Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free
Subscribe for free to keep reading! If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

How to Improve Mental Health During Pregnancy

Medically reviewed by 
How to Improve Mental Health During Pregnancy

Embarking on the pregnancy journey is a beautiful and transformative experience, yet it's also a time when your emotional well-being deserves tender care and attention. As you navigate the rollercoaster of physical changes, hormonal fluctuations, and the profound anticipation of motherhood, it's natural to encounter moments of uncertainty, stress, and even anxiety. Pre-existing mental health conditions may also be exacerbated during this time. 

Mental health during pregnancy matters deeply, not just for expectant mothers but also for their developing babies. This article provides practical strategies and supportive resources to help expecting mothers navigate the challenges and enhance their mental and emotional well-being during pregnancy.


Understanding Mental Health Challenges in Pregnancy

Perinatal mental health refers to the emotional well-being of individuals during pregnancy and the postpartum period. It encompasses a spectrum of mental health challenges experienced by expectant and new mothers, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and other psychiatric conditions. (29

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) are a subset of perinatal mental health conditions characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or distress that significantly interfere with daily functioning. These disorders can manifest during pregnancy or within the first year after childbirth, affecting up to one in five women. 

Anxiety disorders are among the most common types of mental health disorders during pregnancy, affecting 11-17% of pregnant women. The most common symptoms of anxiety include constant worrying, restlessness, muscle tension, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems. Anxiety symptoms most commonly present in the first trimester of pregnancy, likely due to hormonal changes. 

Prenatal depression is marked by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness during pregnancy. In high-income countries, up to 20% of women experience depression at some point during pregnancy. Hormonal shifts; chemical imbalances in the brain; physical discomfort; and concerns regarding childbirth, parenting responsibilities, and finances can lead to depressive symptoms. 

Anxiety and depression often occur together, with as many as 58% of pregnant patients experiencing both. 

A 2016 review concluded the most common risk factors for prenatal anxiety or depression are:

  • Lack of partner or other social support
  • History of abuse or domestic violence
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
  • Adverse life events
  • High perceived stress
  • Present or past pregnancy complications
  • History of pregnancy loss

The Importance of Prenatal Mental Health Care 

Untreated mental health issues during pregnancy can have significant effects on the mother's quality of life, birth outcomes, and long-term child health. Therefore, early detection and treatment of perinatal mood disorders are crucial to improve maternal well-being, pregnancy outcomes, and ensure a child's healthy development.

Untreated mental health issues can lead to behaviors that harm fetal development. This might include poor prenatal care, unhealthy diet, or substance use (28). These factors are linked to adverse birth outcomes, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and smaller head circumference. These complications can increase the risk of neonatal health problems, developmental delays, and long-term health issues for the child.

Chronic stress increases the risk of maternal obesity, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. Elevated levels of maternal cortisol, a stress hormone, during pregnancy have been associated with adverse effects on fetal growth and development, including lower birth weight, preterm birth, and altered neurodevelopment. Excessive maternal cortisol can disrupt the placental function, reducing nutrient supply to the fetus and impairing its growth. Moreover, cortisol can cross the placental barrier, directly affecting fetal brain development and programming stress response systems. These effects may contribute to long-term health consequences for the child, including an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders and behavioral problems. (14)

Mental health disorders that persist during the postpartum period can impact parenting behaviors and the mother-child relationship after birth. Mothers experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression may struggle with bonding, caregiving, and providing a nurturing environment for their children. This can lead to attachment issues that affect the child's emotional, cognitive, and social development. (10

Communication and Support Networks

Open communication and robust support networks safeguard maternal mental health and optimize pregnancy outcomes. Women may have a five-times higher risk of postpartum depression when their social support is low. However, studies have consistently shown that expectant mothers who engage in supportive relationships and receive emotional assistance experience improved mental health outcomes throughout pregnancy.

One study found that women participating in in-person antenatal classes had the lowest levels of anxiety and depression among expectant mothers. The camaraderie and shared experiences within these groups provide a sense of validation and reassurance, mitigating feelings of isolation and uncertainty commonly experienced during pregnancy.

A systematic review revealed that emotional support from partners, family members, and peers significantly reduced stress levels among pregnant women. The presence of a strong support network not only alleviated psychological distress but also correlated with enhanced coping mechanisms and greater spirituality.

Lifestyle Modifications for Mental Wellness

Incorporating lifestyle modifications can significantly impact mental health, restoring emotional wellness for expectant mothers.

Physical Activity

Exercise is a powerful tool for managing perinatal mood disorders. It works by influencing brain chemistry, promoting the release of mood-elevating endorphins, and modulating neurotransmitters. This natural boost can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, exercise acts as a stress reliever by lowering stress hormones and improving sleep quality. 

A 2022 systematic review concluded that physical exercise significantly reduced perinatal depressive symptoms. These positive effects were found for comprehensive exercise, yoga, and walking. 

Balanced Nutrition

What we eat has a profound impact on how we feel. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins provides the essential nutrients our brains need to function optimally. These nutrients act as building blocks for neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that regulate mood, sleep, and focus. Diets lacking in these essential elements can lead to deficiencies that contribute to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue. 

Processed foods and sugary drinks can cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, leading to mood swings and irritability. In contrast, a healthy diet rich in diverse nutrients promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which have recently been linked to improved mental well-being through their influence on the gut-brain connection.

Research suggests that the following nutrients may be of particular importance for enhancing mood during pregnancy (37, 42):

  • B vitamins
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc

Micronutrient testing can help identify nutrient inadequacies and deficiencies contributing to mood disturbances and tailor nutritional and supplemental recommendations to the individual's needs. The Micronutrient Test by SpectraCell and the Cellular Micronutrient Assay by Cell Science Systems are two test options available to order through Rupa Health.

Stress Management

Research shows positive associations between mindfulness and stress reduction techniques and women's mental health. These practices, like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms effectively. This is likely because mindfulness cultivates a focus on the present moment and non-judgmental awareness, helping women manage negative thought patterns that often fuel these conditions. 

Mindfulness techniques equip women with tools for emotional regulation. By observing and accepting their emotions without judgment, women can respond more effectively and reduce emotional reactivity

The benefits extend beyond managing emotions in the moment. Studies suggest mindfulness and stress reduction techniques enhance resilience, allowing women to cope with challenges and bounce back from setbacks more easily. 

These practices can cultivate self-compassion, fostering a kinder and more accepting inner voice that boosts self-esteem and overall mental well-being. 

Professional Mental Health Support

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) provides comprehensive guidelines for assessing and treating perinatal mental health conditions, emphasizing the importance of early detection and intervention. These guidelines advocate for routine screening for maternal mental health disorders during prenatal and postpartum visits using validated screening tools.

Regarding treatment, ACOG recommends a multidisciplinary approach that may include psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and social support services. Psychotherapy options such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are considered first-line treatments for mild to moderate perinatal mental health conditions. Antidepressant medication may be indicated for severe cases or when psychotherapy alone is insufficient. Providers should weigh the benefits and risks of medication use during pregnancy and lactation and involve patients in shared decision-making regarding treatment options. (40

Additionally, ACOG emphasizes the importance of ongoing monitoring and follow-up care to assess treatment response and ensure continuity of care. Collaborative care models involving obstetricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other healthcare professionals are encouraged to provide comprehensive and coordinated care for women with perinatal mental health conditions. ACOG underscores the significance of addressing social determinants of health, such as access to healthcare, social support, and socioeconomic factors, in mitigating the impact of perinatal mental health disorders on maternal and infant outcomes. (40


Key Takeaways

Prioritizing mental health during pregnancy is essential for fostering the well-being of both mother and child.

The emotional and psychological aspects of pregnancy play a crucial role in shaping the pregnancy experience and influencing birth outcomes.

Therefore, expectant mothers must recognize the significance of nurturing their mental wellness throughout this journey.

By seeking support, engaging in self-care practices, and utilizing available resources, mothers-to-be can navigate the challenges of pregnancy with greater resilience and positivity.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Learn More
No items found.

Lab Tests in This Article


  1. Adelian, H., Khodabandeh Shahraki, S., Miri, S., et al. (2021). The effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction on resilience of vulnerable women at drop-in centers in the southeast of Iran. BMC Women's Health, 21(1), 1–10.
  2. Al-Mutawtah, M., Campbell, E., Kubis, H., et al. (2023). Women's experiences of social support during pregnancy: a qualitative systematic review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 23(1).
  3. Araji, S., Griffin, A., Dixon, L., et al. (2020). An Overview of Maternal Anxiety During Pregnancy and the Post-Partum Period. Journal of Mental Health & Clinical Psychology, 4(4).
  4. Assessment and Treatment of Perinatal Mental Health Conditions. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
  5. Bertagna, B. (2024, January 12). Exercise vs. Meditation: Which Promotes Better Sleep? Rupa Health.
  6. Biaggi, A., Conroy, S., Pawlby, S., et al. (2016). Identifying the Women at Risk of Antenatal Anxiety and depression: a Systematic Review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 191(191), 62–77.
  7. Buist, A., Gotman, N., & Yonkers, K. A. (2011). Generalized anxiety disorder: Course and risk factors in pregnancy. Journal of Affective Disorders, 131(1-3), 277–283.
  8. Cho, H., Lee, K., Choi, E., et al. (2022). Association between social support and postpartum depression. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 3128.
  9. Ciochoń, A., Apanasewicz, A., Danel, D. P., et al. (2022). Antenatal Classes in the Context of Prenatal Anxiety and Depression during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5073.
  10. Cloyd, J. (2023, September 28). Common Postpartum Mental Health Disorders That New Mothers Should Know About. Rupa Health.
  11. Cloyd, K. (2024, January 17). Understanding Nutritional Deficiencies: When to Utilize Micronutrient Testing. Rupa Health.
  12. Crego, A., Yela, J. R., Riesco-Matías, P., et al. (2022). The Benefits of Self-Compassion in Mental Health Professionals: A Systematic Review of Empirical Research. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 15, 2599–2620.
  13. Crosswell, A. D., Moreno, P. I., Raposa, E. B., et al. (2017). Effects of mindfulness training on emotional and physiologic recovery from induced negative affect. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86, 78–86.
  14. Davis, E. P., & Sandman, C. A. (2010). The Timing of Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Cortisol and Psychosocial Stress Is Associated With Human Infant Cognitive Development. Child Development, 81(1), 131–148.
  15. Exercising to Relax. (2020, July 7). Harvard Health.
  16. Hack, M., Klein, N. K., & Taylor, H. G. (1995). Long-term developmental outcomes of low birth weight infants. The Future of Children, 5(1), 176–196.
  17. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., et al. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183.
  18. Jahan, N., Went, T. R., Sultan, W., et al. (2021). Untreated depression during pregnancy and its effect on pregnancy outcomes: A systematic review. Cureus, 13(8).
  19. Kay, I. (2019, October 21). Is Your Mood Disorder a Symptom of Unstable Blood Sugar? School of Public Health University of Michigan.
  20. Khakham, C. (2023, April 10). How to Treat Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women: A Functional Medicine Approach to Mental Health. Rupa Health.
  21. Li, J., Wang, Z.-N., Chen, Y.-P., et al. (2012). Late gestational maternal serum cortisol is inversely associated with fetal brain growth. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(3), 1085–1092.
  22. Li, J., Yin, J., Waqas, A., et al. (2022). Quality of Life in Mothers With Perinatal Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13.
  23. Liu, X., Wang, G., & Cao, Y. (2022). Physical exercise interventions for perinatal depression symptoms in women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 13.
  24. LoBisco, S. (2022, September 16). Gut-Brain Axis: Understanding The Gut-Brain Connection. Rupa Health.
  25. MacGinty, R. P., Kariuki, S. M., Barnett, W., et al. (2020). Associations of antenatal maternal psychological distress with infant birth and development outcomes: Results from a South African birth cohort. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 96, 152128.
  26. Männistö, T., Mendola, P., Kiely, M., et al. (2016). Maternal psychiatric disorders and risk of preterm birth. Annals of Epidemiology, 26(1), 14–20.
  27. Misri, S., Abizadeh, J., Sanders, S., et al. (2015). Perinatal Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Assessment and Treatment. Journal of Women's Health, 24(9), 762–770.
  28. Moore, T., & Pytlarz, J. (2013). Untreated psychiatric disorder in pregnancy: Weighing the risks. Mental Health Clinician, 3(2), 83–87.
  29. O'Hara, M. W., & Wisner, K. L. (2014). Perinatal mental illness: Definition, description and aetiology. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 28(1), 3–12.
  30. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Center for Women's Mood Disorders; UNC School of Medicine.
  31. Prenatal Depression. (2022, May 10). Cleveland Clinic.
  32. Preston, J. (2023, July 17). Integrative Medicine and Perinatal Mental Health: An Integrative Approach to Addressing Maternal Stress and Anxiety. Rupa Health.
  33. Preston, J. (2023, July 20). An Integrative Comprehensive Approach to Preeclampsia: Risk Factors and Preventative Lab Testing. Rupa Health.
  34. Rees, C. (2007). Childhood Attachment. British Journal of General Practice, 57(544), 920–922.
  35. Rojiani, R., Santoyo, J. F., Rahrig, H., et al. (2017). Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.
  36. Shriyan, P., Sudhir, P., van Schayck, O. C. P., et al. (2023). Association of high cortisol levels in pregnancy and altered fetal growth. Results from the MAASTHI, a prospective cohort study, Bengaluru. The Lancet Regional Health - Southeast Asia, 14, 100196.
  37. Sparling, T. M., Henschke, N., Nesbitt, R. C., et al. (2016). The role of diet and nutritional supplementation in perinatal depression: a systematic review. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 13(1).
  38. Teeter, L. A. (2023, April 5). Functional Nutrition Approach to Mental Health. Rupa Health.
  39. Thornburg, K. L., Boone-Heinonen, J., & Valent, A. M. (2020). Social Determinants of Placental Health and Future Disease Risks for Baby. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 47(1), 1–15.
  40. Treatment and Management of Mental Health Conditions During Pregnancy and Postpartum. (2023). Obstet Gynecol, 141(6), 1262–1288.
  41. Voit, F. A. C., Kajantie, E., Lemola, S., et al. (2022). Maternal mental health and adverse birth outcomes. PLOS ONE, 17(8), e0272210.
  42. Yelverton, C. A., Rafferty, A. A., Moore, R. L., et al. (2022). Diet and mental health in pregnancy: Nutrients of importance based on large observational cohort data. Nutrition, 96, 111582.
  43. Yoshimura, H. (2023, November 7). The remarkable power of exercise on our health: A comprehensive overview. Rupa Health.
  44. Zietlow, A.-L., Nonnenmacher, N., Reck, C., et al. (2019). Emotional Stress During Pregnancy – Associations With Maternal Anxiety Disorders, Infant Cortisol Reactivity, and Mother–Child Interaction at Pre-school Age. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(2179).
Subscribe to the Magazine for free. to keep reading!
Subscribe for free to keep reading, If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.