It’s normal to experience some anxiety during pregnancy.
Pregnancy isn’t necessarily an easy and happy time for all women. The expectant mother undergoes significant physical transformations that affect her life in many ways. It’s only normal to experience some anxiety during pregnancy.
A stressful time
Pregnancy is a time of change and upheaval that can lead to many questions and concerns. The many hormonal changes also sometimes increase emotional difficulties, causing some women to become more anxious.
Furthermore, even when a pregnancy is desired and planned, the expectant mother is likely to worry about the big responsibilities and changes that lie ahead. During pregnancy, many women reflect on their own childhood and their relationship with their parents, especially their mother. These thoughts can be a source of anxiety. Pregnancy is therefore an opportunity to come to terms with the past, but also to grow and prepare for motherhood.
According to several studies, a high proportion of first-time pregnant women report experiencing some fear during pregnancy. In fact, health concerns are much more common among pregnant women than in the general population. Sources of concern vary depending on the trimester. For instance, in the first trimester, the fear of losing the baby is more common, whereas in the third trimester, the fear of childbirth increases.
Although some women believe that their fears are not justified, others believe that they have reason to worry. Some go so far as to say that their fears are sometimes positive. A certain level of anxiety can be beneficial, as it encourages the expectant mother to avoid behaviours that put the baby at risk. Anxiety also signals an increased sense of responsibility, which can help the expectant mother plan for the child’s arrival.
Ultimately, the goal is not to completely eliminate anxiety during pregnancy, but to learn how to manage it to avoid any negative effects and prevent the development of anxiety disorders.
Pregnancy in times of crisis
In times of crisis, such as during the COVID19 pandemic, pregnancy-related anxiety may increase. In emergency situations, people tend to experience feelings of threat, uncertainty, and lack of control—all of which lead to stress.
You can, however, learn to cope with these fears. To learn more about stress management in times of crisis, read COVID-19: Managing your stress level while you are pregnant
Common fears during pregnancy
Many things can cause anxiety in expectant mothers. Here are some of the most common.
- Fear of losing the baby or that the baby won’t be healthy
This is one of the most common fears. Some women worry that the pregnancy isn’t going well or that they’ve done something that could harm their baby’s health. If the expectant mother has had a miscarriage, given birth prematurely, or experienced fertility problems, she may also be worried that her body won’t be able to carry the pregnancy to term. In addition, waiting for the results of medical tests performed during pregnancy can make some expectant mothers more nervous.
Figuring out the source of your fears will help reduce anxiety. It’s also important to keep in mind that the vast majority of pregnancies end with the birth of a healthy baby. To reduce anxiety, expectant mothers can try relaxation exercises or do activities they enjoy to relieve stress. It’s important to focus your energy on what you can control and let go of the rest.
- Fear of not getting your pre-baby body back
Some women may have concerns about their physical appearance. They worry that they won’t be attractive anymore, that they’ll gain too much weight, or that they’ll lose their pre-pregnancy figure. Pregnancy is primarily a physical experience, and the fear of losing control over all these rapid body changes is very unsettling for many women. It’s important to be kind to yourself and accept that your body will need some time to recover. Healthy eating habits and physical activity can help.
- Fear of giving birth
All pregnant women get a little anxious as their due date approaches. About 20 percent of women admit that they’re afraid of giving birth, and 6 to 10 percent have a childbirth phobia. During a first pregnancy, it’s often the fear of the unknown and of losing control that makes women anxious. Some women would even prefer to have a caesarean section because they feel it would give them more control over the birth. For a second pregnancy, fear sometimes stems from a bad experience the first time they gave birth. However, even if everything went well the first time, there are still some elements of the unknown during a second or third delivery that can make some women anxious.
In general, women who fear childbirth are afraid of the labour pain and worry they won’t be able to handle it adequately. They also fear losing control of their emotions. Fear can also be amplified by negative stories of childbirth they’ve heard from friends or family members, or by dramatic representations seen on television.
To better manage the fear of giving birth, it can be beneficial to learn about the birth process and get answers to your questions by talking to your doctor or midwife. It’s a good opportunity to talk about your fears with someone you trust. Prenatal classes are also a good way to get informed. Doing visualization exercises and talking with mothers who’ve had a positive experience can also help reduce the fear of giving birth. Lastly, women who fear childbirth should keep in mind that there are no right or wrong ways to have a child; no matter what, they’ll do their best.
- Fear of not being a good mother
Many parents worry that they won’t be able to care for their child or love them enough. They can, however, take comfort in knowing that the parent-child relationship will gradually develop as they spend time with their little one. In addition, the mother has already developed a special bond with her baby during the nine months of pregnancy.
Some expectant mothers may be afraid of becoming overwhelmed by their new role as a mother. It’s normal to feel this way from time to time. If you’re having these concerns, consider having support during the first few weeks with your baby. Learning about breastfeeding and infant care during your pregnancy can also help you feel more confident when the baby arrives.
When should you speak with an expert?
While it’s normal to feel some anxiety during pregnancy, it’s important to seek help if your anxiety is causing you distress or preventing you from functioning. You may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders affect 5 to 15 percent of pregnant women.
Anxiety during pregnancy has been associated with depression symptoms after childbirth, which is why it’s so important to seek help. In fact, anxiety symptoms often coexist with depression symptoms. Research has shown that about 18 percent of pregnant women experience mild depression during pregnancy, and 7 to 12 percent of women may experience moderate to severe depression. Don’t wait until you’re in severe distress before seeing a doctor. Early intervention makes it easier to solve the problem quickly and reduce the risk of complications.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, discuss them with your doctor:
A feeling of loss of control and panic
Unpredictable, spontaneous crying spells
Sadness, melancholy, exhausting anger, or general despair and irritability
Difficulty staying focused and restlessness
A feeling of inadequacy as a mother-to-be and a tendency to put yourself down
Excessive and intrusive worries about the baby’s health or your own health
Anxiety medication: Is it safe to take during pregnancy?
Some expectant mothers are worried about the side effects of taking anxiety medication while pregnant. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are types of anxiety medication that have little or no effect on the fetus starting in the second trimester. Keep in mind that not treating anxiety during pregnancy can also have negative consequences for both the mother and baby. Talk to your prenatal care provider to determine what’s best for your situation.
Things to keep in mind
It’s normal to feel some anxiety during pregnancy.
The most common fears relate to childbirth, the baby’s health, and the ability to take good care of the baby.
If your anxiety is causing you significant distress or preventing you from functioning, see a doctor.
Scientific review: Nicole Reeves, psychologist, CHUM Birthing Centre
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: May 2020
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