Having a baby is a big life event and it’s completely natural to feel a bit anxious when you’re pregnant. However, if feeling anxious is starting to impact your life, you might be experiencing a mental health problem and you may need help.
To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week we take a look at the symptoms and treatments for perinatal anxiety in the article below.
Anxiety in pregnancy, also known as perinatal anxiety, affects 13% of women. So, don’t feel distressed or guilty about feeling anxious or panicked, when everyone around you expects you to be upbeat and happy all of the time. Anxiety is a treatable mental health condition and not a sign of weakness. It’s not always something that will go away without help though so don’t keep waiting for the day you just “snap out of it”.
How to spot perinatal anxiety
- Feeling anxious for all, or at least most, of the time and being unable to control it
- Feeling a sense of dread
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling worried (about your health or commonly about the health of your baby)
- Feeling unable to concentrate or focus on anything at all
- Feeling unable to sleep
- Feeling on edge all the time
Some people with perinatal anxiety also suffer from panic attacks. Keep an eye out for the symptoms below:
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
- A feeling of dread or fear of dying
- Shortness of breath
- Shaky limbs or churning tummy
- Feeling faint
Try to stay calm during these attacks – they can last up to 20 minutes, but they’re not usually harmful.
Antenatal depression can come hand in hand with anxiety for some mums-to-be and affects 12% of pregnant women. Again you mustn’t feel guilty or overwhelmed by this – it’s important that you know you’re not alone and that antenatal depression is a mental health condition which can be treated with professional help.
If you are overwhelmed with feelings of sadness for a period of more than two weeks you may have antenatal depression. Trust your instinct – if you’re feeling low most of the time, feel agitated, irritable, tearful, finding you can’t be bothered with, or enjoy anything, or you’re having thoughts about harming yourself or committing suicide, then it’s important to speak to your doctor or midwife.
Will pregnancy anxiety affect your baby?
It is very unlikely that your anxiety will affect your baby, especially if you get the right help and support.
Treatment for anxiety in pregnancy
Perinatal anxiety usually gets better in time, but your doctor or midwife will be able to help you get on top of this more quickly by finding the right treatment for your level of anxiety. Generally, perinatal anxiety and panic attacks are treated by professionals who help you use talking treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or relaxation therapy. In some cases, professionals will recommend anti-depressants, but you’ll be able to talk this through with your doctor or midwife in more detail.
Helping yourself to cope with anxiety
Alongside talking to your midwife or doctor you can try to help some self-help strategies to get you through this difficult time. Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling – you’ll be surprised by how much this can help. Try exercising regularly and learning some simple relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or yoga.
Eat well, avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol. Try keeping a mood diary to help you work out which activities, places or people make you feel better or worse. And be kind to yourself – just like you would treat a good friend, don't put too much pressure on yourself.
Just remember that one in five pregnant women will suffer some sort of perinatal mental illness – so you’re not alone. If you have any recommendations on coping with perinatal anxiety please share them below.
For more information on mental health in pregnancy, we recommend you go to the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/mental-health-problems-pregnant/