Anxiety during pregnancy is common—really common. As in one in three women experiences some form of it. Whether anxiety has been a part of your life forever, or you are experiencing it for the first time, know that you’re not alone. You’re not doing anything wrong. And there is help available.
When we feel unsafe or simply out of our comfort zones, our bodies (quite amazingly) respond with warning signals—and that’s what’s going on when you feel anxious.
It’s your body’s communication system sending messages to basecamp that there’s some sort of threat.
And the threat doesn’t have to be big—or even real. Sometimes just the thought of something bad happening can cause anxious feelings to erupt.
But if your feelings of anxiety are completely overwhelming, not letting up, and/or coupled with symptoms of depression, you may be dealing with an anxiety disorder.
Talk to your doctor. It is treatable, and you don’t need to go through this alone.
Before we get going, if you are experiencing severe anxiety during pregnancy that is making it difficult for you to cope, there is help available.
There are various organizations, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, that will help you find the path to the right treatment and support.
And if seeking treatment feels too much right now, start by simply reaching out — to a friend, a family member, or your Peanut community.
Know that anxiety is treatable, and you are not alone in this experience.
In this article: 📝
- What is anxiety during pregnancy?
- What anxiety during pregnancy feels like
- Can anxiety during pregnancy affect the baby?
- How to deal with anxiety during pregnancy
- Is it normal to have high anxiety during pregnancy?
What is anxiety during pregnancy?
Feeling anxious during pregnancy is common.
Huge changes are afoot — both in your body and in your life.
You might be worried about your own health and the health of your baby, concerned about giving birth, or worried about your child’s future in an uncertain world. (Or all of the above.)
We get it — there’s a lot to deal with. It’s no wonder that you’re feeling a wide range of emotions, and anxiousness can be one of them.
Here’s the weird thing — anxiety actually serves a purpose in our lives. It lets us know if there are challenges on the horizon and helps us get ready for action.
But sometimes, feelings of nervousness and anxiety happen often and/or intensely, and are not necessarily attached to a specific cause.
If this feels like where you’re at, there’s a possibility you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders can get in the way of our day-to-day functioning and can affect our relationships with other people.
Anxiety disorders are very common — affecting about 30% of adults — but that doesn’t make them any easier to deal with, especially when you’re pregnant.
The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be felt both in our bodies and in our minds. They include:
- Racing thoughts, intense worry, and feelings of terror
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling irritable
- Trouble concentrating and remembering things
- Tension in your muscles that can cause pain and/or twitching
- Digestive trouble
- Loss of appetite
- A feeling of tightness in your chest
- A “lump” in your throat
- Shallow breathing
- Trouble sleeping (either falling asleep or staying asleep)
- Thinking about the worst possible outcome for whatever is happening in your life.
If you have serious symptoms that come on quickly, you might be experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. If you feel faint, suffocated, numb, shakes, and/or have chills or hot flushes, reach out to a healthcare provider as soon as you can.
So what happens when anxiety and pregnancy collide — and are the same treatment options still available? Let’s take a look.
What anxiety during pregnancy feels like
Being anxious in pregnancy can make you feel as though you’re trapped in a vicious cycle. It looks a little something like this:
You feel anxious. Then you start getting anxious about your anxiety – “Why is this happening? Is it bad for the baby?” Your anxiety about your anxiety snowballs and causes even more anxiety.
We often speak of anxiety as a blanket term, when in fact the story is far more colorful. Anxiety during pregnancy can feel all sorts of ways and stem from all sorts of reasons.
Hate to state the obvious here, but there’s a major life change going on right now. Coupled with a major body change. You’re confronted with hormone shifts, pregnancy symptoms, and a body that is altering in ways that may feel pretty alien.
Plus there’s that whole giving birth thing at the end of this, which can cause all sorts of feelings. No matter how prepared you are, it just never feels enough.
But wait, there’s more (of course). Having to go for constant check-ups, blood tests, and scans can all be pretty nerve-wracking.
Put this all together and being pregnant and anxious sound like they go hand in hand.
While both depression and anxiety during pregnancy can be experienced by anyone, there are some factors that may put you more at risk.
- If you have experienced anxiety and/or depression before.
- Family history of anxiety and depression.
- Having had a miscarriage before.
- Any health challenges you or your baby face.
- Life drama (relationship trouble, money issues, work stuff).
Can pregnancy hormones cause anxiety?
When you’re pregnant, your body produces the hormones estrogen and progesterone in greater amounts.
These levels drop once you give birth.
You may know from your menstrual cycle that when these hormones go up and down, your mood can be impacted.
The changes in these hormones during pregnancy can have a very real impact on our emotions and sense of wellbeing.
If you’re feeling a little (or a lot) more irritable, upset — or elated — right now, that’s normal.
It’s common for your emotions to learn a new dance over this time.
But while hormones have a role to play, there is so much else that could be contributing to how you’re feeling.
This pregnancy thing is a big deal. It’s completely okay to be feeling nervous and uncertain.
The important thing is that you reach out if you ever feel overwhelmed by your feelings. (And that’s to whomever feels best right now — your doctor, your family, or your friends.)
Can anxiety during pregnancy affect the baby?
Dealing with anxiety is challenging at the best of times. Dealing with anxiety and pregnancy? Maybe doubly so.
The question, Can stress and anxiety hurt my baby? in itself can cause you to feel anxious.
So what is the deal? Can your baby feel what you’re feeling? And if so, what sort of impact will those feelings have?
The answer is, it’s complicated but, most of the time, nothing to worry about.
Feeling some degree of anxiety during pregnancy is normal and will likely not have a serious impact on your baby.
But if you are really struggling with anxiety symptoms, it’s important to get help—not only for your baby’s health but yours as well.
The right treatment and support are out there. You don’t have to try and figure this one out on your own.
The thought of your own stress and anxiety impacting your baby can make you feel even more anxious.
So before we go any further, take a deep breath, mama.
Experiencing some anxiety during pregnancy is totally fine. No pregnancy is without some degree of fear and worry.
But if you are really struggling, it’s so important that you get the help you need.
There is a possibility that extreme anxiety will affect the health of both you and your baby.
Research has shown links between anxiety during pregnancy and complications such as preterm birth and lower birth weight.
Panic attacks in pregnancy can also be of concern. A panic attack is an episode of intense fear and anxiety that leads to very physical symptoms.
It may feel as though you can’t breathe, that your heart is racing, and that you are losing control.
You might even feel as though you are dying. Panic disorders happen when you have recurring panic attacks.
As well as this, anxiety during pregnancy can make it harder to get the sleep and nutrition you need at this time.
All of this can make this chapter even more challenging, which can lead to long-term effects on your baby.
Your health is also more at risk if you experience high anxiety, as it can lead to hypertensive disorders like preeclampsia.
But this is not cause to feel even more anxious. It is cause to seek help and support if you need it.
Some early research suggests that high levels of anxiety may have an impact on the development of your baby’s brain. We know. The last thing you need to hear right now. But this doesn’t have to be yet another thing to feel anxious about. Instead, it can be a call to get the support you need. You got this, mama.
So next question: How can I calm my anxiety while pregnant? There are so many ways. We’ll take you through them.
How to deal with anxiety during pregnancy
The question of how to calm anxiety while pregnant is not answered in the same way for everyone — but there are many methods that have been proven to be useful.
It’s important to know that while these strategies can really help, they are not a substitute for medical treatment, if that is what you need.
Here are some great options:
- Mindfulness and meditation. Recent studies have shown that these practices can have a positive impact on experiences of both anxiety and depression. Prenatal yoga can be an excellent way to explore this world.
- Dance, walk, swim — get moving anyway you like. Getting some exercise can be a wonderful way to relieve anxiety. The American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
- Try to get the sleep you need. We know, this is a tricky one. Anxiety and sleep have a very complicated relationship to one another. The best you can do is prioritize your rest.
- Keep your nutrition up. Eat a balanced diet and take your prenatal vitamins. While the research is still young, there is some evidence to suggest that low supplies of vitamin D are associated with anxiety during pregnancy.
- Start (or keep writing in) a journal. Organize your thoughts. Vent. Cry on the page. It’s your book. You get to write your story in it.
- Set up a worry schedule. Sorry, what? Yep. Allocate 10 minutes in your day for pure worry time. If anxious thoughts come up outside this window, just file them under, “I have an appointment with you later.”
There are also all sorts of resources available, such as Postpartum Support International that can help you navigate this journey.
And you know what else? Chatting with other moms (on Peanut or IRL) who are going through the same thing.
If it feels safe to do so, tell your friends and family that you are experiencing anxiety. Explain to them how they can support you.
There really shouldn’t be any guilt or shame attached to what is a totally common experience.
What anxiety meds are safe during pregnancy?
First things first, speak to your doctor about what will work best for you.
If you’re already on medication, see what they think about you continuing on it while you’re pregnant.
In some cases, they might want to change the dose or medication type.
We’ll take you through what we know about the safety of two of the most common antianxiety meds:
Benzodiazepines (or benzos) are the most widely prescribed antianxiety meds — and there’s some controversy over their safety during pregnancy.
They definitely do pose a risk as they can cross over to your baby and result in dependence, sedation, and respiratory issues.
But not all benzodiazepines are created equal.
While diazepams (like Valium) have a sedative effect and are particularly dangerous in high doses, lorazepams (Ativan) are a bit safer.
Your doctor will work with you to see what the best option is for your unique situation.
Then there are SSRIs, medications used to treat both anxiety and depression.
There’s evidence that SSRIs are associated with various pregnancy complications and birth differences.
One of the more common of these is neonatal adaptations syndrome (NAS) which affects a baby’s respiratory system and can cause them to be jittery and have feeding difficulties.
But while these risks exist, it’s not as simple as going off your medication if you fall pregnant.
It’s really important to navigate this with your healthcare practitioner by your side.
The benefits of staying on your meds may outweigh the dangers of going off them.
It’s all about what you need in your specific case.
Whether you continue on your medication or not, talk therapy can be an excellent way to help you manage your anxiety and look to your future.
You might want to try one-on-one counseling, or join a support group with mamas-to-be who are where you’re at.
Is it normal to have high anxiety during pregnancy?
“Normal” is a tricky word when it comes to pregnancy (and life in general). We all go through experiences differently and have our own unique challenges to cope with.
That being said, anxiety during pregnancy is common. It can happen at any time during pregnancy or, in some cases, only once you’ve had your baby.
In this study, about 35% of women experienced high anxiety during pregnancy. And one in five new mamas felt highly anxious postpartum. So wherever you’re at right now, know that you are definitely not alone in this.
- You may be more at risk of developing high anxiety during pregnancy if you have:
- Had anxiety or depression before
- Experienced pregnancy loss
- Health complications or risks that could affect your pregnancy
- Any life stress, such as relationship or financial trouble
We really need to normalize the conversation around anxiety during pregnancy.
The more we talk about it, the more it becomes a shared rather than a solitary experience. That in and of itself can help soothe the symptoms.
We’ll say it again and again and again:
You don’t have to do this alone.
You don’t have to do this alone.
You don’t have to do this alone.
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