Is anxiety and fear normal during pregnancy?
It’s a question we see often in the Peanut community.
Oh yes, mama-to-be, pregnancy fears are more common than you think and totally understandable.
Between the massive physical and social changes, the knowledge of pregnancy complications, and constant awareness of your growing baby, it’s natural to feel anxious.
Dare we say it’s only human.
But while these concerns are valid, we’re here to tell you that they don’t need to run the show.
Easier said than done?
Let’s walk through them one by one and get you the answers you need to thrive.
In this article: 📝
- Is it normal to have fears during pregnancy?
- What causes fear of pregnancy?
- Can my baby feel my anxiety in the womb?
- What are first pregnancy fears?
- How can I overcome my fear of pregnancy?
Is it normal to have fears during pregnancy?
150%. Wander through the Peanut community’s many support groups, and you’ll see pregnancy fears pop up again and again:
- I just had a miscarriage in July, and I found out a few days ago I’m pregnant again. I’m very terrified of it happening again. I wish I could just skip to 12 weeks, but I’m praying everything is ok this time. I’m still learning as I go, but that’s what’s working for me currently. - Liz
- I was not afraid to be a mom. But I was VERY afraid of pregnancy. All the genetic testing and rules there are now is enough to give anyone anxiety. - Elise
- I just worry so much so often about how my beeb is in there. I know worrying is at least relatively normal (not necessarily healthy, though), but I just can’t shake the fear that something is going to go wrong. Even though everything so far, appointments and all, have been super healthy, and I have no scary symptoms. - Elizabeth
- I’m feeling very overwhelmed with how much there is to do and how to fit a baby in the house, and then it seems like everything at work is really dramatic all of a sudden. – Annie
But for every worried post, you’ll see dozens of replies offering support and validation.
Anxiety and pregnancy is a common experience shared by many first-time moms (and even veteran mamas).
After all, you want these nine months to go perfectly, followed by a complication-free labor with a perfectly happy, healthy baby at the end.
No stress, right? 😅
And while pregnancy concerns are part of the parcel, for some women, anxiety and depression can become debilitating – what is called antenatal anxiety.
If your worries get to the point of significantly impacting your day-to-day life, it’s time to reach out to your GP.
You’re not alone in experiencing it, and you most definitely should not be alone in treating it.
What does perinatal anxiety look like?
Antenatal anxiety affects an estimated 7 to 20% of pregnancies and presents as:
- Intrusive worrying thoughts
- Feelings of dread
- Panic attacks
- Low mood
- Racing heartbeat
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Shortness of breath
Constantly trying to manage intrusive (read: unhelpful) thoughts alongside pregnancy symptoms is exhausting and definitely not something we recommend balancing alone.
Counseling, therapy, and support systems (like the Peanut community) are powerful tools against pregnancy fears.
What causes fear of pregnancy?
It depends on the root fear.
Some women may experience tokophobia – an extreme fear of childbirth.
It’s as valid in a first-time mom-to-be as in a mama who’s experienced a traumatic birth.
But what sets tokophobia apart from common fears around childbirth is its extreme nature, with some women delaying and avoiding pregnancy entirely.
And it’s not uncommon for pregnant women with tokophobia to opt for a C-section when it comes time to meet baby.
Other causes include a history of anxiety or PTSD, a difficult previous pregnancy, a lack of support, or a lack of information.
And the top cause?
A deep worry about something happening to the baby.
Pregnancy fears can affect anyone at any period, with or without a traumatic event or phobia.
No matter what triggers your worry, understanding the source and practicing self-compassion are the first steps to moving through it.
Can my baby feel my anxiety in the womb?
Not to add to existing concerns, but recent studies show that emotional distress during pregnancy can possibly have long-term effects on baby’s development after birth – including their nervous system.
This is largely related to cognitive and emotional development as well as metabolic functioning.
It’s thought that stress can lead to an increase in stress hormones which alters baby’s environment in the womb.
Adapting and developing in this high-stress environment may affect baby’s neurobehavioral and tempermental development.
This can look like an increased risk for stress-related pathologies or emotional problems and lack of concentration in childhood
The same study also indicates that high anxiety during pregnancy can lead to prolonged crying in baby’s first four weeks, increased irritability, and restlessness.
Not to mention, high stress during pregnancy may also increase your chances of preterm birth.
Look, it’s a lot to digest! But we believe that more information brings more empowerment.
There’s power in knowing that the anxiety and stress you may be feeling as you balance pregnancy fears is not in your head but something that can be supported and treated.
And will be once you reach out to your healthcare provider.
You’ve got this.
What are first pregnancy fears?
The last thing you want to do is to spend these next few months feeling scared to be pregnant and dreading labor.
To help you get a handle on your anxiety, let’s look at the top pregnancy worries that may be dulling your shine:
Fear of childbirth
Look, tokophobia doesn’t need to be part of your vocabulary for you to feel apprehensive about childbirth.
Most women (pregnant or otherwise) are highly aware of the pain of childbirth – there’s no shortage of negative stories or dramatic representations.
So yes, feeling anxious about the labor pain and whether you’ll be able to handle it is valid!
But as we said, we’re big believers that empowerment comes from information.
Ask your doctor or midwife to go through the birth process with you.
You could even take a prenatal class to stay informed and learn coping skills.
And reach out to the moms on Peanut for their positive birth stories – we promise there’s a lot of them.
Fear of miscarriage
Probably the biggest concern among pregnant women is the fear of pregnancy loss.
It’s estimated that 26% of all pregnancies end in pregnancy loss, so it’s a fear not totally unfounded.
But what if we told you that the majority of pregnancy losses happen within the first few weeks of pregnancy? And in the majority of cases, it happens so early it tends to go unnoticed.
In fact, the longer your pregnancy progresses, your risk of pregnancy loss decreases significantly.
This is not to overlook or undermine the impact of an early pregnancy loss, especially when you’re on a long and lonely TTC journey – a loss is a loss.
But the risks when you move past week 12 drop significantly, and in many cases, the odds of experiencing a second pregnancy loss are much lower.
It’s ok to be worried but try to remember that it’s not something in your control, and should it happen, we promise, you’re far from alone.
Fear of food
Between the long lists of foods to avoid during pregnancy and the concerns with changing weight, developing anxiety around your diet can feel inevitable.
It’s easy to overthink every ingredient, every label, every pregnancy craving.
No mom wants to place their baby in harm’s way, but it’s important to filter out what’s helpful from what’s harmful to your mental state.
Aside from alcohol, raw meat and seafood, and unpasteurized dairy, the majority of pregnancy diet tips err on the side of being overly cautious.
The main worry is the increased risk of foodborne illness – specifically the bacterial infection Listeria.
Instead of focusing on the foods to avoid, try tapping into pregnancy nutrition guides that encourage choice, wellness, and confidence.
Plus, it’s good practice for the days of baby’s first foods (but that comes later).
Fear of life changing
Look, there’s no way around it, having a baby changes your entire world.
And it is totally OK to grieve your old life and worry about what the future will bring.
Even getting used to the new title of ‘mom’ can be a lot to wrap your head around.
It’s normal to experience a loss of identity, but it doesn’t mean you’re now only defined by motherhood.
An adjustment period is to be expected, and it can take as long as it needs to for you to feel comfortable in your new life.
Taking comparison out of the equation and leaning into the change are two of the most impactful ways to adapt.
Allow yourself to grieve, take breaks, and reconnect with your most intimate relationships.
Change brings new possibilities, and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll grow into your new chapter – it just may take some time.
You know who gets it?
Yep, the Peanut community.
Fear of being a bad parent
Being scared of being a bad mom is normal.
You’re not only birthing a tiny human, you’re raising them – it’s a big responsibility!
Ensuring they grow up responsible, self-reliant, healthy, and able to manage their emotions is a lot.
All the while balancing your own needs.
So what’s the secret?
Accept that you will make mistakes and get overwhelmed – and take the time to prepare yourself for this.
That could be sourcing support networks, improving your mental health, or reading up on parenting styles.
The fact that you’re already concerned about being a good mom shows that you will be.
Just give yourself permission to get things wrong – and be flexible.
How can I overcome my fear of pregnancy?
So what does overcoming pregnancy fears look like?
It starts with getting to the unique root cause of your anxiety.
Recognizing that you’re harboring childbirth fears or navigating a high-stress environment helps your doctor better help you find a successful way of finding relief.
What we do know across the board is that avoidance only works to prolong and reinforce pregnancy fears.
The worse thing you can do is try to keep it contained until your due date – it’s an intense period, even for moms who welcome childbirth with open arms.
Not addressing the elephant in the room (or quivering in the corner) only increases the chances of an emergency C-section, drawn-out labor, and postpartum depression.
Not on our watch.
Here’s some accessible ways to move through your pregnancy fears:
1. Share your fears
Fear doesn’t like to be named, and it definitely doesn’t like to be shared – all the more reason to do it.
Rebelling against the anxious voice in your head is the first step to pulling it into the light and taking away its control.
Sharing allows you to build a support system with people who can help carry the weight with you.
Every person’s circumstance is different, which means no support system is the same.
Whether you choose to let in family, friends, your partner, or the Peanut community (the door is open), make sure a professional is part of your team.
2. Tune out the negative
An anxious brain is highly sensitive and quick to absorb any stimuli you give it.
Which is nice when you’re filling it with nourishing, wholesome content.
But let’s be real, doomscrolling and anxiety make a tight but toxic pair.
Studies show that news-related stress is very much a thing, and constant exposure to negative social media commentary can lead to emotional distress.
Worse, you get caught in a cycle of seeking more content to fill information gaps and quell uncertainty.
It’s hard to put the phone down but being intentional about what you consume is a small step to claiming back some power.
Unfollow what doesn’t serve you – the same goes for the Peanut App.
The Peanut community is all for having tough conversations, but you don’t need to be at every table.
Just tap into your feed settings and tick only the topics that serve you – judgment free.
3. Journal your fears
As you take a pause on consuming negative content, why not use that time to channel your inner thoughts elsewhere?
Just the simple act of writing your thoughts as they come to you can help you understand them more clearly and practice awareness.
It may even help you break out of obsessive thinking.
You can also use this as a foundation for your birth plan.
Including the concerns you have and sharing them with your midwife or obstetrician and caregivers will go a long way toward putting your mind at ease.
4. Work with a doula
A doula is literally a labor support companion.
Their primary goal is to help you achieve a safe and calming birth experience – one you’ll remember for all the right reasons.
It’s a relationship built on support, and it starts months before your due date.
If you’re struggling with pregnancy fears, a doula can be a constant presence, keeping your physical and emotional well-being always in mind and advocating for you as needed.
5. Consider CBT therapy
Depending on the source of your childbirth fears and their severity, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment.
A recent study shows that CBT can be just as potent as pharmacotherapy in the treatment of most anxiety disorders.
CBT has even been shown to significantly reduce stress during pregnancy and postpartum.
It works by raising positive thought patterns, stopping negative cycles, and reconstructing cognitive distortions.
All in all, CBT can help you harness your thoughts and beliefs to better serve you as you cope with stressful situations.
And better yet, it provides coping strategies built to last.
With the right supports in place to help you soothe and self-regulate, you and your baby are less likely to feel the impacts of high anxiety.
And you’re far more likely to overcome your pregnancy fears.
Just remember, pregnancy is a highly emotional, stressful experience – no doctor will judge you for seeking help to better care for your baby.
That’s the hallmark of a strong mama-to-be.