Over the last 5 years, discussion over postpartum depression and anxiety has been prevalent among many celebrities. This has lessened the stigma surrounding PPD and anxiety and allowed for moms to reach out for help earlier, knowing that the signs and symptoms of PPD are present in nearly 25% of postpartum mothers in North America. Many physicians, nurses and care providers know what to look for when assessing a postpartum mom for depression and anxiety, but what we might not know is that statistically, moms are just as likely to have signs of anxiety prenatally as they do in the postpartum period.
What is prenatal anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal human response to stress. Anxiety can protect us from danger by telling our brain to take any action or something bad will happen. Having minor worries and being nervous in pregnancy is a normal part of taking on the role of motherhood. We begin to worry about our children from even before they’re conceived. We want what is best for them, we want them to be happy and we want a long life of healthy outcomes. However, when these worries become harder to ignore or you’re finding that they’re interfering with how you’re enjoying pregnancy we would consider this to be part of pregnancy anxiety.
Anxiety in pregnancy can be escalated if you are under stress with your job or at home, if you are struggling financially to support your family, or if you have a history of depression and anxiety. This isn’t limited to just these factors; however, it does increase your risk.
Anxiety can be manifested in three ways in your body during pregnancy:
muscle tension, headaches, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, loss of appetite, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and a racing heart.
Please note: any kind of chest pain, shortness of breath or increased heart rate should be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department to be assessed before you assume it is anxiety.
racing thoughts that are hard to control, worrying about the worst-case scenario, rumination about events that have happened in the past
the constant need for reassurance, over-controlling behaviour, frequent checking to ensure there is no danger present, isolating oneself from friends and family, avoiding social situations.
How to reduce anxiety in pregnancy
is so important for mental wellness, whether you are experiencing prenatal anxiety or not. Self-care is an easy mechanism that we can provide for reducing cortisol levels in the body (the fight or flight response), which will help you feel less “jittery” and allow you to think clearly. It doesn’t have to consist of long massages and bubble baths (which many parents find it hard to sneak in). Self-care can be as simple as telling a friend how you’re feeling, going for a 10-minute walk when you’re stressed or prioritizing something that you find enjoyable.
is a basic human need and is especially important during pregnancy. Allowing your body to rest and restore can greatly reduce the impact that stress has on your body. Create a soothing bedtime routine for yourself and avoid screen time for an hour before bed. Research shows that the blue light from screens can impact melatonin production, making it more difficult to go to sleep and stay asleep.
Talk to your doctor
about how you’re feeling. Sometimes our visits to your obstetrician are only 10 minutes long and can feel rushed. When you book your appointment, ask for extra time to talk about your mental health. Tell your physician all of the physical, emotional and behaviour symptoms you’re having. Asking for help is one of the bravest things you can do for yourself and for your baby.
Speak with someone who specialized in maternal mental health
There are many therapists and counsellors who specialize in maternal mental health. They are experts in this field and will help you develop coping mechanisms for the symptoms that you’re experiencing. Chelsea Smyth from Village Therapy is an amazing resource for expecting and new parents.
Be kind to yourself
As mamas, we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. No one expects perfection in parenting. It’s impossible! We are human and we will make mistakes, learn from them, and continue to love our babies in every possible way. No one should have to do this on their own so find your village and ask for help. You got this, mama!