Prenatal anxiety, also known as pregnancy anxiety, refers to having feelings of nervousness, tension, or fear during pregnancy. Despite being a condition that isn’t talked about much, the reality is, anxiety during pregnancy is actually very common. 

In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 20% of pregnant women experience some degree of anxiety symptoms. There is some good news, though. You don’t have to suffer if you’re pregnant and experiencing anxiety. There are many effective treatments that can have you feeling like your old self again, so you might even be able to start enjoying being a pregnant woman. 

Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and risks of pregnancy anxiety. We’ll also share some easy-to-use, effective ways you can reduce or relieve the increased anxiety you might be feeling during your pregnancy. 

Causes of Prenatal Anxiety

Research shows that a pregnant woman experiences prenatal anxiety or prenatal depression most commonly during the early months (the first trimester). This is thought to be the result of the extreme hormone fluctuation women experience in the first stages of pregnancy. 

While what causes anxiety is unclear, many things can contribute to anxiety symptoms during pregnancy. These might include experiences like: 

  • A personal or family history of anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Excess stress in everyday life
  • Work pressure
  • Relationship struggles
  • Financial difficulty 
  • A previously challenging pregnancy or birth 
  • Other trauma or pregnancy complications
  • Stress from the pandemic

“Anxiety during pregnancy is normal, but in a pandemic world, pregnant women are experiencing genuine worries and different expectations, as so much has changed in delivery and birthing protocol around the world. Pregnancy anxiety can absolutely still be managed during pregnancy. Take stock in support and coping, and if endorsed by your doctor, exercise and meditation can do wonders for garnering an internal locus of control and confidence in remaining healthy, safe, and secure in this new world.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Symptoms of Prenatal Anxiety

There are several things to look for if you suspect you or someone you love has pregnancy anxiety. 

Common symptoms of prenatal anxiety include:

  • Obsessive thoughts about the baby’s health (even when doctors are reassuring)
  • Constant worrying
  • Rapid heartbeat and difficulty breathing (panic attacks)
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Muscle tension
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Feelings of dread
  • Restlessness
  • Being irritable or angry
  • Inability to focus or concentrate on tasks

Risks and Complications

In addition to robbing a mother of the joy of pregnancy, pregnancy anxiety can actually be physically harmful. It can contribute to poor eating habits, which can affect the mother’s energy and general health and keep the baby from getting the essential nutrition they need. It can also lead some women to attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. 

Research shows that anxiety can have a negative impact on the baby’s health at birth, as well. Pregnancy complications like low birth weight, preterm birth, or having a smaller head circumference have all been linked to a mother’s anxiety during pregnancy. 

“If you have a predisposition for anxiety, it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor about risks and complications for prenatal anxiety, but even when we’re armed with information, we can never control the outcome. Talk therapy, most especially, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be instrumental in processing those automatic negative thoughts, worries, and frameworks that are on the rise during pregnancy. Learning to convert negative thought patterns and or calm them, can be immensely helpful to diminishing any attached fear or worry to the whole experience of pregnancy and delivery.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Treatment for Prenatal Anxiety

Fortunately, there are several effective treatments, both clinical and alternative, for prenatal anxiety. If you’re experiencing anxiety or anxious thoughts during your pregnancy, try some of the following therapeutic methods to help manage your symptoms. 

Talking to someone

When it comes to how to treat anxiety, sometimes all it takes is sharing your concerns with a trusted friend or family member. 

Tip: When you hear your fears out loud, you may realize that they aren’t as scary as you’ve made them seem.

Writing in a journal

Journaling for mental health is a proven, effective way to manage all the way from mild to severe anxiety. Studies show that journaling can reduce stress and improve symptoms of anxiety. Like confiding in a friend, writing down your fears in a journal might help take the “scary” out of them. 

Tip: Use your journal to review your anxious thoughts and feelings over time. See if you become less anxious than you were earlier in your pregnancy. You also might be able to spot triggers so you’re more self-aware (and thus, able to avoid) things that are leading to increased anxiety. 

Exercising your mind

Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga can help you feel less anxious. 

Tip: Alternative methods for relaxation, like acupuncture and massage, can also help ease tension and stress while relieving anxiety.

Doing something you love

When you’re pregnant, it’s easy to focus on everyone but yourself. Don’t forget to spend a little time doing the things you love. That can be reading, cooking, knitting, or going for a long walk. Doing something for yourself can be an extremely effective way to ease pregnancy anxiety.

Tip: Self care is always important, but it’s even more essential when you’re pregnant. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of time or money, either. Simple things like taking a bath or deep breathing for 5 minutes can really reset your mood.   

Getting more rest

Sleep can be disrupted when you’re pregnant…and not just from all those trips to the bathroom. When you have severe anxiety, you’re more likely to stay awake worrying about things, which can just exacerbate the issue. 

TIP: Try to get more rest by going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding digital screens before you turn in, and not eating very large meals close to bedtime.

Talking with your doctor

If none of these methods are helping you be less anxious, it might be time to discuss your situation with a mental health professional.

Tip: Prenatal anxiety is very common, and your doctor will likely be able to not only ease your mind about your baby but also recommend an effective treatment.

Eating a more nutritious diet

Nutrition plays a big part in stabilizing a mood disorder. Be sure you’re eating well and avoiding excess sugar and too many overly processed foods. 

Tip: Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains can keep you from having dramatic mood swings. It’s also better for the baby.

Getting therapy

Therapy for anxiety, such as psychotherapy (talk therapy) with a licensed professional, can do wonders to help ease your anxiety. Like talking with a friend, working with a therapist allows you to get your concerns out in the open where you can see if they have any merit and address them if they do.

Tip: Ask a friend or loved one for a recommendation for a good therapist. Finding the right person to talk to can be a game-changer in your pregnancy. 

Exercising your body

Moderate exercise, like walking or bike riding, can help stabilize your mood. A systematic review and meta-analysis looking at the relationship between exercise and prenatal anxiety found that increased physical activity has an overwhelmingly positive effect on the reduction of prenatal anxiety. 

Tip: Further, the same review also found that women who are inactive during their pregnancy exhibit more symptoms of anxiety. You don’t need to over-exert yourself. A brisk walk or a 20-minute yoga routine can make a huge difference.  

Getting Help

If you’re experiencing anxiety while pregnant, first, know that you’re not alone. Anxiety is a much more common issue for pregnant women than you might think. It’s important for you to not feel any shame about stress and anxiety. It’s also worth noting that untreated anxiety can turn into a bigger issue. Not only that, but not treating your anxiety while pregnant could eventually lead to postpartum anxiety or even postpartum rage after giving birth. 

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to ease symptoms and get into a better mental space for the remainder of your pregnancy. Start by talking with your doctor. They can recommend a treatment plan that can help you turn a corner and actually enjoy the rest of your time being pregnant.

Are you ready to take the first step to getting help? Talkspace offers online therapy that’s easy-to-access, affordable, and so convenient that you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. Learn more about how Talkspace is changing the world of therapy and helping women just like you manage their anxiety while pregnant. 

Medically reviewed by: Meaghan Rice, PsyD., LPC

Reviewed On: June 13, 2022