Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
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 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:
Feeling nervous or restless
Feeling physically weak or fatigued
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.
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.
Postpartum 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
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
History of abuse or domestic violence
Having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
Past or present pregnancy complications
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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