FREE MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT. start here

Anxiety During Pregnancy: Ways to Cope

Katelyn Hagerty

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 8/17/2022

Pregnancy brings on tremendous change, from physical changes to hormonal ones.

Being pregnant also brings on a slew of emotions, from joy to grief and even rage.

With everything that can happen during pregnancy and delivery, it’s no surprise that you might be worrying more often than usual. 

A bit of anxiety during pregnancy is natural, but if your thoughts are spiraling out of control or you’re finding it difficult to relax, you may be dealing with pregnancy anxiety.

Learn more about anxiety and pregnancy, as well as ways to cope.

Anxiety Overview

Anxiety and anxiety disorders are common mental health conditions, with an estimated 40 million American adults affected each year.

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders that affect the way you think, feel and behave.

While everyone experiences anxiety disorders differently, some general anxiety symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Feeling nervous or restless

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Feeling physically weak or fatigued

  • Trembling

  • Irritability

  • Stomachaches or nausea

  • Feeling extremely self-conscious

  • Ruminating on thoughts

There are different types of anxiety disorders. Some common examples of these mental disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In addition to these common anxiety disorders, people may experience anxiety regarding certain situations or objects, like public speaking or a stressful situation.

Our guide on anxiety disorders goes over all the symptoms, causes and other information on anxiety.

online mental health assessment

your mental health journey starts here

Anxiety While Pregnant

You may often hear about new mothers who develop postpartum depression. But how common is having anxiety while pregnant?

Although anxiety during pregnancy can often go undiagnosed, anxiety disorders during pregnancy and the weeks postpartum are common and affect one in five women.

Anxiety and pregnancy can co-occur at any time throughout the pregnancy, as well as after childbirth.

Experiencing anxiety while you are pregnant or after giving birth may be called prenatal anxiety or antenatal anxiety.

Postnatal anxiety is anxiety anytime during the first year after giving birth.

Perinatal anxiety can occur at any time from becoming pregnant up to a year after giving birth.

Some studies have shown that rates of generalized anxiety disorder appear to be highest during the first trimester, most likely due to hormone changes.

Much like generalized anxiety disorder, pregnancy anxiety has both mental and physical symptoms. You may be experiencing pregnancy anxiety if you:

  • Feel stressed or anxious most of the time

  • Feel very worried (for example, constantly worried about your baby)

  • Have panic attacks

  • Find it hard to stay calm

  • Have trouble sleeping

  • Feel a sense of dread

  • Are unable to concentrate

  • Feel irritable

Occasionally, anxiety during pregnancy may lead to panic attacks. During a panic attack, you may experience more physical symptoms.

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Feeling like you cannot breathe

  • Feeling like something awful may happen

  • Feeling like you’re going crazy

While anyone can experience anxiety or panic attacks during pregnancy, some women may be more susceptible for a variety of reasons.

According to a review of studies on anxiety and pregnancy, some of the most common risk factors are:

  • A lack of support from your partner or social network

  • Personal history of anxiety, panic attacks or depression

  • Adverse events in life, like death, divorce or illness

  • Excess stress

  • History of abuse or domestic violence

  • Having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

  • Past or present pregnancy complications

  • Pregnancy loss

Risks of Anxiety While Pregnant

If left untreated, pregnancy anxiety can lead to several complications and health risks for both the mother and the baby.

The potential adverse effects of untreated anxiety can include low birth weight, earlier gestational age, smaller head circumference (related to brain size) or preterm birth (when the baby is born too early).

Pregnancy anxiety can also lead to impaired cognitive development, emotional problems and hyperactivity disorder in children later on.

Women who have perinatal depression or postpartum depression — depression that occurs during or after pregnancy, respectively — are also more likely to have anxiety during pregnancy, according to research.

Ways to Cope with Anxiety

There are ways to cope with anxiety while pregnant.

Although mild anxiety doesn’t typically require treatment, you should still mention your feelings and worries to your doctor. They can help calm your fears and provide ways for you to relax.

Talk It Out

Talking about the anxiety symptoms you may be experiencing or feeling is a helpful way to cope. It’s important to tell someone — whether it’s a partner, close friend or family member — as they may be able to offer support.

Just sharing your thoughts and feelings can help keep you from ruminating or letting these thoughts take over your life. You can also ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist for anxiety.

Talk to Your Doctor

Talking to your healthcare provider is another way to cope with feelings of anxiety while pregnant. The sooner you talk to them, the sooner you can get treatment.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed to express your thoughts, feelings and concerns, especially during pregnancy.

Therapy

Certain therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help with anxiety in the peripartum period, which is the period shortly before, during and after giving birth.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, was shown to improve anxiety symptoms in a small cohort study on pregnant women with generalized anxiety disorder. This type of therapy helps you learn about your negative thought patterns and build new, positive thoughts and behaviors instead.

If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms while pregnant, talking to a licensed healthcare provider can help you learn coping strategies. They can also help you find other forms of treatment that may be available for you.

Physical Activity

Just as talking can help release pent-up emotions, movement can help release pent-up stress and anxiety.

Physical activity has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in pregnant women and can even reduce pregnancy complications.

Typically, exercise is safe during pregnancy. But if you are at risk for preterm birth or have pregnancy complications, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you and your baby stay safe while exercising.

Practice Mindfulness

A meditation or mindful breathing practice can help relieve symptoms of anxiety.

Daily deep abdominal breathing helps with anxiety by providing more oxygen to the brain and stimulating the nervous system, according to the American Institute of Stress.

A randomized controlled trial found that mindfulness can reduce worries about labor and may even prevent postpartum depression.

Rest

Rest is especially important while pregnant. It’s also a great way to cope with anxiety.

Whether it’s a calming bedtime routine, pregnancy pillow or taking up naps during the day, now is the time to ensure you’re getting adequate sleep.

Empower Yourself

Knowledge is power, and the more you understand where your anxiety is coming from, the more powerful you can feel in tackling it.

Perhaps you’re scared or feeling anxious about giving birth — a condition known as tokophobia. Going to a birthing class to learn what to expect can help you prepare for the big day and reduce your levels of anxiety.

Selective Medications

Typical anti-anxiety medications are generally not recommended for pregnant women, as there’s little information on how safe they are for the fetus.

However, if your anxiety is severe, a healthcare provider may recommend certain antidepressants, as these have been shown not to cause birth defects

A healthcare provider may prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) such as sertraline (Zoloft®) or citalopram (Celexa®) during pregnancy and after delivery to help with anxiety.

psych meds online

psychiatrist-backed care, all from your couch

Anxiety and Pregnancy: A Review

Anxiety and anxiety disorders are extremely common, even in pregnant women.

Some pregnant women may feel distressed or guilty about feeling anxious because pregnancy is supposed to be a happy time. Anxiety, however, is a mental condition that doesn’t just go away on its own.

The mental and physical symptoms of anxiety while pregnant are very similar to those of generalized anxiety disorder, which include constant worrying, feeling stressed most of the time, trouble sleeping, inability to concentrate, panic attacks and more.

Anxiety during pregnancy is very treatable though. There are a number of relaxation techniques, therapies and medications available to help you get in control of anxiety and keep you and your baby healthy. So, if you’re pregnant and feeling anxiety, talk to a mental health provider today.

17 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Anxiety Disorders - Facts and Statistics. (2022). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
  2. Fawcett, E. J., Fairbrother, N., Cox, M. L., White, I. R., & Fawcett, J. M. (2019). The Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period: A Multivariate Bayesian Meta-Analysis. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 80(4), 18r12527. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6839961/
  3. 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. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21269708/
  4. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms. (2021). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/symptoms
  5. Panic Disorder: Symptoms. (2021). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder-agoraphobia/symptoms
  6. Biaggi, A., Conroy, S., Pawlby, S., & Pariante, C. M. (2016). Identifying the women at risk of antenatal anxiety and depression: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders, 191, 62–77. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4879174/
  7. Grigoriadis, S., Graves, L., Peer, M., Mamisashvili, L., Tomlinson, G., Vigod, S. N., Dennis, C. L., Steiner, M., Brown, C., Cheung, A., Dawson, H., Rector, N. A., Guenette, M., & Richter, M. (2018). Maternal Anxiety During Pregnancy and the Association With Adverse Perinatal Outcomes: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 79(5), 17r12011. Retrieved from ​​https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30192449/
  8. Shahhosseini, Z., Pourasghar, M., Khalilian, A., & Salehi, F. (2015). A Review of the Effects of Anxiety During Pregnancy on Children's Health. Materia socio-medica, 27(3), 200–202. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4499279/
  9. Maurer-Spurej, E., Pittendreigh, C., & Misri, S. (2007). Platelet serotonin levels support depression scores for women with postpartum depression. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 32(1), 23–29. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1764545/#r6-4
  10. Anxiety Disorders. (2020). Management and Treatment. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9536-anxiety-disorders#management-and-treatment
  11. Uguz, F., & Ak, M. (2021). Cognitive-behavioral therapy in pregnant women with generalized anxiety disorder: a retrospective cohort study on therapeutic efficacy, gestational age and birth weight. Revista brasileira de psiquiatria (Sao Paulo, Brazil : 1999), 43(1), 61–64. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7861166/
  12. Haßdenteufel, K., Feißt, M., Brusniak, K., Lingenfelder, K., Matthies, L. M., Wallwiener, M., & Wallwiener, S. (2020). Reduction in physical activity significantly increases depression and anxiety in the perinatal period: a longitudinal study based on a self-report digital assessment tool. Archives of gynecology and obstetrics, 302(1), 53–64. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32372342/
  13. Marksberry, K. (2012, August 10). Take a Deep Breath. The American Institute of Stress. Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/take-a-deep-breath/
  14. Duncan, L. G., Cohn, M. A., Chao, M. T., Cook, J. G., Riccobono, J., & Bardacke, N. (2017, May 12). Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: a randomized controlled trial with active comparison - BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. Retrieved from https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-017-1319-3
  15. Hein, B.A. (2010). Sleep Your Anxiety Away, Part I: You’ve Tried the Rest, Now Get Some Rest. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/sleep-your-anxiety-away-part-I#:~:text=For%20thirty%20minutes%20to%20an,preparations%20for%20the%20next%20day
  16. Bhatia, M.S., Jhanjee, A. (2012, July). Tokophobia: A dread of pregnancy. Ind Psychiatry J., 21(2). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3830168
  17. Osborne, L. M. (n.d.). Antidepressants and Pregnancy: Tips from an Expert. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/antidepressants-and-pregnancy-tips-from-an-expert

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Care for your mind,
care for your self

Start your mental wellness journey today.