, nurturing both the mind and body becomes important as they navigate the incredible experience of creating new life. 

TCM, with its rich history spanning thousands of years, is an excellent approach to achieving a healthier pregnancy term. If you’re on the lookout for a TCM clinic to journey with, Thomson Chinese Medicine is a registered TCM clinic in Singapore with years of experience specialising in supporting fertility, prenatal, and postpartum care. Achieve a happy and healthy pregnancy with us by booking your appointment today!

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