Anxiety during and after pregnancy: signs, symptoms and how to manage it

Anxiety during and after pregnancy: signs, symptoms and how to manage it

Pregnancy can be a very emotional experience. Many women experience increased anxiety while pregnant, and even after they have given birth.

It’s important to not feel like you are a failure or feel guilty about feeling anxious when it seems like everyone around you expects you to be happy all the time. In fact, anxiety during pregnancy is very common: more than 1 in 10 pregnant women experience it during their pregnancies.

Being concerned about whether anxiety or stress will affect your baby is understandable, but it can also create a vicious circle of thoughts. You may be feeling anxious during your pregnancy, then begin to worry if it this is affecting your baby and so become even more anxious.

It is very unlikely that your baby will be affected by your anxiety, particularly if you get the right treatment and support. So try to focus on asking for help and finding ways to manage your symptoms.

Causes of anxiety during pregnancy

Some women experience a decrease in their symptoms during pregnancy, but your anxiety may get worse. After all, not everything that makes you feel anxious is under your control. Hormonal changes during pregnancy may affect the chemicals in your brain. This can cause anxiety.

Pregnancy is also a time of tremendous change. Some of these feelings and sensations are welcomed, while others are downright uncomfortable and scary. You may even have complications or other issues that arise that keep you up at night.

Symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy

Some degree of worry is natural during pregnancy. After all, the process may be entirely new for you. You may have faced situations in the past, like miscarriage, that give you reason for concern. But if these worries start to interfere with everyday life, you may have anxiety:

  • feeling an uncontrollable sense of anxiousness
  • worrying excessively about things, especially your health or baby
  • inability to concentrate
  • feeling irritable or agitated
  • having tense muscles
  • sleeping poorly

Occasionally, bouts of anxiety may lead to panic attacks. These attacks may start very suddenly with the symptoms above, and progress. During a panic attack, your symptoms may be very physical in nature, which can make the experience that much worse.

Risk factors for anxiety during pregnancy

While anyone can develop anxiety during pregnancy, there are certain risk factors that may contribute, including:

  • family history of anxiety or panic attacks
  • personal history of anxiety, panic attacks, or depression
  • previous trauma
  • use of certain illegal drugs
  • excess stress in everyday life

What should I do if I have anxiety in pregnancy?

Talk to your midwife or doctor if you:

  • feel anxious most of the time for more than two weeks
  • have anxiety that is making you feel physically ill with fast heartbeat, fast breathing, sweating, feeling faint, feeling sick and diarrhoea
  • have a panic attack/s
  • have unpleasant thoughts that keep coming back and you can’t control them.
  • find yourself repeating an action (like washing, checking, counting) to feel better.
  • are so afraid of giving birth that you don’t want to go through with it
  • you are so afraid of blood tests that you avoid having them.

Tell your midwife or GP if you have experienced anxiety before even if you aren’t feeling anxious right now. The more they know about your mental health history the better they can support you during your pregnancy.

The midwife or doctor won’t criticise you or judge you for having these feelings. They know this happens to many pregnant women, and they will focus on finding the right treatment to help you recover.

If you find anxiety difficult to talk about, you could write down how you feel before your appointment or take someone with you for support.

What’s the treatment for anxiety in pregnancy?

Your midwife or GP will talk to you about all your options and the pros and cons of each treatment. What’s best for you will depend on things such as how bad your symptoms are, what has help you in the past (if you’ve had anxiety before), and what services are available locally.


New-mom anxiety:

Being a new mom is very stressful normally, but for some new mothers, the worry associated with becoming a parent gets to be overwhelming, and they’re diagnosed with postpartum anxiety.

Postpartum generalized anxiety affects just about as many new moms as postpartum depression does — and can be just as debilitating — but the condition isn't talked about as much. Here’s what you need to know about postpartum anxiety.

What is postpartum anxiety?

Postpartum generalized anxiety is an irrational fear or exaggerated worry that something is wrong and usually involves worrying all day, everyday and about many different things. It's similar to regular anxiety but is more closely linked with having a baby and becoming a parent.

Many new moms have been told that sadness and depression after having a baby is a common occurrence and can turn out to be either the baby blues or postpartum depression. But not every new mom knows that feeling extremely anxious or fearful, or even having panic attacks, can be almost as common. In fact, around 10 to 15 percent of new moms suffer from postpartum anxiety, and about half of those who have postpartum depression will also experience postpartum anxiety.

What are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety?

A mom suffering from postpartum anxiety may experience the following symptoms:

  • Dread or a sense of danger
  • Racing thoughts
  • A persistent feeling of being on edge, like something is about to go terribly wrong
  • Excessive worry about the baby’s health, development or safety
  • An overwhelming sense of burden, stress and concern about the ability to be a good parent
  • A persistent case of the jitters or a constant agitated feeling
  • Insomnia or trouble falling or staying asleep, even though she's exhausted
  • Changes in heart rate and breathing, including elevated heartbeat, rapid breathing and/or chest pain, especially if the anxiety takes the form of panic attacks
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shaking
  • Chills and/or hot flashes

How long does postpartum anxiety last?

There's no definitive timeframe for postpartum anxiety, but the good news is that it isn’t permanent. Depending on how soon a mom gets treatment, recovery time can vary. Untreated moderate to severe anxiety can last indefinitely.


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