While a certain amount of worry, stress and anxiety is normal when you are pregnant, if it gets to the point that it’s causing you to worry excessively on most days and significantly affect your life, it’s possible that you’re 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. The likelihood of developing an anxiety condition or disorder in pregnancy is increased, with estimates that up to one in five women will experience this level of anxiety in their pregnancy. Rates also also likely to be higher amongst expectant fathers at this life stage.
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 someone’s ‘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 antenatal anxiety
- Worrying thoughts that keep coming into your mind – like worrying that something may be wrong with your 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.
Some of these symptoms affect us physically (e.g. constant tension, lack of sleep, feeling restless or on edge), while 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 disorder||Description|
|Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)||Feeling worried about perinatal issues on most days over a long period of time (e.g., six. months). Some common topics of worrying include:
- The infant’s wellbeing, safety and possible threats (e.g., SIDS)
- Getting one’s life in order, having everything planned and sorted
- Constant worry about how they will cope
- Breastfeeding worries (e.g., had the baby had enough milk, will their milk supply run out)
- Keeping the household chores attended to
- How they will manage work and parenthood
- How to give their other children enough attention while meeting the needs of the new infant
|Panic Disorder||Frequent attacks of intense feelings of anxiety that seem like they cannot be brought under control. These attacks
can occur when:
- Thinking about leaving the house with their new baby
- Attending mother's groups
- Worrying about sleep and settling issues
- When transitioning their infant to solid food (fear of choking)
|Social phobia||Involves an intense fear of criticism, being embarrassed or humiliated, even in everyday situations. Some common examples in the perinatal context include:
- Invasion of their personal space
- People touching their baby
- Worries about involvement of friends and family and different opinions on baby’s needs
- Infant drawing attention to them publicly
- Worries about mother’s groups
- Worries about people judging their parenting (e.g., crying baby in supermarket)
|Specific phobia||Fearful feelings about a particular object or situation. This can commonly include vomiting (babies often vomit), body changes (eating disorder traits/anxiety), death of a loved one, coprophobia
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.
There are a range of professionals and services with expertise in providing support for antenatal anxiety.
You can find a service in your area by searching under the category of antenatal anxiety on the e-COPE directory.
Search the e-COPE directory here: