Antenatal Anxiety

Whilst a little bit of worry, stress and anxiety is normal when you are pregnant, if this gets to the point that it is causing you to worry excessively on most days and significantly affect your life, it is possible that you are experiencing an anxiety disorder.

I didn’t know you could get anxiety during pregnancy.  Any mood swings I put down to hormones. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health problem – affecting one in four people in their lifetime.  Whilst the exact rates of anxiety in pregnancy (‘antenatal anxiety’) are yet to be confirmed, this is thought to increase in pregnancy and in the months after the baby is born.  Despite being common, however, often the symptoms of anxiety are overlooked, interpreted as part of the general symptoms of pregnancy or just considered part of someones ‘organised personality’.

I never really realised it before – now that I think about it, I guess I was a bit over-anxious and teary in the last few months of pregnancy.  I was happy to be pregnant and looking forward to having the baby but I was worrying about everything, from finances to the baby’s health.

As a result, often these symptoms are not recognised at the time but only in hindsight, or even following birth, when other stressors may also be impacting on your emotional wellbeing.

It was only after the birth of my second child that I realised how unwell and how bad the anxiety was during my first pregnancy.  It really surprises me that no one picked up on it.

Some women who previously endured pregnancy loss also describe feeling anxious during subsequent pregnancies.  This is completely understandable and important to discuss with your health professional as part of your antenatal care.

I am certain my anxiety stemmed from unsuccessful pregnancies and my fear I would lose this one.  I can’t imagine I’m alone in that when there have been multiple miscarriages.

Symptoms of antental anxiety

  • Worrying thoughts that keep coming into your mind – like worrying that something may be wrong with the baby.
  • Panic attacks – which are outbursts of extreme fear and panic that ‘take over your body’ and feel out of control.  Sometimes this leads people to start avoiding situations for fear it may reoccur.
  • Constantly feeling restless, ‘on edge’ and irritable.
  • Feeling tense in your muscles and tight in your chest.

When reviewing the range of symptoms, some affect us physically (e.g. constant tension, lack of sleep, feeling restless or on edge), others affect us mentally (e.g. having thoughts that something is wrong or something terrible is going to happen).  In turn, these thoughts and feelings can impact on our behaviour (what we do), such as checking to seek reassurance or avoiding people or situations that have made us feel uncomfortable.  Living with the constant symptoms and trying to manage the intrusive, anxious thoughts can be exhausting.

Renee and Stevie talk living with anxiety and depression

Friends Renee and Stevie discussed living with anxiety and depression during and after pregnancy in our YouTube and podcast series The Mum Drum:

Types of anxiety conditions

There are a number of different types of anxiety conditions, each of which has a different set or cluster of symptoms:

Type of anxiety disorderDescription
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) Feeling anxious about a wide variety of things on most days over a long period of time (e.g. six months)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) Ongoing, unwanted and intrusive thoughts and fears (obsessions) that cause anxiety and a need to carry out certain rituals in order to feel less anxious (compulsions)
Panic disorderFrequent attacks of intense feelings of anxiety that seem like they can't be brought under control; this may go on to be associated with avoidance of certain situations (e.g. going into crowded places)
Social anxiety disorder Intense fear of criticism, being embarrassed or humiliated, even in everyday situations (e.g. eating in public or making small talk)
Specific phobia Fearful feelings about a particular object or situation (e.g. going near an animal, flying on a plane or receiving an injection)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Bursts of anxiety anytime from one month after experiencing a traumatic event (e.g. a traumatic delivery, sexual assault or violence)

Sometimes these symptoms can develop gradually over time or they may come on suddenly and intensely.  As time goes on, if these symptoms are not identified or treated, they can get worse, even to the point that you cannot function, as the anxiety has in effect ‘taken over’.

People who have experienced anxiety in the past may find that their symptoms return or get worse during pregnancy.

It is only having been through postnatal depression that I realise I was very anxious and worried constantly during my pregnancy, as well.  Although I had a ‘medically’ excellent pregnancy, I never enjoyed the experience, as my mind was busy analysing and stressing about every little thing.  I am a worrier but feel that this was certainly amplified during pregnancy.  I had no understanding or idea of antenatal anxiety and depression.

Treatment for antenatal anxiety

The important thing to remember, is that you are not alone and that there are safe and effective treatments available.

The faster you get help for anxiety, the sooner you can get these anxious thoughts and feelings under control, so that you can get on with enjoying your pregnancy. Find out about treatment options or how to get help.

Download our Antenatal Anxiety Fact Sheet