Struggling with anxiety during pregnancy? You’re not alone. Pregnancy anxiety can appear any time during your pregnancy joruney. In this article, you’ll learn to recognize anxiety symptons, what are the causes, and how to manage it with actionable tips!
Some women feel joy with every kick and movement of the baby, marveling at the changes. For others, pregnancy is challenging, exhausting, bringing not only fatigue but also discomfort, mood swings, and constant worries.
It’s true. Pregnancy is glamorized and idealized in all aspects of society – in the media, within the family, in institutions, and sometimes even in the medical and health field. However, it may not be a fairy tale for many women. And when I say many, I truly mean MANY. Women facing severe difficulties during pregnancy are not an “exception.”
It’s quite common to see pregnant women feeling like, gradually, as the pregnancy progresses, they are losing control of their own thoughts. And this begins to affect them at work and even in their relationships.
The main question is: how to manage anxiety during pregnancy and how to treat it?
Causes of anxiety during pregnancy
Concerns during pregnancy can be overwhelming for various reasons. Of course, hormonal changes are a significant factor, but not the only one. Having experienced a previous miscarriage and difficulties sleeping can contribute to an increase in anxiety during pregnancy.
Especially for first-time mothers, the uncertainties and fear of the unknown can be truly overwhelming. Worries about how a baby will affect social relationships (with a partner, friends, and even within the family), fears about the baby’s health (especially overwhelming for mothers receiving a diagnosis of their baby’s disability), fear of childbirth or obstetric violence, or even the financial demands that a child represents.
All these concerns are entirely normal. For humans, a bit of anxiety can be a self-defense mechanism, a protection. It’s our alert instinct to stay alive. But excessive anxiety can be paralyzing and bring suffering.
Symptoms of Anxiety During Pregnancy
While it’s normal to be concerned about your baby’s health, in some cases, this concern can become debilitating and may require more attention. Thoughts about the baby’s health can become obsessive, even when all tests are normal, and doctors insist that everything is fine.
Concerns can also manifest in the form of physical symptoms, such as:
- Excessive Worry: While it’s normal to be concerned about the baby’s health, persistent and overwhelming worry, even when medical reports are normal, can be a sign of anxiety.
- Physical Symptoms: Anxiety can manifest physically, leading to symptoms such as a dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or even panic attacks.
- Mood Swings: Pregnant individuals experiencing anxiety may notice irritability, mood swings, and sudden changes in emotions.
- Difficulty Concentrating: Anxiety can make it challenging to focus, leading to difficulties in concentration and decision-making.
- Muscle Tension: Tension in muscles, which can sometimes result in pain, is another possible symptom of anxiety during pregnancy.
- Restlessness: Feeling restless and having trouble settling down or relaxing can be a common manifestation of anxiety.
- Sleep Disturbances: Anxiety may contribute to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, impacting the overall quality of sleep.
If this is the first time you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms, it can be a frightening experience in itself. When anxiety begins to interfere with your daily life, relationships, or professional performance, in that case, it may be classified as an Anxiety Disorder (for such a diagnosis, it needs to be evaluated by a qualified professional).
When can anxiety appear during pregnancy?
There’s no average or a period when it’s “more likely” to develop anxiety during pregnancy. It can manifest at any time, including the early postpartum moments. Due to various reasons, women experience pregnancy anxiety in different ways. For instance:
Anxiety in the First and Second Trimesters
Anxiety disorders are quite common in the first trimester. This is possibly because, in addition to all the concerns and fears of the mother, she also has to cope with these while her body is flooded with hormones.
Common causes among women who develop anxiety disorders in the first or second trimester include unplanned pregnancy, teenage pregnancy, paternal abandonment, family pressure, lack of familial support, financial constraints, work or study problems, and the mother’s health issues.
Anxiety in the Last Trimester
As the due date approaches, anxiety can intensify, even for those who had relatively calm earlier trimesters.
Common reasons include fear of childbirth, concerns about obstetric violence, situations where there was a change of the professional overseeing the pregnancy, difficulties accessing maternity care or exams, financial struggles, housing problems, physical exhaustion, lack of support, a diagnosis of the baby’s disability, or the mother’s health problems (gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, hypertension, etc.).
Anxiety during Postpartum
Although underdiagnosed, anxiety disorders during pregnancy and the postpartum period are common and can affect up to one in five women. Many women suffer in silence, unaware that what afflicts them has a name and treatment.
Common reasons include lack of support, challenges to breastfeeding, poor sleep due to the new routine, loss of employment, financial difficulties, relationship problems, and tension with family members.
Can Anxiety During Pregnancy Harm the Baby?
Although less studied than depression, research suggests that anxiety can negatively impact both the mother and the fetus. Anxiety increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and a smaller head circumference (which is related to brain size).
Treatments for Anxiety During Pregnancy
Fortunately, there are many treatments available today that can reduce anxiety during pregnancy and help you feel better. However, it’s essential to be aware of the risks associated with medication and seek professional guidance to analyze each case.
There is still limited information on whether it is safe to take anxiolytics during pregnancy, as there is not enough scientific evidence about the potential effects of these medications on fetal development. Even women who were previously taking anxiolytics may prefer to discontinue the medication during pregnancy and resume it at a safer time.
The approach of cognitive-behavioral therapies may be safer and is considered more promising for cases of anxiety during pregnancy. These therapies focus on challenging ideas, emotions, and attitudes that make the woman uncomfortable, using strategies to manage anxiety (such as diaphragmatic breathing methods adapted for pregnancy).
Now, if you genuinely have severe anxiety, medication can be your best ally. The pros and cons should be thoroughly discussed and clarified with your healthcare provider.
How to calm your anxiety while pregnant
If your situation doesn’t require medication or if therapy isn’t easily accessible in your area, you can still help alleviate anxiety during pregnancy with activities to keep your mind engaged, your body relaxed, and your hormones in balance! Here are some tips:
Engage in Regular Physical Activity
In general, it’s safe to exercise during pregnancy. Water activities, walks, and group exercises can be excellent ways to socialize and shake off worries! However, if you’re at risk of premature labor or have pregnancy complications, consult your doctor first.
Establish a Relaxing Sleep Routine
Gradually slow down your pace before bedtime. Set a specific time to disconnect from your phone and social media. Listen to music or read a book to help you fall asleep at your intended time. Consider using a pregnancy pillow or spend a few nights apart if your partner’s snoring is affecting your sleep. Now is the time to figure out what works best for your sleep.
Write About Your Experience
Whether on social media, a blog, or in a journal, writing about your concerns can help you think about possible solutions. It allows you to reflect and articulate your worries, rather than keeping them bottled up.
Have a “Problem-Solving Hour”
Often, we feel overwhelmed because we’re trying not to forget something. Our memory capacity is limited, and it can be frustrating to be constantly worried about forgetting things. Set aside 30 minutes at the end of the day as your time to review activities, meetings, and what needs to be done – a time to worry productively. This helps prevent you from clinging to your concerns for the rest of the day, trying not to forget them (remind yourself: “I’ll think about this later”).
The benefits of yoga during pregnancy have been extensively studied. It’s a widely practiced activity recommended by healthcare professionals, as it combines physical preparation and mental alignment. If it’s not your thing, you can try massage or meditation.
If writing or physical activities aren’t your preference, try something more serene like guided meditation during pregnancy. Many women prefer something less interactive, less group-oriented. The good part is that this is an activity that can be done anywhere, even in cases of a high-risk pregnancy.