Are you experiencing anxiety during your pregnancy?
We understand the range of feelings that can go along with experiencing anxiety at a time when it seems you should only feel happy.
As an expectant mom, it is completely normal to feel scared, worried, or nervous during pregnancy. Your body is going through many changes to support a whole other life inside of you, and you can expect a rollercoaster ride of emotions. However, it’s important to understand what is causing your anxiety, and there are ways you can learn to manage it during your pregnancy journey.
In this guide, we’ll discuss your possible symptoms, concerns, risks, and treatment options — both natural and medical. With help from our medical team, we’ll do our best to answer all your questions about anxiety during pregnancy.
Is Anxiety an Early Symptom of Pregnancy?
Some women believe that increased anxiety is an early indication of pregnancy. While this could be true, we don’t have enough evidence to link the two. Anxiety can arise for many reasons, and a new pregnancy may not be the culprit.
You could experience increased anxiety if you have missed a period. This does not immediately mean you are pregnant, but some women tend to become anxious while awaiting confirmation.
A mother who just found out she is pregnant may also experience heightened anxiety.
Pregnancy can bring about many different emotions ranging from pure joy to fear. It only makes sense there will be some anxiousness (1).
Even the most prepared women will experience some anxiety when finding out they are pregnant.
Common Pregnancy Worries
Nearly every mom-to-be experiences at least some anxiety during pregnancy. Here are some common fears:
- What if I won’t be a good parent?
- What if something is wrong with my baby?
- Can I handle the financial responsibilities of a baby?
- How will I handle my job while pregnant?
- How will my partner feel about this pregnancy?
These are all normal pregnancy concerns. You are embarking on a life-changing journey, so it’s only natural to worry about things to come. You are not alone!
However, if your worrying consumes you and interferes with your daily life, you are probably experiencing extreme anxiety. This level of anxiety is not normal and should be cause for concern. Call your doctor or health care professional, or talk to someone your trust.
It’s important for you to stay on top of your pregnancy and your symptoms, but try not to compare your pregnancy and symptoms to those of someone else. No two pregnancies are the same — even for the same person; they are all unique.
Some mothers tend to experience something in their pregnancy and then Google it to find out more information. Google can be resourceful, but it can also increase your anxiety.
A simple search can quickly lead you to believe you are suffering from something far worse than what it actually is. If you believe you are experiencing a severe symptom, call your doctor.
I always tell my patients that if you MUST Google your symptoms, be sure you look at reputable sites, and try to stay away from conversation threads. These may only increase your anxiety and may not have factually correct information.
Editor's Note:Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Extreme Anxiety Symptoms
It can be hard to differentiate between typical worrying and extreme anxiety. It is completely normal to worry, but if you experience some of the following symptoms, you may have anxiety: (2)
- Excessive worrying about many things, including your baby.
- Tense muscles.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Unable to focus or concentrate on day-to-day tasks.
- Feeling irritable.
- Becoming angry more easily.
- Feeling fatigued.
- Excessive restlessness.
- Frequent sense of panic or fear.
- Obsessive thoughts.
- You no longer enjoy the things you used to love.
- Heart palpitations.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor right away. There are many different treatment options, ranging from therapy to medication. Your doctor will talk with you to decide which method is best for you.
If possible, reach out to someone you trust. Ignoring anxiety symptoms can cause the feelings to worsen, and you may try to mask your symptoms from others.
Who Is at Risk?
Anyone is at risk of developing anxiety during pregnancy. In fact, over 50% of moms report increased anxiety or depression during and after pregnancy (3).
It’s hard to determine what can put you in a high-risk category for experiencing anxiety while pregnant, but some of the following factors can increase your chances:
- Loss of a previous pregnancy.
- Struggles to get pregnant.
- Previous diagnosis of an anxiety-related issue.
- Known pregnancy complications.
- Family history of anxiety.
- Physical abuse.
- Drug use.
- Living alone.
- Low income.
- Being a young mother.
- Poor support system.
- History of depression.
Can Anxiety Affect Your Pregnancy?
Anxiety is a common and accepted part of pregnancy, but there is a point where the level of anxiety you are experiencing may not be normal.
Numerous studies have been conducted that link high levels of anxiety in moms to children with ADHD (4). This does not mean if you are anxious, your child will have ADHD. But it does mean that above-average anxiety levels could increase your child’s chances of developing ADHD.
Other research links high anxiety levels to delayed infant development, poor academic performance, and social and emotional issues (5).
Should You Seek Help?
Many mothers believe their symptoms will go away once their baby is born. Delivering a healthy baby can decrease your anxiety, but you might not be home-free.
Mothers who have severe anxiety during their pregnancy often experience more extreme episodes of postpartum depression. This can cause many challenges in your new life with your newborn, making it difficult for you to bond with your baby.
Anxiety Attacks During Pregnancy
About 10 percent of pregnant women will experience an anxiety attack during their pregnancy.
These can be dangerous for you and your baby, so it’s important you understand the signs and symptoms associated with one (6).
- Tingling in your arms or legs.
- Shortness of breath.
- Muscle weakness or shaking, especially in the legs.
- Feeling hot suddenly.
- Breathing faster than normal.
An anxiety attack will cause your anxiety symptoms to worsen dramatically, usually rather quickly. An attack can last anywhere from seconds to minutes.
If you think you may have experienced an anxiety attack, it is crucial to contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Anxiety Treatment During Pregnancy
If your anxiety is at the point where it is seriously affecting your health or your baby’s health, a doctor may prescribe you a medication.
Most anti-anxiety drugs are categorized as antidepressants, so they are generally not safe for pregnancy. A doctor would not prescribe this medication without considering the risks and benefits.
If the benefits associated with the prescribed medication outweigh the potential risks to your baby, your doctor may go ahead and prescribe it, but this would be rare.
Safe Alternative Solutions
If you don’t want to take an anti-anxiety medication, but you still need some relief, you aren’t out of options.
While there is no immediate and permanent cure, there are ways to lessen the anxiety you feel.
- Get more sleep: It can be hard to get enough sleep when you’re pregnant. Lack of sleep may increase anxiety symptoms, especially in pregnancy. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Also, try to turn off all devices an hour before bed.
- Exercise: Just a few minutes of exercise a day can reduce tension and relieve anxiety symptoms.
- Have a support system: No matter your situation, make sure you have people around you who support you and have your best interest at heart. You could consider joining a support group or online community to connect with other women who are experiencing or have experienced the same journey as you.
- Properly prepare: If you get ahead of the game and prepare yourself as much as possible for your child’s arrival, you may reduce your anxiety. If you are super stressed about the thought of childbirth, take a class at your local hospital to help ease your mind. It can also be helpful to talk to friends and family about their experiences with pregnancy.
I have often recommended the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” to patients as well as my friends! While it’s not Google, it is still full of helpful information that will help guide you through your journey.
Editor's Note:Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
- Relax: Take time to relax. You can participate in yoga or maybe even splurge on a prenatal massage. You deserve the extra pampering.
- Communicate: Don’t wait to express your feelings and worries with someone you trust. Don’t keep everything on the inside, or you may work yourself up so much that you could reach a breaking point.
- Avoid triggers: Some people’s anxiety seems to be triggered by specific people, places, events, or even foods. If you can directly relate your increased anxiety to something else, try to avoid it.
- Eliminate caffeine: If your diet still contains caffeine, like coffee and tea, try eliminating it or cutting back. Caffeine is a stimulant that can amplify anxiety symptoms.
- Eat healthily: A well-balanced diet alone can help reduce anxiety symptoms and will encourage a healthy pregnancy.
I always encourage pregnant mamas to try to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets and have a healthy mix of proteins and carbohydrates with every meal. Avoid junk food if at all possible.
Editor's Note:Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
- Meditate: Meditation is also a great way to relax when you are pregnant. Check out apps like Headspace or Calm for free guided meditation sessions. Focusing on your breathing and clearing your head can help calm you down naturally. This may take practice, but it can be successful. It may take time to find something to help relieve your anxiety, but there is a solution out there. If nothing seems to work, talk to your doctor about your options. You never have to struggle alone — there are so many people waiting with open arms to help.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety is a normal part of pregnancy, but there is a point where a high level of anxiety is no longer normal.
If you believe you may be experiencing extreme anxiety, then you should reach out to your doctor for help. If you allow anxiety to go untreated, it can be unhealthy for you and your baby. Remember, you have to take care of yourself first so you will have the energy to care for your new baby.
You don’t have to suffer in silence — you are not alone. Just remember, pregnancy is a rewarding but challenging journey.