Antenatal Anxiety And Depression

Antenatal depression and anxiety

We expect pregnancy to bring about change to our bodies but you might be surprised to also be dealing with antenatal anxiety and depression.

Every pregnancy is different – from one pregnancy to the next, and from woman to woman.

It’s actually very normal to experience mood swings and a certain amount of anxiety when you’re expecting a baby. But some women develop a more severe form of anxiety or depression during pregnancy which affects their daily life. 

When this happens, it’s called antenatal anxiety and depression. While both these conditions are separate, they can overlap so we’re going to look at the causes, signs and treatment for both antenatal anxiety and depression. 

What is antenatal anxiety and depression?

Antenatal refers to the time during pregnancy, up to the birth of your baby.

Anxiety and depression are changes to your mood that are ongoing, overwhelming feelings which interfere with your daily life, and can’t be easily controlled.

Anxiety usually refers to a high energy, aroused mood, with feelings of restlessness, agitation or stress. Often anxiety is related to a concern that something terrible is going to happen.  

Depression is a low energy mood, with feelings of sadness, withdrawal or despair. Often those experiencing depression can’t see the point in looking forward to anything, let alone the birth of their baby. 

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health people experience today. PANDA reports every year in Australia anxiety occurs in around 1 in every 5 pregnant women and up to half also experience depression. 

While they’re not the same, anxiety and depression often occur at the same time and sometimes you can experience the symptoms of one and not the other. 

Everyone experiences antenatal anxiety and depression differently, depending on their personal situation. And yes, even dads-to-be can experience both anxiety and depression during their partner’s pregnancy. 

What causes antenatal anxiety and depression?

We don’t really understand what causes anxiety and depression in pregnancy to become such a problem. It’s thought hormonal changes during pregnancy may affect the chemicals in the brain. 

Pregnancy brings a lot of change with it and while this can be welcome to many women, for some it is scary and overwhelming. 

Having a pregnancy with complications or previous negative experiences can also mean you are more worried and concerned than you might normally be. You’re more at risk of developing either anxiety or depression if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • A previous personal or family history of anxiety or depression
  • Difficulties in your personal relationship, including your partner or immediate family
  • Stressful life events, sucu as a death in the family, divorce or employment loss
  • Pregnancy complications, such as severe morning sickness or previous premature birth
  • Fertility issues or pregnancy loss in a previous pregnancy
  • Domestic violence, including emotional and financial abuse
  • Past history of sexual, emotional or verbal abuse
  • Isolation, either living remotely or a lack of social support
  • Financial difficulties.

It’s important to let your midwife or doctor know if you tick any of these boxes, so they can help you access support early on. 

What are the signs of antenatal anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression often goes unnoticed as the signs are put down to being a normal part of the hormonal fluctuations that happen during pregnancy. 

Symptoms can be different for each person, but some signs to watch out for include:

  • Feeling stressed, worried or on edge most of the time, often focused on fears around the baby
  • Panic attacks (heart palpitations, feeling of not being able to breathe, shaking or feeling detached)
  • Recurring thoughts that don’t go away
  • Developing obsessive or compulsive behaviours, such as hand washing or needing things to be a certain way
  • Muscle tension 
  • Feeling agitated and finding it hard to be calm
  • Being sad, low or numb constantly, crying for no obvious reason
  • Trouble getting to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Being tired constantly and having no energy
  • Changes to appetite, losing or gaining weight
  • No interest in connection with friends of family, or activities that used to make you happy
  • Mood swings
  • Being easily irritated and annoyed 
  • Finding it hard to concentrate or remember things (brain fog)
  • Risky behaviour, such as drinking too much alcohol or abusing drugs
  • Having thoughts of self harm, suicide or death.

The signs can develop slowly over time or they can begin quite suddenly. If left untreated, the symptoms of antenatal anxiety and depression can get worse over time. 

What happens if antenatal anxiety and depression isn’t treated? 

Living with anxiety and depression is exhausting. Lack of sleep, feeling restless all the time, or having a sense of something terrible is about to happen – these symptoms affect us both physically and mentally. 

Over time, if antenatal anxiety and depression isn’t treated, these feelings can affect how you live your life, as you try to avoid triggers to manage intrusive and anxious thoughts. 

It can lead to panic attacks or not being able to function, or feeling unable to bond with your unborn baby. 

Anxiety and depression can have a devastating impact on your health, relationships and quality of life, and in severe situations lead to self harm and suicide. 

Does anxiety cause miscarriage?

Health experts agree – too much stress and anxiety isn’t good for you and can have a severe impact on your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health. This is a concern during pregnancy, as the wellbeing of your baby depends on you. 

However, there is no evidence which shows there’s a link between anxiety and miscarriage.

Can anxiety affect my unborn baby?

A little bit of stress is normal and our bodies have a wonderful coping mechanism that protects us from harm if there’s danger or potential danger. 

But ongoing stress and anxiety isn’t healthy, for you or your baby. Your own health can be impacted, and it can affect your ability to bond with your baby. 

Ongoing anxiety and depression can affect your baby’s growth and put you at risk for giving birth prematurely. 

Your baby is also at risk of problems with physical, mental and behavioural issues in the future as well.

How to cope with anxiety and depression during pregnancy?

Everyone who goes through antenatal anxiety and depression has their own experience and how it affects them depends on many factors. 

Some people have mild symptoms, while others experience quite severe symptoms, which means there is no single perfect treatment for antenatal anxiety and depression. Every person responds in different ways and what works for one person may not for another. 

It’s important to know you’re not alone and there is support available to help you get through. 

The first step is to talk to your trusted healthcare provider, whether that’s your doctor or midwife, to understand how anxiety or depression is affecting you during pregnancy, and to rule out any medical condition that might make you feel this way. 

The most common ways to treat anxiety and depression focus on increasing support around you. You may choose to use one or more of the tools:

  • Counselling – this can provide a safe space to talk through how you’re feeling and thinking with a therapist who will listen without judgement. Your therapist can work with you to develop strategies to deal with your challenges. 
  • Self care – massage, relaxation therapy such as meditation, and yoga are excellent ways to bring the mind-body connection into play in coping with anxiety and depression. During these activities, endorphins are released, which are hormones that make us feel good and enhance our feeling of wellbeing, triggering a positive feeling in our body. 
  • Medication – in severe cases of anxiety and depression, antidepressants may be prescribed to help you manage your symptoms to put your energy and inner resources into recovery.

Remember, if you’re suffering from antenatal anxiety and depression, you’re not alone.

Nurtured Birth offers pregnancy massage, prenatal yoga and meditation sessions to support you through these challenging times and get you back to feeling yourself. Please get in touch with us to discuss your needs.

If you or someone you are close to is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, please call the PANDA National Helpline (Mon – Fri, 9am to 7.30pm) on 1300 726 306.

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