Pregnancy is an emotional rollercoaster. Besides bringing joy and positive expectations, pregnancy can cause a lot of psychological and physiological changes. During pregnancy, women have increased psychological vulnerability which can lead to pregnancy anxiety and depression, most common psychological disorders during that period.
Is it normal to feel anxious during pregnancy?
A certain amount of fears and worries is normal. However, between 10 and 33% of women experience mild to severe anxiety at some point in their pregnancy. Some women feel very raw and scared, constantly worrying about a variety of pregnancy-related things. Feeling anxious during pregnancy can be manifested in different ways, both mentally and physically.
Pregnancy anxiety is commonly referred to as prenatal or antenatal anxiety. (Antenatal – before birth; during or relating to pregnancy).
Contributing factors to Antenatal anxiety
Since a wide range of factors can contribute to antenatal anxiety, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether you fall into the risk category. However, a history of anxiety or depression, generalised anxiety disorder, previous abusive relationships, high-risk pregnancies and high levels of stress are some of the most common factors that increase the chance of pregnancy anxiety and its intensity but as well as postpartum depression. Being uncertain about the pregnancy, alcohol and smoking consumption as well as financial fears can also lead to the development of pregnancy anxiety and depression.
People are individual and the list is far from complete, but these are some of the most common contributing factors to antenatal anxiety.
Most common contributing factors to Antenatal anxiety
Some of the most common contributing factors to antenatal anxiety are:
- History of mental illness
- History of abuse or abusive relationships
- Previous pregnancy complications, miscarriages or traumatic births
- Stressful events in life
- Pregnancy dilemmas
- Alcohol consumption and smoking
- Financial stress
If you are not among the people who fall under these categories, it doesn’t mean you can’t develop pregnancy anxiety or that something isn’t right if you have it. Mood and anxiety disorders commonly occur during pregnancy and anyone can experience them. These factors simply indicate persons who are at higher risk of developing anxiety at some point during the pregnancy.
A detailed list of contributing factors that enhance the risk of Antenatal anxiety
History of mental illness
History of mental illness in the family or seeking psychiatric treatments, at some point in life as well as the history of anxiety and depression of the woman, is one of the most prominent risk factors for developing antenatal anxiety. Pregnancy is a period when women are hormonal and very vulnerable which can lead to the onset of psychological disorders.
History of abuse or abusive relationships
Mental or verbal abuse in childhood, as well as abusive relationships during adulthood, represent a high-risk factor for antenatal anxiety and depression. Pregnancy can trigger suppressed painful memories and unresolved issues, retraumatizing the person in different ways and causing antenatal anxiety.
Previous pregnancy complications, miscarriages or traumatic births
Women that experience pregnancy complications or have experienced pregnancy loss, pregnancy terminations, traumatic births, or even stillbirths are a high-risk category for antenatal anxiety and depression. Women who had conception problems are also a high-risk group for pregnancy anxiety.
Stressful events in life
Anything that causes significant levels of prolonged stress in your life can increase the chances of pregnancy anxiety. That includes marital problems, divorce, major life changes like moving, sickness or death in the family, job loss, and a wide range of factors that cause stress for pregnant women.
Some pregnant women might feel uncertain about carrying the pregnancy as well about their new role as a future mother. Some might feel that the timing is wrong or that career will suffer because of the pregnancy and motherhood. Any such dilemmas increase the risk of antenatal anxiety.
Alcohol and smoking
The use of alcohol and smoking are also linked to antenatal anxiety and depression. Women who continue to smoke and drink during pregnancy have higher pregnancy anxiety rates compared to women who quit smoking and drinking at the early stage of pregnancy.
Researches state that financial worries have a significant impact on antenatal anxiety and depression development. Ohio State University study found that women who had the biggest financial worries were more likely to have babies with low birth weight, which left them prone to future health issues.
The connection between Income and Antenatal Anxiety
Studies indicate that between 7 and 20 out of a hundred pregnant women will develop symptoms of anxiety and depression in high-income countries, while more than one in three pregnant women will have anxiety and depression issues in medium to low-income countries.
Pregnancy anxiety symptoms
It is normal to feel a little anxious and stressed when you are pregnant. But how to know if you are suffering from pregnancy anxiety? It is a more intense and longer-lasting state than feeling anxious about a specific situation. When feelings of anxiety and stress cannot be controlled easily and occur without a particular reason. When excessive worry won’t go away and starts to affect your life. Those are signs that you are suffering from anxiety.
Pregnancy anxiety symptoms can include:
- Feeling anxious a lot of the time without being able to control it
- Feeling excessive worry or guilt for long periods of time
- Feeling depressed or blunt most of the time for over two weeks.
- Lack of interest or enjoyment in everyday life
- Feeling edgy, restless and irritable
- Inability to concentrate
- Having recurring bad thoughts that you can’t control
- Experiencing a sense of dread
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior
Pregnancy anxiety symptoms aren’t only in your head. Besides mental symptoms, you can have a variety of less than typical physical symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Physical symptoms of pregnancy anxiety:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Sleep changes and irregularities
- Tense muscles
- Sweaty palms
- Eating disorders
- Overall lack of energy
- Stomach pain, nausea, and digestive trouble
These are some of the most common physical symptoms of antenatal anxiety. They can develop gradually or manifest suddenly.
Pregnancy anxiety symptoms are often missed and put down to overactive hormones or as a normal part of pregnancy. However, they should be taken seriously and treated.
Stigmatizing Depression and anxiety in pregnancy
Unfortunately, stigmatizing depression and anxiety in pregnancy is very common. A misconception that women’s body is hormonally built for everything pregnancy brings, as well as the social preconceptions that pregnancy is a time of happy feelings and exclusively positive emotions can cause additional stress for pregnant women.
The difference between expected happiness during pregnancy and experiencing antenatal anxiety and depression puts more strain on women’s mental health. Women tend to shut down and choose to keep their negative feelings to themselves, because of the fear of not being accepted or misunderstood.
Is feeling anxious during pregnancy normal?
Pregnancy anxiety is common. From a statistical point of view, depending on the socio-economic environment, between one out of three and one out of ten women will develop pregnancy anxiety. Research suggests it can also affect men.
Pregnancy anxiety and depression happen much more often than the postpartum anxiety and depression, a state that we conventionally know more about. Postpartum anxiety is often called “baby blues”.
Some women may experience a gradual decrease in pregnancy anxiety symptoms over time. But for some, anxiety can also get worse and even lead to panic attacks.
First trimester anxiety
Anxiety is fairly common in early pregnancy. Around 13 % of women suffer from high anxiety in the first trimester, according to research. Early pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness, exhaustion, feeling your body change and hormones working differently can often be the onset for the first trimester anxiety.
A study that investigated 916 pregnant women during the first trimester demonstrated that women under 25 years had an increased risk of anxiety symptoms developing in early pregnancy. Unemployed, less educated, smokers and those with a self-reported history of depression or anxiety were at high risk of developing first trimester anxiety.
In a significant number of cases, pregnancy anxiety induces the fear of birth and makes women decide for a cesarean section more often.
Is miscarriage anxiety normal during pregnancy?
Miscarriage anxiety or the fear of pregnancy loss is one of the most common worries during the stress packed time of the first trimester. Early pregnancy is a period when the vast majority (almost 80%) of miscarriages occur. Pregnant women worry about miscarriage even if there is no justified reason to worry about it.
If your worry excessively or have negative thoughts that repeat themselves often without you being able to control them, which may be a sign of miscarriage anxiety. That is a psychological state that needs to be taken seriously and handled.
What helps with anxiety during first trimester?
- Accept your current state, know that it will pass and don’t beat yourself up about it
- Communicate how you feel – talk to your partner and those close to you
- Take it a day at the time – don’t overthink about future
- Avoid Googling your symptoms
- Exercise if possible – even 20 minutes of light exercises help lift your mood
- Talk to your therapist, if first trimester anxiety symptoms persist
First trimester anxiety often lifts in the second trimester of pregnancy. However, it can return as third semester anxiety.
Third trimester anxiety
Third trimester anxiety is often the hardest for pregnant women. Anxiety feelings and worries besiege women, creating a series of mental and physical symptoms. Future moms often experience sleep deprivation, intrusive thoughts, and depression.
In the third trimester, there is a lot to think about. Future moms are preparing for labor and planning to adjust their lifestyles for the upcoming baby. Your body also changes during the third trimester. For instance, you can experience leakage of pre-milk from your breasts. Not knowing if the aches, unusual sensations and pains your body is experiencing are normal can be a factor for developing third trimester anxiety.
Hormonal changes. the stress of pregnancy and worries about the upcoming labor pains can significantly increase anxiety symptoms.
If you develop panic attacks or severe fears or anxiety so hard that it’s getting difficult to go through your daily activities, you should talk to your doctor or a therapist.
Anxiety about giving birth
Your pregnancy anxiety can be tied to the process of childbirth or excessive worry about labor pains. Anxiety about giving birth is a common kind of anxiety in late pregnancy. That kind of anxiety can develop at first-time mothers, as well as women who previously had a difficult birth.
In some cases, anxiety about giving birth can develop into a severe state called tokophobia. That means phobia of childbirth. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, preventing normal daily functioning.
Tokophobia – Phobia of giving birth
According to research, between 2.5% and 14 % of women can develop a severe phobia of giving birth.
Tokophobia can occur in first-time mothers – women who have not given birth before. Their fears may be linked to traumatic experiences in their past or being scared by experiences or even stories of difficult births. So-called secondary tokophobia happens to women who had a previous traumatic birth experience.
Women who develop a phobia of childbirth are prone to having longer and more difficult labors. Some women who go through tokophobia can become more afraid of birth in case of a second pregnancy.
Talking about your fears and educating yourself about the process of labor can significantly help tokophobia as well as less intense anxiety about giving birth. Seeking help from a therapist is also advisable.
Pregnancy anxiety at night
Pregnancy anxiety at night can turn sleep into a major issue in your pregnancy. You can find it hard to fall asleep, sleep restlessly, or wake up in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts racing through your head.
Sleep disturbances in pregnancy are often associated with pregnancy anxiety and depression. Three out of four pregnant women will experience sleep disturbances at some point during the pregnancy. When those sleep disturbances are caused by high-intensity emotions and worry about labor, motherhood, and health-related issues, we talk about pregnancy anxiety at night.
Other reasons for pregnancy sleep disturbances are continuous changes in hormonal levels. As a matter a fact, studies find that pregnancy can cause or worsen the existing sleep disorders, as well as lead to the development of restless legs syndrome, heartburn and sleep apnea.
Vicious cycle of pregnancy anxiety at night and sleep
Racing anxious thoughts are one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy anxiety at night. They often make life difficult for pregnant women. The relation between pregnancy anxiety at night and sleep can turn into a vicious cycle. Poor sleep enhances anxiety which in turn hinders sleep.
Anxiety related sleep disorders are more common earlier in the pregnancy, while late pregnancy sleep disorders often occur because of the physical changes of the body – weight gain and a large baby inside, as well as psychological tension of the due date getting closer.
The important thing to understand is – pregnancy insomnia is not harmful to the baby and it is quite common to experience it during the 9-month period. However, if you suffer from repeated pregnancy anxiety at night sleep deprivation which is impairing your ability to function normally, it would be advisable to talk to your therapist.
Fear during pregnancy
Fear during pregnancy is a normal emotion. There isn’t a pregnant woman in the world that doesn’t occasionally feel scared regarding numerous issues that arise once you start carrying the baby.
Women often have a wide range of pregnancy fears like worrying about miscarriage and doing the wrong thing that can hurt the baby to whether you will get the body back in shape and be a good mother.
Many pregnant women fear that they will have an unhealthy baby. The root of that fear is primordial and, as long as you can control it, it is not a reason for serious concern. Fearing and worrying help make us vigilant about guarding and preserving what we love. Pregnancy risks for healthy women are generally low and do not go in line with excessive worry future mothers often feel.
How can I stop being scared during pregnancy?
Try to stay away from scary birth stories and negative thoughts. Don’t overanalyze and Google negative scenarios. Focus on the positive and let nature do its course. Humans are being born since the dawn of man. You’ll do fine.
If you feel constant, uncontrollable or substantial fear during pregnancy, you might be suffering from pregnancy anxiety. In that case, try some of the ways to deal with antenatal anxiety, that we write about a bit later in the article or consider getting medical or psychological help.
Some women that never had OCD, develop obsessive-compulsive disorder in pregnancy or after birth. That is called perinatal OCD. As for women with obsessive-compulsive disorder history, simply put, pregnancy can put your OCD into overdrive.
Pregnancy doubles the risk of developing OCD. Clinical studies prove that OCD affects 2% of pregnant women, compared to 1% of the rest of the population.
What causes pregnancy OCD?
Some scientists consider the cause of OCD pregnancy onset to be hormonal – estrogen and progesterone fluctuations that affect serotonin, a chemical related to OCD. Others find that OCD pregnancy onset might be related to the increase of protective feelings and preventing harm.
How does pregnancy OCD manifest?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes unwanted recurring thoughts (obsessions) that makes a person feel driven to do certain actions repetitively (compulsions). For instance, the pregnant woman feels driven to switch the lights off and on for a certain number of times in order to prevent something horrible from happening to her baby.
Common compulsions include counting of things, checking to see if the door is locked or a stove off and hand washing.
Pregnancy OCD is a widespread and well-known anxiety disorder. Organization Maternal OCD provides guidance and support to women who suffer from perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Anxiety and panic attacks during pregnancy
Pregnancy anxiety can evolve into unexpected panic attacks. Sudden rush of intense fear, anxiety, edginess, and apprehension along with racing heart, chest pain, trembling or lightheadedness are a sign of anxiety and panic attacks during pregnancy.
Panic attacks during pregnancy can be severe. Some pregnant women feel like they’re having a heart attack and fear they are going to die.
Symptoms of panic attacks during pregnancy
Symptoms of panic attacks during pregnancy resemble symptoms of ordinary panic attacks. Besides intense mental stress, symptoms may be very physical in nature, worsening the experience.
Symptoms of panic attacks during pregnancy may include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Feeling like you can’t breathe
- Shaking and trembling
- Fearing like something horrible will happen
- Feeling that you’re losing your mind
Panic attacks during pregnancy at night
Many women experience panic attacks during pregnancy at night, awaken by racing thoughts or feeling intense fear and dread, accompanied by a series of physical symptoms like heart racing, shortness of breath and shaking. Anxiety and panic attacks at night are also known as pregnancy night terrors or nocturnal panic attacks.
Panic attacks stop at some point. But while they last, they feel horrible. If a panic attack wakes you, don’t fight it. Just try and relax, steadying your breaths. Get up and do something and give yourself enough time before getting back to sleep.
Pregnancy anxiety and depression correlation to panic attacks
Women with a history of anxiety disorders and panic attacks are likely to experience repetitive panic attacks during their pregnancy. However, panic attacks during pregnancy can occur even to women who never had such anxiety disorders in the past.
Hormones, stress, pregnancy anxiety and excessive worry can be the trigger of panic attacks during pregnancy.
What to do about pregnancy anxiety and panic attacks
Some of the remedies that can stop, reduce or prevent panic attacks during pregnancy are cognitive therapy and prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
Keeping your family and friends as a support system around you helps. Making sound postpartum plans is also a way to feel less stressed and prevent pregnancy panic attacks. Self-care and exercise also help.
Relaxation and meditation techniques can help soothe the panic attack and make you feel better. We will write more about them later in the article. It is important to avoid stress and situations/activities like drinking coffee or reading negative pregnancy stories online, which may contribute to triggering panic attacks and be harmful to your mental health.
Can anxiety hurt my unborn baby?
Even though it is unlikely your pregnancy anxiety will hurt the baby, a number of studies suggest that mother’s severe anxiety can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) as well as have influence on low birth weight (less than 5.1/2 pounds).
Scientists claim that prenatal panic disorders and especially panic attacks are linked to adverse birth outcomes.
A controversial theory called the “fetal programming hypothesis” suggests that exposures in the womb have a role in predisposing babies for certain diseases and emotional disorders during life.
“Can anxiety during pregnancy affect the baby?”
Many future mothers wonder “Can my anxiety during pregnancy affect the baby?” High-intensity pregnancy anxiety and depression have been scientifically linked with birth complications like premature birth, low weight of the baby as well as, worst-case scenario – stillbirth. According to studies, high-intensity pregnancy anxiety and depression have also been linked with major congenital anomalies.
Severe antenatal anxiety may have further consequences.
Consequences of Severe anxiety while pregnant
Severe maternal depression, as well as high-intensity pregnancy anxiety, may have impactful long-term effects on mother as well as the baby.
While researches state that biological mechanisms are still not completely understood, studies suggest that increased levels of cortisol as well as the decrease in blood flow to the fetus have negative impact on the baby.
Feeling anxious during pregnancy causes increased levels of cortisol that are transferred across the placenta and affect the developing fetus in a number of ways.
Links between Pregnancy stress effects and children developing ADHD and Autism
Some studies conducted in Belgium have demonstrated strong links between maternal anxiety during the early stages in pregnancy (12-th and 22-th week) and children developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) during childhood.
Clinical Endocrinology journal released a study which indicates that high-intensity maternal stress during pregnancy may affect the unborn baby as early as 17 weeks after conception, further linking maternal stress to lowering child’s IQ.
Prenatal stress and exposure to events that significantly distress pregnant women is further linked with Autism.
Ways panic attacks during pregnancy affect your baby
During pregnancy panic attacks, mothers experience high-intensity anxiety. In those moments, blood flow to the fetus is reduced. That may lead to negative consequences like premature birth and low birth weight of the child.
Pregnancy anxiety and depression is also linked with postnatal depression, which is in turn linked with parenting stress and problems in the future mother-baby relationship. In order to prevent any possible negative consequences, pregnant women should try to focus on dealing with antenatal anxiety.
Dealing with pregnancy anxiety
There are a number of medicinal and non-medicinal ways of dealing with pregnancy anxiety. Sometimes a lot of love and support, natural remedies and daily meditations will help. In some cases, a combination of therapy and different non-medicinal approaches will be enough, while severe depression and anxiety need to be medically reviewed or psychologically treated.
Luckily, there are numerous ways of dealing with pregnancy anxiety. We chose the best ones for you to consider trying out.
How can I calm my anxiety while pregnant?
Pregnancy anxiety can turn to pregnancy happiness and a calm welcoming of the new member of your family with a wide range of remedies. Some of the best ways how you can calm your anxiety while pregnant are:
- Pregnancy anxiety medication
- Music therapy
- Share your feelings and practice acceptance
- Eat well and prioritize sleep
- Exercise and find time for yourself
- Avoid excessive Googling
- Natural remedies
Let’s talk about these ways to deal with your pregnancy anxiety in more detail. We will start with pregnancy anxiety medication.
Pregnancy anxiety medication
Pregnancy anxiety medication like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication is usually the most effective way of providing lasting pregnancy anxiety relief. However, a lot of pregnant women choose not to bring chemicals into their bodies, worrying about the health of the baby.
A lot of drugs commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety have not been tested on pregnant women. Medication transfers from mother to the child in her uterus the same way as nutrients, making them a potential risk.
Scientists suggest that actual risks are very low however, there are studies that claim higher occurrences of birth defects in babies born to women on certain anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication.
When considering taking pregnancy anxiety medication, it is very important to consult with your doctor and only take prescribed medication.
Psychotherapy treatment for anxiety during pregnancy
Psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CPT) is an excellent choice for pregnancy anxiety relief and overall mental health. It is considered the first-line treatment for moderate pregnancy anxiety symptoms that are starting to have a negative impact on everyday life.
Talk to your therapist about everything that is bothering you. Psychotherapy treatment for anxiety during pregnancy will help you develop an in-depth understanding of your anxiety and depression and find a way to reduce or end it completely.
Music therapy for anxiety during pregnancy
Recent research revealed that music therapy significantly reduces maternal anxiety. Coping with anxiety during pregnancy through music therapy is fun. Music is often used as a complementary therapy to anxiety disorders. No reason not to try it.
Does Acupuncture help pregnancy?
Some scientists claim that ancient Chinese treatments like acupuncture may be useful for pregnant women with symptoms of anxiety or depression.
The theory behind acupuncture put simply is – acupuncturist inserts tiny needles into specific points on the body in order to stimulate blood flow and balance energy and hormones. It is supposed to do wonders for your overall wellbeing and your mental health.
Meditation for pregnancy anxiety
Meditation helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression as well as boosts relaxation during your pregnancy. It is claimed to also help with fatigue, mood shifts, overall mental health and sleep problems.
Researches claim that pregnant women who practice meditation and mindfulness have decreased anxiety and depression levels, as well as an overall increase in positive emotions.
Try out a wide range of techniques of Meditation for pregnancy anxiety. Mindfulness meditation is very popular. So are the different breathing techniques for relaxation. You can download meditation and relaxation apps or find a guided meditation for pregnancy anxiety on YouTube and try it out.
Share your feelings and get support from your community
Talk to your partner, your parents, friends and everyone you are close to. Share your goal of staying positive and communicate your feelings freely. Be open towards receiving support. Know that you are not alone. Millions of pregnant women around the world are going through the same. Find support groups that offer good advice on mental health and coping with anxiety during pregnancy.
Practice acceptance for pregnancy anxiety relief
Try to let go of things you cannot control. Psychologists suggest making two lists about feeling anxious during pregnancy. One for things you can control like eating well, getting enough sleep, ext. The other for things you have no control over like the exact amount of weight you can gain, any possible delivery complications and so on. Focus only on things you can control and strengthen your body and your mind by implementing them. As for the other list, just let nature take its course.
Eat well for pregnancy anxiety relief
Anxiety relief will come through your stomach, too. Make sure your body is well-fed with a properly balanced diet for pregnant women. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and walnuts are a natural way to elevate your mood and make you feel better. Vitamin B complex is also known to help with anxiety.
Coping with anxiety during pregnancy is hard when sleep deprived. Do all that takes to ensure a good sleep rhythm and obtain adequate sleep. Feeling rested does wonders for reducing anxiety and your overall mental health. Make a sound sleep schedule and stick to it.
Exercise and benefit from endorphins release
Any sort of light physical activity will make you feel better and do wonders for your pregnancy anxiety without increasing any risks. Even a light walk or moderate exercise for 10 – 20 minutes a day will lift your mood. Exercise releases endorphins – better known as the hormone of happiness.
Take up a light activity like yoga, walking, and swimming. Find exercises for pregnant women online and try them out. Exercise is one of the best ways to get rid of stress.
Find time for yourself
No matter what your daily routine looks like, find time to do things that you love. Take up hobbies you always wanted to try. Take lengthy walks that make you feel better. Do whatever makes you happy without feeling guilty about it. It is for your health and the health of your baby.
Avoid Googling negative things
Don’t spend hours in front of the screen looking for answers on what’s wrong with you. It will worsen your pregnancy anxiety and possibly add screen fatigue to your problems. Stay clear of negativity and focus on the bright side of life.
Natural remedies for anxiety during pregnancy
One of the ways to relieve your pregnancy anxiety and feel better is reaching for natural remedies for anxiety during pregnancy. There is a variety of herbs used for tea that also relieve your anxiety and stress as well as elevate your mood.
Herbs for anxiety during pregnancy were used by pregnant women for centuries. They are natural and generally very safe to take during pregnancy. However, it is strongly advisable only to take natural remedies for anxiety during pregnancy with medical supervision or after a consultation with your doctor.
Herbs for anxiety during pregnancy
Some of the herbs for anxiety during pregnancy are lemon balm – a known mood elevator, lavender, avena savita – a calming agent for nerves and chamomile.
Chamomile tea is told to be a great natural remedy for anxiety during pregnancy. Chamomile reduces anxiety and insomnia and can also reduce joint swelling.
We hope this all-round article about pregnancy anxiety was useful. If so, feel free to share it in order to reach more pregnant women in need of advice on how to relieve their pregnancy anxiety, feel better and go through one of the most important periods in life more easily.