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Anxiety and pregnancy

6-minute read

If you are extremely distressed or having suicidal thoughts call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for immediate support.

Key facts

  • Anxiety during pregnancy is also known as antenatal anxiety. Antenatal anxiety is common, and it can affect either parent.
  • If you have antenatal anxiety, you may feel very anxious about your baby’s welfare, and seek frequent reassurance that they are healthy and developing normally.
  • Seeking professional help early, when you first notice symptoms, will allow you to get the support you need before your baby arrives.
  • If you suffer from anxiety there is support available. Ask your GP, midwife or child healthcare nurse for advice, or call one of the support services listed below.

What is antenatal anxiety?

It’s natural to feel a little anxious when you’re pregnant, but for some people, anxiety can become a real problem. If you suffer from anxiety there is support available, so it’s a good idea to know the signs.

Anxiety during pregnancy is also known as antenatal anxiety. Antenatal anxiety can affect either or both parents.

Anxiety is more than feeling worried in a specific situation. It occurs when feelings of worry and stress come on for no particular reason, keep coming back and can’t be controlled easily. If left untreated, anxiety can have a major impact on your wellbeing.

Anxiety is a common mental health problem in Australia. It is even more common during pregnancy. Despite this, many people assume that their symptoms are a normal part of pregnancy and don’t seek help.

If you have antenatal anxiety, you may experience symptoms of any of these conditions:

  • In generalised anxiety, a person feels anxious on most days.
  • In panic disorder, a person has panic attacks. These involve attacks of overwhelming anxiety, that may include physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness.
  • Agoraphobia refers to an intense fear of open or public spaces.
  • In obsessive-compulsive disorder, a person feels an intense need to carry out certain behaviours or rituals.
  • In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a person’s anxiety relates to a past traumatic event. The person may have bad dreams, vivid flashbacks and find it hard to relax.
  • In social phobia, a person may feel intensely worried about being criticised or humiliated in public.

If you had anxiety in the past, you have a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder during pregnancy. If you already have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek treatment early in your pregnancy, so that you and your baby receive the right support.

How do I know if I have antenatal anxiety?

You might have antenatal anxiety if you are expecting a baby and you:

  • feel worried, stressed or on edge most of the time
  • have fears that take over your thinking
  • have panic attacks
  • have tense muscles when you are doing daily tasks
  • have trouble sleeping because of your thoughts or feelings

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

If you have antenatal anxiety, you may feel very anxious about your baby’s welfare, and seek frequent reassurance that they are healthy and developing normally.

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

Many people with antenatal anxiety may also have antenatal depression.

If you have antenatal depression, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • low mood
  • feeling hopeless
  • finding it difficult to concentrate
  • difficulty sleeping or eating normally
  • losing interest in activities you previously enjoyed

How is antenatal anxiety diagnosed?

If you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor, midwife or child health care nurse. They may ask about your feelings, give you a questionnaire to complete and ask to speak to your partner, if you have one. They may also do a physical examination.

Try to answer as honestly as you can — this will make it easier for your doctor or nurse to give you the treatment and support you need. Remember, postnatal anxiety and depression are extremely common. There’s no need to feel ashamed.

How is antenatal anxiety treated?

If your anxiety is mild, it may be enough for you to get more support from your doctor or child healthcare nurse.

More severe anxiety may need treatment with psychological therapies and, sometimes, medicines. Your doctor will discuss what this means for your baby and whether the medicine will affect breastfeeding.

Having antenatal anxiety can affect your ability to enjoy the pregnancy and prepare for parenthood. Seeking professional help when you first notice symptoms will allow you to get the support you need before your baby arrives.

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

Where can I go for advice and support?

If you are extremely distressed or having suicidal thoughts call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for immediate 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: May 2023

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