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Anxiety in Pregnancy

By Kami Mogensen, RNC, BSN

Anxiety in Pregnancy

Are your emotions, fears or concerns causing you stress or worry in your pregnancy?

Having a baby is an emotional journey and expectant and new moms experience a range of emotions from uncertainty to anxiety and depression. Sometimes, in pregnancy, anxiety can increase from general feelings of uncertainty and worry to a true disorder, including an anxiety disorder.

Common things you may worry about include the health of your baby, how you will labor and birth your baby, whether you’ll be a good mom, and if you will struggle with breastfeeding or parenting. Most women worry about these things, and these are normal concerns. But these worries shouldn’t become overwhelming or be constantly in your thoughts.

When Worrying Becomes Anxiety

If you begin to experience excessive feelings of dread, sweating, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, restlessness or irritability, let your healthcare provider know. Sure, some of these are symptoms in pregnancy but they should not be regularly occurring.

If these symptoms become regular and begin to interfere with your pregnancy, tell your healthcare provider as you may have a complication emerging, including developing anxiety. Between 6%-15% of pregnant women will experience anxiety at some point in pregnancy.

 

Identifying Anxiety in Pregnancy

Anxiety takes on many forms: nausea (especially after the 1st trimester), excessive worry, panic attacks, obsessions or compulsions, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all forms of anxiety. Moms can experience different levels of anxiety in pregnancy and postpartum. You can manage mild anxiety with coping strategies like breathing, relaxation or meditation. When anxiety becomes more severe, you’ll need your healthcare provider’s help to find the best solution for you and your baby.

Remember that having a baby is both a happy and stressful time and anxiety in pregnancy can be managed with the right tools and resources. Reach out; help is out there and you are not alone.

 

Could it be Anxiety?

Here’s what different forms of anxiety can look like; these descriptions aren’t all possibilities. If you sense something just isn’t right, always call your nurse to talk through your concerns, and gain a plan and much-needed reassurance:

 

Excess worryThis isn’t doing and redoing task lists, this is the kind of worry that keeps you up at night, leaves you exhausted even after you’ve slept, and even causes physical pain in your back or neck
Panic attackYou may have a feeling that something bad is about to happen; that you might lose control. Your body responds with a typical stress response—your heart may race or beat faster, you may breathe faster and more shallow, feel sweaty and shake, you may even feel like you’re going to vomit
Obsessions, compulsionsThis is more than an increased focus on your baby, your house or your nursery. This is focus so intense it gets in the way of everyday life. Some pregnant moms develop obsessions over eating or not eating the right things or organizing the house and baby’s room before birth, even compulsively shopping for baby items out of concern instead of pleasure. You may even have fears of harming your baby or yourself
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)If you struggled to get pregnant, have had a miscarriage or a previous pregnancy loss, you may find yourself obsessing over what happened. You may skip prenatal appointments out of fear for bad news or you may avoid sharing the news with others so that you don’t have to talk about your pregnancy. You may feel physically sick, sweaty and experience a rapid heart rate

 

Refocus from Anxious Behaviors & Feelings

It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, and even when you don’t have a serious case of anxiety it’s healthy to reframe your thinking and reel in the physical symptoms you’re experiencing. Reduce those feelings and stress by relaxing your mind and body. When you find something that helps you relax and refocus, stick with it—all that matters is that it is healthy and that it works for you. Consider:

  • Deep breathing: Close your eyes and breathe in/out your nose, counting for 4 seconds inhaling, and then counting 4 second exhaling; strive for at least 10 repetitions
  • Prayer/meditation: Chose a quiet location and simply sit with your eyes closed, relaxed, for at least 10 minutes a day. It may help to pray or repeat a phrase or saying that’s meaningful to you, such as “I am healthy. My baby is healthy. We are at peace.”
  • Relaxation: Yoga, walking or simply laying down and tightening and releasing your muscles, starting at the face and moving toward your toes can help you refocus and relax
  • Journaling: Keep track of your emotions in a journal and note when you’re feeling anxious or having symptoms that seem like anxiety. Rate your anxiety on a scale of 0-5, with 5 being the most anxious—do you see a pattern in the time of day, location or circumstances you can share with your healthcare provider
  • Counselling/Group support: A mom’s group is a great place to get insight and advice from other pregnant women; if you need more than a listening ear, consider seeing a counselor or psychologist

 

Anxiety Risks

You’re most at risk for experiencing anxiety in pregnancy if you have:

  • History of anxiety or depression
  • A current or previous high-risk pregnancy
  • Previous miscarriage or death of a baby
  • Previous traumatic birth experience
  • Problems with your partner
  • Financial or another major stressor

 

Further reading: The Beautiful {Pregnant} Body Project

Kami Mogensen, BSN, RNC, is a labor and delivery nurse at Exempla Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, CO.


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