Pregnancy and childbirth are two of the most significant life events in the life of any mother. They are associated with many momentous changes in the levels of hormones, the size and shape of many organs and body parts, as well as mood fluctuations. Anxiety and depression are among the most common psychological afflictions associated with this time.
Pregnancy has different effects on different women. For instance, most women cope with pregnancy without significant change in their mental health.
A few women already have some form of mild to severe mental disorder when they become pregnant.
ome others have a history of mental illness but are now better. They may be afraid that their illness will reactivate during this period, or after the baby is born.
Lastly, there are women who become sick with anxiety or depression for the first time during pregnancy or following childbirth.
Factors Which Affect Anxiety in Pregnancy
Women who are on treatment for anxiety when they become pregnant should never discontinue their medication for fear of a severe relapse, even if they are feeling quite normal at the time.
Studies show that up to 70% of these women develop pregnancy-related anxiety of a significantly detrimental degree.
Roughly 10-15% of women report feeling anxious and depressed during or after pregnancy.
Women are twice as likely to develop anxiety in and after pregnancy as men. Genetic, environmental, and biological factors all play a role in determining who develops anxiety in response to certain situations.
The incidence may depend on:
- A history of previous mental disorder
- Any previous or current treatment for mental disorder
- Stressors such as death of loved ones or close friends, break-ups, or major moves
- Negative associations with pregnancy or childbirth, either personal or related to childhood history or memories
Symptoms of Anxiety in Pregnancy
The symptoms of prenatal and postnatal anxiety resemble those of any anxiety disorder. They include:
- Worries about the baby’s health
- Fears about childbirth including the pain of labor and associated complications
- Worries about one’s changing shape and weight gain
- Worries about how to look after the new baby
- Fears of not being able to cope with the responsibilities of being a mother
- Stressing about relationship changes following the birth of a baby
- Stresses stemming from lack of support from a partner, family, or society
- Impact of anxiety on mental health
Mental Health and Anxiety
Anxiety can alter a person’s perception of the world and the way they react to life. For example, one may experience:
- Unreasonably high levels of fear
- Worrying too much
- Perceiving or imagining that routine or minor problems are or will result in major catastrophes
- Obsessive or repetitive thinking which revolves around a single concept
- Avoiding any situation which might trigger anxiety
Physical Health and Anxiety
Anxiety also produces physical symptoms, such as:
- Inhibition of saliva production leading to a dry mouth
- Nightmares and other sleep disturbances
- Excessive sleepiness
- Problems with concentration
- Tight muscles leading to fatigue and headaches
- Breathing too fast
- A pounding heart
- Overactive bowels leading to diarrhea
- Exacerbations of psychosomatic illnesses such as asthma or some types of dermatitis
- Lack of libido
Reviewed by Afsaneh Khetrapal, BSc (Hons)