Pregnancy can be an exciting time for a woman, but it can also cause anxiety. However, it’s essential to know that you are not alone and there is help available. This blog post will provide information about what causes pregnancy anxiety and how to deal with it.
Some tips include meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, talking with your partner or loved ones about your fears, setting aside time each day for relaxation/meditation (find a routine that works), practising deep breathing before bedtime. These are just some of the ways to manage this common condition during pregnancy.
What’s A Normal Amount Of Pregnancy Anxiety?
Anxiety is not only part of being pregnant; it’s part of being human. We all worry, and pregnancy can often amplify those worries.
Studies show that about 15 per cent of pregnant women have anxiety disorders, almost as common as depression during pregnancy.
Some women — especially those who’ve had previous pregnancy losses or fertility problems — worry about whether their babies are healthy.
Others might worry about whether they’ll be good parents, how their relationships with their partners will change, how siblings will react to a new baby or the financial aspects of having a child.
Even if you worry about all these things, that’s normal too.
But there’s a difference between normal worrying and all-consuming anxiety during pregnancy, also known as antenatal anxiety.
It’s time to talk to a health care provider if your anxiety prevents you from concentrating, causing you to have trouble functioning, making you highly panicky or causing some physical symptoms, including rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath.
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What Causes Anxiety During Pregnancy?
Worries during pregnancy are universal. Hormonal changes of pregnancy, prior heartbreaking miscarriages, and sleep difficulties may contribute to anxiety for mothers-to-be.
You may worry about how a baby will affect your relationships with friends or family members, the health of your future child, the delivery experience, or the financial burden of an additional family member.
All of these worries are completely normal. A certain amount of anxiety is protective; how else could we motivate ourselves to complete our work or run away from a bear?
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety During Pregnancy?
Although it’s normal to be worried about your baby’s health, in some cases, this worry becomes debilitating and may require further attention.
Thoughts about the health of the baby may become obsessive, even when doctors are reassuring. Worries may also appear as physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or panic attacks.
If this is the first time you experience a high level of anxiety, this may be frightening in itself. When stress starts to interfere with your day-to-day functioning, relationships, or job performance, it may be classified as an anxiety disorder — if your doctor picks up on it.
Anxiety can occur at any time during pregnancy, or it may first appear after delivery (perinatal anxiety is the term used for anxiety during pregnancy and after delivery).
The rates of generalised anxiety disorder appear to be highest in the first trimester, likely due to hormonal changes.
The most common anxiety symptoms include constant worrying, restlessness, muscle tension, irritability, feeling dread, an inability to concentrate, and difficulties falling asleep due to worries.
Some women also experience symptoms resulting from other anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Unfortunately, two of the most common mental health screening tools in pregnancy are not excellent at detecting anxiety.
Although underdiagnosed, anxiety disorders during pregnancy and postpartum are common and may affect up to one in five women. Many women suffer in silence.
The following are symptoms of more severe anxiety during pregnancy:
- Experiencing a frequent sense of panic, fear or restlessness
- An inability to concentrate on your day-to-day life
- Trouble functioning at work or home
- Having obsessive thoughts
- I was not enjoying things that used to make you happy.
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle tension
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation) or shortness of breath (which is a typical symptom of pregnancy, so don’t worry if you’re not noticing any of these other signs of pregnancy anxiety)
- This level of anxiety goes beyond the standard form of worrying — but treatment can help.
What Causes Anxiety During Pregnancy?
Anxiety during pregnancy is a complicated condition that researchers don’t fully understand and that can have more than one cause.
It can be caused by an underlying health issue, such as diabetes, thyroid problems or chronic pain, or a hereditary disorder since anxiety can run in the family.
Or it may stem from a fear of giving birth (you may have heard a scary delivery room story) or a stressful situation at home or work (like relationship problems or financial troubles). It may even be triggered by the pregnancy itself, especially if it was unplanned.
Regardless of what’s behind these feelings or thoughts, know that anxiety during pregnancy is a medical condition — it isn’t the result of anything you did.
What Are Risk Factors For Anxiety During Pregnancy?
Just about anyone can develop anxiety during pregnancy. That said, there are a few criteria that put you at higher risk for a severe anxiety disorder, which means that you should pay extra-close attention to how you’re feeling when you’re expecting, including:
- A previous diagnosis of an anxiety disorder
- Anxiety during a past pregnancy
- family history of anxiety or panic attacks
- personal history of anxiety, panic attacks, or depression
- previous trauma
- use of certain illegal drugs
- excess stress in everyday life
- Previous pregnancy loss or fertility struggles
- Pregnancy with complications or bed rest (though practitioners rarely prescribe strict bed rest anymore, in part for this reason)
- Age (younger pregnant women can be more likely to have anxiety than older pregnant women)
All of these factors can contribute to a heightened risk of anxiety during pregnancy.
Why Seek Help For Pregnancy Anxiety?
Many women are under the mistaken impression that the best way to deal with anxiety is just to struggle through it. But if your concern is severe, there are a few reasons it’s best to seek help.
Although you might tell yourself, “I’ll just feel better once the baby is here,” research has shown that women who have anxiety during pregnancy are more likely to have postpartum depression after their baby is born.
So although anxiety and depression don’t necessarily occur together, they are closely related — and by learning ways to control your pressure before your new little one arrives, you’ll increase the odds that you’ll be able to enjoy those joyful first few months.
Another reason to explore treatments: Long-term, severe anxiety during pregnancy can affect your baby’s development.
Studies have shown that anxiety or depression during pregnancy can increase the odds of preterm birth and low birth weight and even make it more likely a child will, down the road, have emotional or behavioural challenges.
What Is Anxiety Medication Safe For Pregnancy?
Most drugs that treat anxiety fall into the same class of pharmaceuticals as antidepressants, which means that some can be tricky to prescribe during pregnancy.
Prescribing these types of medications during pregnancy should always include a careful risk-benefit analysis.
Though some anxiety meds are considered relatively safe during pregnancy, you’ll need to work closely with your practitioner to determine which ones are right for you if medications are necessary to ensure your well-being and your baby’s.
Your doctor and a qualified therapist can work with you to decide which drug offers the most benefits for the fewest risks (and how low a dose you can take and still get those benefits).
If you’ve been on medication for panic attacks, anxiety or depression pre-pregnancy, you may need to change or adjust your dose, too.
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Tips To Calm Anxiety While Pregnant
While medication is one solution to anxiety disorders, it certainly isn’t the only one. Going to therapy sessions with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counsellor is usually the first and best way to help pinpoint what’s causing your anxiety and develop a plan to help you ease your worries or learn relaxation techniques.
The following anxiety-alleviating strategies can help too:
Catch more Zzzs. Some research has found that lack of sleep could exacerbate anxiety, so aim for seven to eight hours a night whenever possible.
If lifestyle changes haven’t helped you sleep better or problems persist, talk to your doctor about sleep aids. Some medications during pregnancy, including Unisom, Tylenol PM, Sominex and Nytol, are generally considered okay for occasional use during pregnancy but be sure to check with your OB/GYN or midwife before taking anything.
Eat whole, fresh foods. A growing amount of research has shown that what you eat can significantly affect your mental health.
Eating a well-balanced diet — nutrient-dense, whole and unprocessed foods (including fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, dairy and whole grains) — instead of processed and fast foods are thought to support healthy gut bacteria turn may help lessen anxiety.
Stay active. Something as quick and easy as a 10-minute walk can decrease levels of tension. People who get regular exercise are less likely to develop anxiety or depression.
Arm yourself with knowledge. Learning the ins and outs of pregnancy and parenting can go a long way in helping you feel prepared. So read up and consider taking a childbirth class.
Build a support system. Spend time with experienced parents or friends who are also expecting. You can also join an online community to connect with others who are coping with the same feelings as you are.
Schedule time in your day to relax. Scientists have found that regular meditation and acupuncture have benefits for people with anxiety. Or try yoga, listen to music or get a massage from a professional or even just your partner. Meditation and deep breathing exercises can help, too.
What Are The Effects Of Untreated Anxiety On The Fetus?
When thinking about the management of anxiety, it is essential to consider both the risks of treatment and the harms of untreated stress.
Although less studied than depression, research suggests that anxiety may negatively affect the mother and the fetus. For example, stress increases the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, earlier gestational age, and a smaller head circumference (related to brain size).
What Are Some Treatments For Anxiety During Pregnancy?
Fortunately, many treatments can reduce anxiety during pregnancy and help you feel better.
For many women, anti-anxiety medication is not an option during pregnancy, as there is little information on the safety of such medication on the fetus.
Some women who had previously taken medications for anxiety may wish to discontinue medications during pregnancy for personal reasons.
Therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) demonstrate promise in the peripartum period (shortly before, during, and after giving birth).
CBT focuses on challenging maladaptive thoughts, emotions, and actions, and it uses anxiety management strategies such as diaphragmatic breathing (adapted to pregnancy).
If your anxiety is severe, medications may be an option for you. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after delivery.
It does not appear that SSRIs are associated with an increased risk of major congenital malformations.
However, SSRIs may be associated with transient neonatal symptoms such as jitteriness, tremor, crying, and trouble feeding, which resolve on their own in a few days.
The use of benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan) and alprazolam (Xanax) during pregnancy has long been controversial.
Although older studies showed an association between their use and an increased risk for cleft lip and palate, a more recent study examining benzodiazepine use during pregnancy did not show this link when these medications were used alone (although there may be an increased risk when combined with antidepressants).
What Else Helps Anxiety During Pregnancy?
- Engage in regular physical activity. In general, it is safe to engage in physical activity during pregnancy. However, if you are at risk of preterm labour or pregnancy complications, consult your doctor first.
- Ensure adequate sleep. Whether it’s a calming bedtime routine, pregnancy pillow, or a few nights in a bed away from your snoring partner, now is the time to learn what works for your sleep.
- Practice mindfulness. Research shows that mindfulness may reduce worries about labour, and it may even prevent postpartum depression.
- Journaling. Writing about your worries may help you brainstorm potential solutions, allowing you to reflect on your concerns.
- Schedule worry time. We often worry because we do not want to forget something. Setting aside 30 minutes toward the end of the day provides you with time to worry productively, but it frees you from holding onto your worries the rest of the day (practice reminding yourself, “I’ll get to these thoughts later”).
- Yoga, massage, meditation, and acupuncture. Finding relaxation techniques that work for you may require experimentation, but their benefits will continue even after the baby arrives.
Treatment For Anxiety During Pregnancy
Mild cases of anxiety usually don’t require any specific treatment, though it’s a good idea to mention your feelings to your doctor.
In severe cases, your doctor may recommend medication after weighing the benefits and risks.
Anxiety And Your Baby
Well-meaning friends may have told you that you need to stop worrying because it isn’t good for the baby.
While their sentiment comes from a good place, you may feel like stopping the cycle is easier said than done. Still, research shows that there is an excellent reason to get your anxiety under control.
High levels of anxiety during pregnancy are associated with a risk of developing conditions like preeclampsia, premature birth, and low birth weight.
Talk About It
If you’re feeling very anxious during your pregnancy, it’s important to tell someone. Your partner, a close friend, or a family member may be able to offer support.
Simply sharing your thoughts and feelings may be enough to keep them from taking over your everyday life. You may also ask your doctor to refer you to a trained therapist to help with anxiety. Some therapists specialise in helping pregnant women.
Find A Release
Engaging in activities that help to lower stress and anxiety may be a good option for you. In addition, physical activity helps your body release endorphins.
These act like natural painkillers in your brain. Moving your body is one of the most recommended ways to manage stress.
Effective activities include:
Don’t like to stroll, jog, or strike a pose? Do what you love! Anything that gets your body moving can help.
Aerobic activity for as short as five minutes has been shown to have positive benefits. Always speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine during pregnancy.
Move Your Mind
You can try activities that help your body release endorphins without working up a sweat, including:
- massage therapy
- deep breathing exercises
The American Institute of Stress recommends deep abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes per day to help with anxiety.
Doing so will help provide more oxygen to your brain and stimulate your nervous system.
To try it, get in a comfortable seated position and close your eyes. Then, imagine yourself smiling inwardly and releasing tension in your muscles.
Then visualise that there are holes in your feet. Breathe in and imagine the air circulating through your body. Exhale and repeat.
It’s essential to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Though sleep may seem elusive during pregnancy, prioritising it may help significantly with your anxiety symptoms.
Do you wake up often at night? Try sneaking in a nap whenever you feel the urge.
Write About It
Sometimes you may not feel like talking. All those thoughts need someplace to go. Try starting a journal where you can let out your feelings without fear of judgment.
You may find that writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you organise or prioritise your worries. You can track different triggers to share with your doctor, too.
Tokophobia is the fear of childbirth. If your anxiety is tied to the delivery itself, consider signing up for a birth class.
Learning about the different stages of labour, what your body does, and what to expect at each turn may help demystify the process.
These classes often offer suggestions for dealing with pain. They’ll also allow you to chat with other mothers who may be worried about similar things.
Ask Your Doctor
If your anxiety is affecting your daily life or you have frequent panic attacks, call your doctor. The sooner you get help, the better. Beyond referral to a therapist, there may be medications you can take to ease your most severe symptoms. You should never feel embarrassed about sharing your thoughts and feelings, mainly if they concern you.
Don’t feel like you’re getting enough support? You can always explore changing providers.
If you’re dealing with anxiety during pregnancy, there are several ways that we can help. We offer medications to treat your symptoms and cognitive behavioural therapy for pregnant women who want an alternative option without medicine.
There is also plenty of information on the internet or in books about how to calm your anxious feelings while pregnant.
You may find it helpful to read some parenting blogs written by moms who have been through what you’re going through now; they often share tips like these which work well when trying to control any anxiety disorder.
No matter what treatment plan works best for you, our nurses will be here every step of the way as we walk this journey together!
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