Is It Normal To Suffer From Anxiety During Pregnancy?
Being pregnant is a life changer. It’s possibly the biggest journey we’ll ever embark upon.
It’s only natural that we feel scared or anxious sometimes. The hormone changes through pregnancy can also play havoc with our emotions, making us more vulnerable to anxiety.
Being pregnant brings on new worries like:
Are my pregnancy symptoms normal?
What do they mean?
How is my baby developing?
Is my relationship with my partner OK?
Will we be OK financially?
What will happen during birth?
Will we both be alright?
These types of worries are common and most people experience them. They usually resolve themselves as the pregnancy develops and none of the worries come to fruition.
However, it is a good idea to discuss any concerns we have with our support team, partner or doctor because it can help minimize anxiety and prevent it from getting worse.
RELATED: How To Treat Anxiety Self Help Tips
What Happens When The Anxiety Gets Out Of Control?
Anxiety in pregnancy only becomes a problem when we feel anxious all the time or we get sudden intense bursts of anxiety, which lead to panic attacks.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Vicky described her experience:
I have been suffering from anxiety on/off throughout this pregnancy. Sometimes just tearful but sometimes really distraught. I am now 35 weeks and as I get closer I am really worried I could have harmed the baby in some way by worrying so much because I suffered horrible anxiety and I'm worried all the time!!! I feel like my baby is going to come out harmed because of my stress. Cortisol releases and apparently causes issues. I remember my husband finding me bawling and he asked what was wrong, I responded with ‘I don't know’ and bawled some more. I couldn’t stop!
Vicky’s experience is common and could be described as Generalized Anxiety Disorder that can really affect the experience of your pregnancy. The anxiety may be about pregnancy symptoms or surrounding practical problems as outlined above.
It’s like the hum of the refrigerator, niggling away in the background, feeling like an unknown risk or an uncontrollable fear.
Then there’s a very specific anxiety disorder called tokophobia.
Tokophobia: The Fear Of Childbirth
Tokophobia literally means a phobia of childbirth and for some women this also includes a dislike or disgust of the pregnancy.
Tokophobia is split into two types: primary and secondary.
Primary tokophobia occurs in women who have not given birth before. For these women, a fear of birth tends to come from traumatic experiences in their past or can also be linked to listening to stories that portray birth as dangerous.
Secondary tokophobia sufferers tend to have had a previous traumatic birth experience that has left them with a fear of giving birth again.
One woman’s experience of suffering from tokophobia is Patricia, 36:
Looking at the result of the pregnancy test id just taken, I was overwhelmed by a sudden, random and inexplicable sense of dread that was so powerful I struggled to breathe. I had no idea why I wasn't reacting the way I always imagined I would – happy and excited. All I knew was that I felt panicky and out of control and that I couldn't possibly go through with the pregnancy. It sounds crazy but that split-second switch in my emotions was so physical I started to shake.
It made no logical sense whatsoever. David and I had talked about starting a family so many times over the two years we'd been together, and we'd started trying to conceive as soon as we'd married nine months earlier. We were deeply in love and I knew he'd be a wonderful father. So why, instead of dialing his number, was I stuffing the positive test deep into a drawer and vowing not to tell him? And why was I consumed by the idea of having an abortion behind his back?
For a week, I kept my pregnancy secret to myself. I was a mess, barely functioning at work and crying myself to sleep every night. David knew something was very wrong, but I pushed him away. I spent the week desperately trying to make sense of my own feelings. I trawled the internet, reading about pre-natal depression and wondering if that was the problem.
Pat was suffering from primary tokophobia but you’ll be glad to know that she produced a healthy baby boy.
Does Anxiety Affect My Growing Baby?
Science[i] has shown there is a risk that chronic anxiety may have an effect on your developing baby.
The more anxiety you suffer from in early pregnancy, the higher the chances are of early labour.
The brain releases several hormones during times of stress, including one called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH is a hormone secreted in the brain as a reaction to stress. It's also produced in the placenta and uterus.
The research shows women who deliver premature babies or have low weight babies were often found to have high levels of CRH in their bloodstream, and other studies show a greater risk of miscarriage in women reporting stress. Thankfully this research means that more women are able to be alerted to the risks and take preventative measures.
I know about this because I suffered high levels of anxiety throughout my pregnancies and both times I gave birth prematurely: 31 and 35 weeks.
Thankfully both sons recovered well and have grown into strong men. But, looking back, I wish I’d done more to reduce my anxiety at that time.
How To Tell If You're Anxious
It can be very subtle and can creep up on us without our being aware of it.
Other times, we know that something isn’t quite right. We might simply feel unwell.
Generally if we’re feeling sad and anxious more than we’re feeling happy then we should seek help.
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
Heart Palpitations or accelerated heart rate
Shortness of breath
Feelings of smothering
Nausea or stomach distress
Change of temperature sensations
Numbness or tingling sensations
Feeling detached from the body
Fear of going crazy
Fear of dying or the baby dying
The physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks can make us think we’re having a serious physical problem or that we’re having a heart attack, which can make us even more anxious.
How To Help Anxiety While Pregnant? Here's two brilliant ways to tackle anxiety through pregnancy: 1. stop reading horror stories and 2. take up mindfulness meditation.
Stop Reading Horror Stories
When we’re anxious through a pregnancy, it’s a really positive step to significantly limit or avoid watching the news or reading frightening news stories about pregnancies that have gone wrong. Filling our minds with negative images will make our anxiety skyrocket.
Most women have a ‘pregnancy war story’ to tell. But it’s important to remember that most pregnancies and births are fine. Don’t get caught up in other people’s drama.
We especially want to avoid watching the news just before bed. It’s much better for our mental health and better sleep if we stay more relaxed by making a point to spend the last 30 minutes before we go to bed doing something relaxing, like taking a bath or listening to soft music.
Don’t do the “What If’s??”
Anxiety makes our brain go round and round like a washing machine on spin. If we’re pregnant, these easily turn into millions of “what if’s”:
What if something goes wrong during labor?
What if my baby is premature?
What if I’m a terrible mother?
What if my baby is born with a birth defect?
And so on.
These thoughts of “what if” are torture and serve no purpose and they open the door to all sorts of unnecessary worry and fear.
The best course of action is to refute these thoughts with someone else’s help. By talkingto someone it can help put our fears in perspective.
Then we can think through a measured response to these thoughts.
The anxious thought: What if my baby is born with a birth defect?”
The measured response: the chances are highly unlikely. Less than 4% of babies will have any form of birth defect and most of those problems won't be life threatening.
If we have many of the same “what if’s” over and over, write them down and then refute each one on paper assuring ourselves just as we would do to a close friend.
The vast majority of “what if's” never happen and if it does, we’ll be able to handle it and we will handle it when the time comes.
Additionally, if we talk to someone we trust about our anxious thoughts, this will help put our fears in perspective.
RELATED: WHY AM I ANXIOUS?
Take Up Mindfulness Meditation
If you’ve never practiced meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, now is the time to start.
It’s a profound and scientifically backed way of transforming your everyday life and will have a profound impact on your pregnancy.
Mindful meditation has the power to pierce through anxious thoughts instantly and carry us back to what really brings us joy, appreciating the present moment.
There is a whole raft of research backing up the claims that mindfulness meditation can seriously dent anxiety but these findings are totally useless unless we actually feel the difference.
The bottom line is that when we’re anxious we’re fixated on trying to change our feelings so we can escape the horribleness of the anxiety.
However, the fastest way to beat anxiety is to accept the anxious feelings because this takes their negative power away.
Mindfulness meditation helps us do that.
**Interestingly, science[ii] shows how meditation also has a positive affect on the health of the baby**
How often should I meditate?
I recommended you practice two meditations each day: morning and evening.
What if I can’t?
The meditations are there to give you the time to be . . . well, you.
Can you make the time to be yourself? It’s hard to find the time to be you because you may be too busy trying not to be you! This is why you have to make the space available.
Where should I meditate?
It’s important to feel comfortable, safe and undisturbed. Make a space to meditate where you won’t be interrupted so you can relax.
You can lie down or sit down it’s up to you. You can close your eyes or keep them open whatever feels more comfortable.
The idea is to be awake, but if you fall asleep, that’s not a problem; it tells you is that you have a sleep debt. Once you wake up, if you have time, return to the meditation.
A note on thoughts whilst meditating
One thing to note is that our minds want to travel. They love to be active and will play a huge part in this meditation. This is normal and the key is not to fight the mind.
If you find thoughts are dominating you, try to be kind to yourself and not criticize yourself. No one starts meditating with a still mind. Everyone experiences lots of thoughts. Sometimes the thoughts are completely manic. This is normal.
Mindfulness meditation for anxiety through pregnancy
This meditation is to help manage anxiety through pregnancy. It’s designed to last about ten minutes. It can be read through and followed from the text but it’s best to use your own voice as a guide.
Record it into device. Remember that the dots equal a pause.
Mindful Meditation For Pregnancy Script:
Close your eyes and take a large breath in and slowly let it out . . . . breathe in again and slowly let it out . . . . out which will instantly decrease stress levels.
Now bring your awareness to your body . . . . and get a sense of where your body is lying or sitting on the bed or chair. Allow yourself to explore the places where physical contact is made with your body. Feel a connection to the solid structures that you are sitting or lying on . . . . And now focus your attention on your feet as if two pairs of hands are touching your feet on either side. Feel the sensations and the warmth on your feet while these invisible hands are caressing them . . . . Feel every part of your feet as the warmth from the hands caresses your soles and your toes and the tops of your feet and the heels and ankles . . . . Now bring your attention up to your calves and become aware of the hands caressing each calf . . . . Now bring your awareness to the shins and feel the hands caressing these parts of your legs . . . . Now bring your attention to your knees and thighs and imagine the two pairs of hands holding the tops of your legs and feel the warmth flooding through this part of your body . . . . And bring your awareness now to your abdomen and feel the hands being placed on either side of your abdomen and feel the warmth flooding through you . . . . And now bring your attention to your chest area and feel the two pairs of hands holding your chest area one in the front and one in the back and become aware of the physical sensations in your chest and around it as the warmth travels through your body . . . . And now feel the sensations as hands move up to your shoulders and you feel a pair of hands warming each shoulder . . . . And now feel the sensation of the hands going down your left arm all the way to the fingertips. . . .And now the hands are moving down your right arm warming it up as they move down to the fingertips . . . . And now feel the physical sensation of both sets of hands moving from your neck up to the top of your head and encasing the whole of your head with warmth as they caress it. Now bring your attention to your breath . . . . And notice the pattern of your breath as it moves in and down into the abdomen and up and out through the nose . . . . Just be aware of the physical sensations that take place while you become aware of your breath . . . . As you stay with your breath your mind may wander on a thought but just let the thought disappear like a cloud moving along the sky . . . . And gently bring your attention back to your breath and become aware of your breath going into the abdomen and out through your nose. . . .Observe each breath at a time. . . .You can notice that right in this moment you can accept the way it is. . . .And as thoughts return be kind to them and let them go and bring your attention back to your breath . . . . Knowing that right at this moment everything is the way it’s meant to be . . . . Your body, your breath, your thoughts are all as they are meant to be . . . . And allow yourself to accept this moment and to surrender to this moment . . . . Allowing the breath to be just as it is.
Following this meditation twice a day for one week will begin your recovery from anxiety.
The results will be extraordinary.
Please remember I am not a doctor. Please do not use this in place of medical advice. Always see your doctor if you have any signs of anxiety.