Anxiety in pregnancy
Pregnancy can be a thrilling, exciting time. It can also be physically demanding and a bit scary as you prepare for big changes in your lives. It is normal for parents-to-be (yes, Dads as well as Mums) to feel somewhat stressed and emotional during this time. However, for some of us, the anxiety we experience during pregnancy becomes intense, and starts to interfere with our lives. Perhaps we find that we are not sleeping, constantly worrying and feeling agitated, or experiencing panic attacks. Severe anxiety during pregnancy is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Here are some of the things that make us more vulnerable to anxiety during pregnancy:
- Fears about what the birth will be like – this can be particularly intense if you have previously had a traumatic birth experience, or a prior medical issue.
- Fears about the health of your growing baby (especially if you have had a previous miscarriage or health scare).
- Fears about what it will be like to have a newborn and whether you’ll be a good parent.
- Big changes to work status and financial status can lead to worries about the future.
- Physical changes in our bodies – for some of us, being pregnant is no fun at all. Nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, sore breasts, fatigue, headaches, back pain, and constipation are just some of the unpleasant symptoms.
- If you’ve had some difficult childhood experiences (such as trauma, neglect or abuse, relationship problems with your own parents), you might find yourself worrying about what things will be like for your own child as he/she grows up. ‘I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents did.’ ‘I have to protect my child at all costs, so they never have to experience what I went through.’
- Societal pressure to be happy. Pregnant women are meant to have a radiant glow, right? We are not meant to spend half our time vomiting and the other half freaking out, wondering if this has all been a terrible mistake. Because of the pressure to be joyful, it can sometimes be difficult to admit that in actual fact, we are struggling.
The key point here is that your anxiety is not your fault – there are a lot of factors at play. If you find that your anxiety is interfering in your daily life, it may be time to do something about it.
Reasons to get help
- The first and most obvious reason is that currently anxiety is dominating your life and stopping you from doing the things that are important to you – treatment can help you to change this, and enable you to enjoy the fun parts of being a new parent.
- Research suggests that people with severe anxiety in pregnancy are more likely to struggle after the baby is born. You may be more vulnerable to issues such as postnatal depression and breastfeeding difficulties. So it is a good idea to try to address your anxiety early on.
- As a pregnant mother, your high levels of stress and anxiety also affect your baby. Research indicates that newborns who have been exposed to high levels of mum’s stress hormones in utero are more likely to be jittery and agitated and these effects can last up to 6 months after the birth. This is not intended to make mums feel guilty – just to convey the importance of looking after yourself during your pregnancy.
- The good news is that the story doesn’t end there… although your stress hormones during pregnancy do affect your baby, a far more significant and powerful impact on your child’s wellbeing is the relationship you develop with them after birth. Research suggests that strong, loving bonds between babies and their caregivers are one of the key factors in babies’ health and development. This is all the more reason to get help to better manage your anxiety – so that you have the time and emotional resources to devote to loving and caring for your little one.
Things you can do
- Talk to someone. Talk to the people who support you and let them know how you feel. Tell your GP or other trusted medical professional.
- Allow yourself to feel all the crazy mixed up feelings you are experiencing and let go of how you ‘should’ be feeling. Pregnancy is a rollercoaster ride, filled with highs and lows. And that is OK.
- If you are experiencing severe anxiety that is affecting your day-to-day functioning, see a psychologist and get help. There are psychological treatments available that can really help manage the anxiety. We are here for you.
More information about anxiety
Here’s some more information about anxiety – what it is, how it can affect people and what we can do to treat it.