Are you experiencing anxiety with your pregnancy? Are you concerned your worries might not be normal?
As an expectant mom, it is completely normal to feel scared, worried, or nervous. Your body is going through a lot of changes to support a whole other life inside of you, and your emotions are probably a rollercoaster.
You may be worried that your anxiety is negatively affecting your baby. Studies have shown that anxiety during pregnancy can cause low birth weight, preterm labor, and higher rates of ADHD in children. (1). It’s important to understand what is causing your anxiety, and to find ways to manage it during your pregnancy journey.
Is Anxiety A Symptom Of Early Pregnancy?
Some women believe increased anxiety is an early indication of pregnancy. While this could be true, there is not enough evidence to link the two. Anxiety can arise for many different 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.
It is likely that a mother who just found out she is pregnant may experience heightened anxiety.
Pregnancy can bring about many different emotions ranging anywhere from pure joy to fear. It only makes sense there will be some anxiousness (2).
Even the most prepared women will experience some anxiety when finding out they are pregnant.
Common Pregnancy Worries
If you didn’t experience some kind of anxiety throughout your pregnancy you wouldn’t be human! 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 being pregnant?
- How will my partner feel about this pregnancy?
All of these concerns about your pregnancy are considered normal. You are embarking on a life-changing journey, so it’s only natural to be worried and scared about things that are to come. You are not alone!
If your worrying consumes you and is interfering with your daily life, then you are probably experiencing extreme anxiety. This level of anxiety is not normal, and should be cause for concern. Call your doctor or healthcare 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 that of someone else. No two pregnancies are the same, every one is 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 quick 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 are looking 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: (3)
- 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 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 what method is best for you.
If possible, reach out to someone you trust. Ignoring symptoms of anxiety 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 percent of moms reported increased anxiety or depression during and after pregnancy (4).
It’s hard to determine what exactly 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.
There have been numerous studies conducted that link high levels of anxiety in moms to children with ADHD (5). This does not mean if you are anxious your child will have ADHD. This means that above average levels of anxiety have been known to increase the chances your child will develop ADHD significantly.
There has been other research conducted linking high levels of anxiety to delayed infant development, poor academic performance, and social and emotional issues (6).
Anxiety has also been known to cause low birth weight, preeclampsia, and preterm labor (7).
Why 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 difficulties in your new life with your newborn, and also makes it extremely difficult for you to bond with your baby.
Negative Effects Of Anxiety
If you allow your anxiety to go untreated, it can cause many other issues to arise.
- Postpartum depression.
- Thoughts of suicide.
- Decrease in overall health.
- Lack of bonding with your baby.
The most important thing to remember is that extreme anxiety can cause issues for you and your baby. It is in your best interest to consult your doctor if you have the slightest concern you may be suffering from anxiety.
Can Pregnancy Cause Anxiety To Worsen?
Pregnancy brings about many new changes in your body and many new worries. Some women may actually see a decrease in their anxiety symptoms once becoming pregnant (8).
Your hormones are in full effect when you are pregnant, and you have little control over how they are going to affect you. You may notice your anxiety decrease significantly, or your pregnancy can cause it to become worse.
Creating life is no easy task, so it should come as little surprise that the journey to motherhood could leave you feeling anxious.
Anxiety Attacks And 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 (9).
- 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 dramatically worsen, 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 the health of your baby, 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 taking into account the risks and benefits associated with it.
If the benefits associated with the prescribed medication outweigh the potential risks that it could cause your baby, then your doctor may go ahead and prescribe it. This is usually a very rare circumstance.
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 (10).
- Get More Sleep: When you’re pregnant, it can be hard to get enough sleep. 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. If you need some tips on how to sleep better during pregnancy, you can find them here.
- 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 may be experiencing or have experienced the same journey as you.
- Properly Prepare: If you get ahead of the game and prepare yourself as much as you can for the arrival of your child, 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 “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” to both patients and 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: Make time for yourself 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 else you are going to 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, try to eliminate it or cut 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 naturally help calm you down. This may take practice, but it can be successful. It may take time to find something that can 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 an ordinary 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 your anxiety to go untreated it can be unhealthy for you and your baby. Remember, you have to take care of yourself first so you can take care of others, especially a new baby.
You don’t have to suffer in silence — you are not alone. Just remember, pregnancy is a rewarding, but challenging, journey.
There is no shame if you are struggling to push through your journey. You may think you are a superwoman, but even superheroes need sidekicks.