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Anxiety and pregnancy

5-minute read

It’s normal to feel a little worried and stressed when you’re pregnant, but for some people anxiety can become a real problem and they will need professional help. Antenatal (during pregnancy) anxiety is common — and it can affect men too. There is plenty of support available, so it’s helpful to keep an eye out for the signs.

What is antenatal anxiety?

Anxiety is more than feeling anxious about a specific situation; it occurs when feelings of being anxious and stressed don’t go away, can’t be controlled easily, and come on without any particular reason. Excessive worry and the stress of anxiety can start to have a serious impact on your life.

Anxiety is one of the most common types of mental health problem in Australia, and your chances of developing it are greater when you’re pregnant. However, it’s often missed and the symptoms are put down to hormones, being over-organised, or as just a normal part of being pregnant.

Antenatal anxiety might involve you developing one or more of the following conditions during pregnancy, or your symptoms might get worse while you’re pregnant:

  • generalised anxiety (you feel anxious most days)
  • panic disorder (you have panic attacks, when you feel overwhelmingly anxious and have physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness)
  • agoraphobia (a fear of open or public spaces)
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (you are compelled to carry out certain behaviours or rituals)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (your anxiety is related to a past traumatic event, and you have bad dreams, flashbacks and find it hard to relax)
  • social phobia (you’re worried about being criticised or humiliated in public)

If you already have an anxiety disorder or you are someone who worries a lot, you may be at greater risk of developing anxiety during pregnancy. If you already have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek treatment early on in the pregnancy to make sure you and your baby receive the right care.

How do I know whether I have antenatal anxiety?

You may have antenatal anxiety if you:

  • feel worried, stressed or on edge most of the time
  • have recurring thoughts that won’t go away
  • have panic attacks
  • have muscles that are tense
  • find it hard to stay calm
  • are having trouble sleeping

These symptoms can develop gradually, or you may experience them suddenly and intensely. They can get worse over time if they’re not treated.

Anxiety is when feelings of being anxious and stressed don't go away, can't be controlled easily, and happen for no particular reason.

What’s the difference between antenatal anxiety and antenatal depression?

Up to half of people with antenatal anxiety also have antenatal depression.

Antenatal depression involves feeling low, numb and hopeless, losing confidence, being emotional or angry, not being able to sleep or eat properly, losing concentration and not being interested in people or activities they normally like.

There are safe ways to treat both anxiety and depression at the same time during pregnancy.

How is antenatal anxiety treated?

Anxiety is treated with psychological therapies such as relaxation training, cognitive behavioural therapy or using mindfulness. You might also be encouraged to modify your lifestyle to reduce stress, exercise more and eat healthily.

In more severe cases, your doctor might prescribe medication. They will discuss with you what medicines are safe to take during pregnancy.

Remember, anxiety during pregnancy is common — it’s nothing to be ashamed of — but without treatment, it can get worse. You should talk to your doctor or midwife to get on top if it as soon as you can.

Where can I go for advice and support?

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2019

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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