From that very first moment you think you might be pregnant, to seeing a positive pregnancy test, you will find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster.
Yet for many mums to be the excitement of finding out that they are pregnant can quickly be replaced with other emotions, and worries are high on the list of things that might fill your every waking moment once the reality of finding out you are pregnant sets in.
You are certainly not alone in this. Whether your pregnancy was planned or not, a first baby or even a pregnancy after loss, there are so many thoughts that you will have about what you need to do to prepare for the arrival of your baby. You'll also likely think about how your life will change and how you will cope with the reduced income of being on maternity leave.
Why are you anxious?
If you have suffered a pregnancy loss, whether a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy or something else you may also have anxieties about the health of your baby and your own health. This anxiety can happen to absolutely anyone. It doesn't matter whether you have a history of anxiety or not.
If you are worried about anxiety in your pregnancy, then it is vital to seek the advice of a medical professional. They will help you to work out if this is simple anxiety caused by your pregnancy and the type of worries that are easy to solve or if it something more serious that might require some kind of medication.
Please do not be afraid to speak to your GP or midwife if you are struggling. There is no shame in being anxious, and they will have seen many women with similar symptoms before.
Anxiety in Pregnancy
You might be wondering is anxiety common during pregnancy? Anxiety in pregnancy is not uncommon. In fact, it is estimated that around 18% of women experience pregnancy anxiety in the first trimester.
This figure can reach as high as 25% by the third trimester. Hormones are one of the main reasons that you can suffer from anxiety in pregnancy.
During the first few months of your pregnancy, your emotions can be all over the place as your hormones levels change drastically, fortunately as the pregnancy progresses these hormone levels tend to settle down a little causing the anxiety to subside.
The anxiety that you feel may also be as a result of concerns that you might have over things like your career, money, the effect having a child may have on your marriage or even on the life of your other children.
This is more likely to be the case if the pregnancy was unplanned, and you hadn't already had time to consider all of these factors.
While it is true that anyone can suffer from anxiety during their pregnancy if there is a history of anxiety or depression in your family, then you are more at risk. If you have suffered from anxiety in a previous pregnancy or previously been diagnosed with antenatal depression or post-natal depression, then you may be more anxious about this pregnancy and whether your AND or PND will return.
The main symptom of anxiety during pregnancy is the idea of getting caught up in thoughts of a fearful nature. Perhaps you are having moments when you panic and feel like you are struggling to breathe?
Are worrying that you are going “mad”? or are simply filled with a feeling of overwhelming dread? If you are having problems concentrating, with disturbed sleep, are irritable or more agitated than usual or are struggling with tense muscles, then it is important to speak to someone.
If you don't feel ready to talk to your doctor or midwife, then speak to your partner or a loved one. However, it really is something you should discuss with a medical professional as they are best placed to help you deal with the issues you are having.
Your anxiety may simply be as a result of other issues such as your job or financial concerns over how maternity pay will affect you.
Or, you may simply be worrying about how you will be able to afford all the new things you will need for the baby. In this instance, talking over your concerns with someone will help you to deal with them.
And, hopefully, you will find a solution that works for you which will get rid of the anxiety and allow you to get on with the rest of your pregnancy,
If however the anxiety is a result of more than this and is driven by your hormones, then there is a possibility that talking alone will not help you to feel better, and you may need medication.
Anxiety and Pregnancy
One of the first things that your doctor will do if you believe that you are struggling with anxiety and pregnancy is to talk you through a couple of things. It is crucial for them to develop a full picture of your circumstances so that they can decide if medication is the best option for you.
This is because it is perfectly normal to feel some level of anxiety during pregnancy and not all pregnancy anxiety is actually as a result of the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.
Once they have a picture of what it is that is causing your anxiety, they will give you advice, and if they think it might be beneficial, medication to help you.
Anti-Anxiety Meds and Pregnancy
One question that you might be asking is - can I take anti-anxiety meds in pregnancy? The simple answer is that yes you can, but you should never take any medication without first discussing it with your doctor or midwife.
They will be able to prescribe the most appropriate medication for your requirements and also explore any other options that might be available to you.
Whilst you are pregnant, and afterwards, when you are looking after a newborn, it is very important that you can look after yourself and the baby properly. If not taking some form of anti-anxiety medication means that you would be unwell or unable to cope then your GP may decide that this is the best option for you.
They will weigh up the balance of the possible risks of medication compared to not taking medication and give you all the necessary information so that you can come to the best decision for you.
Many women find this a difficult decision to make on their own, and you may feel the need for extra support from your partner at this time.
As with any medication, there are always some associated risks, and it is important to take these into consideration. Anti-anxiety meds carry the most risks when taken during the first trimester and last few weeks of your pregnancy.
- Birth defects – there is some possibility of birth defects occurring when SSRI’s are taken early in pregnancy, these include cleft lip, spina bifida and heart development defects
- Increased risk of premature birth or miscarriage
- Unknown risks – drugs are not clinically tested on pregnant women, and any new drugs carry some unknown risks that drugs that have been around are already known for this is because researchers have had the time to collect data regarding the older medications.
- Withdrawn symptoms for your baby – when you take antidepressants late in your pregnancy, whether these are SSRIs, tricyclics or SNRIs, there is a risk you baby may suffer withdrawal symptoms including
- Fast heartbeat, restlessness, muscle spasms, fever and fits, sleeplessness and poor muscle tone with tricyclics
- Poor muscle tone, inability to cry loudly, breathing difficulties, jitteriness, low blood sugar (which may result in fits), high blood pressure in the lungs with SSRI’s and SNRI’s
- With SSRIs and SNRIs: jitteriness, poor muscle tone, not being able to cry loudly, difficulty breathing, low blood sugar (which can cause fits), and high blood pressure in the lungs.
If you choose to breastfeed, then there is a chance that the medication can pass to your baby via your breastmilk.
There is a possibility for the levels in your breastmilk to be high enough that your baby might experience side effects of the medication that you are on. Your doctor should inform you of this and you can discuss your concerns with them.
How to Help Anxiety in Pregnancy
Before taking any medication for your anxiety, you may wish to look at more natural ways that you can improve your anxiety levels. There are a number of things that many people find beneficial in these circumstances, including:
- Gentle exercise – this might be things like joining an aquanatal class or a pregnancy yoga class. Exercise is a great way to help the positive endorphins flow, and this can improve your mood, helping to keep anxiety at bay.
- Fresh air – make sure you get plenty of fresh air - this can really help
- Eat healthy foods – eating and drinking the right foods can really help your mood, so make sure you have plenty of fresh foods and water in your diet.
- Buy yourself a gift – it's amazing how much positivity you can get from a simple gift whether you treat yourself to a bunch of your favourite flowers, a new pair of earrings or even a birthing ball to help you prepare for the birth.
If you’re struggling with anxiety in pregnancy, then do not think you are alone. Lean on your partner, your family and friends, and also on the healthcare services that are there to help you have the best pregnancy you can.