During pregnancy, women experience many physical changes in their body, and it is also an emotional time, thanks to the hormonal changes. While moms-to-be are excited to meet their baby, there is a lot of pregnancy anxiety even when you are expecting for the second time (just ask celebrity moms Chynna Ortaleza, Kylie Padilla, and Saab Magalona).

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Signs of pregnancy anxiety

When you are pregnant, you are experiencing a lot of things for the first time, and it makes you unsure and scared at a moment when you are welcoming a new life. That is to be expected and natural. But when those worries become disruptive to your everyday life, it might be a sign of more severe pregnancy anxiety called antenatal anxiety. It happens when feelings of fear and stress don’t go away, can’t be controlled easily, or occur for no particular reason. 

Other signs that you may have antenatal anxiety include:

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  • You have difficulty concentrating and focusing or functioning at home or office.
  • You have panic attacks.
  • You feel worried, scared, stressed, irritable, restless, or on edge often.
  • You have obsessive or compulsive thoughts that won’t go away.
  • You find no joy in things that used to make you happy.
  • You have muscle tension (grinding teeth, neck and shoulder pain, back pain, muscle twitching).
  • You find it hard to stay calm.
  • You’re having trouble sleeping.
  • You have a loss of appetite.
  • You are becoming forgetful.

COPE: Centre of Perinatal Excellence, an Australia-based nonprofit organization devoted to reducing the impacts of emotional and mental health problems in the prenatal and postnatal periods, lists six types of pregnancy anxiety based on the symptoms listed above. These are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, specific phobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Causes and risk factors of antenatal anxiety and its link to prenatal depression

Who are at risk for pregnancy anxiety? Aside from family history and environment, these are factors that can affect a pregnant woman's risk of antenatal anxiety:

  • diagnosed with an anxiety disorder before pregnancy
  • experienced anxiety during previous pregnancies
  • suffered pregnancy loss or fertility issues
  • have a high-risk pregnancy or pregnancy complications
  • experiencing a lot of stress at home or work

According to COPE, more women have experienced pregnancy anxiety than those who suffer from prenatal depression. And half of the women who have pregnancy anxiety also suffer from antenatal or prenatal depression, so it’s best to watch for signs of depression as well.

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The two pregnancy mental health conditions have a few similar symptoms, such as loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, or lack of focus on tasks. Prenatal depression symptoms include feeling low, numb, and hopeless; losing confidence in oneself; being emotional or angry.

Coping strategies for antenatal anxiety

There are ways experts believe can help keep too much worrying at bay. If you’re feeling more worried than usual, prevent getting consumed by anxiety through the following coping or prevention tactics.

Be informed, so you know what to expect and prepare

No pregnancy is the same, but all have risks. Attend a birthing class to learn about the process and know what to expect. Discuss with your doctor beforehand the possible complications that may arise and the medical interventions that could help. 

Get a lot of rest and pampering

Studies have shown that lack of sleep can worsen a preggo woman’s anxiety so aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep. Be mindful of your mind and body and allow time to relax. With your doctor’s permission, get a massage, do yoga, or try meditation.

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Eat fresh, healthy foods, and move!

Diet and exercise have an impact on one’s mental health. Go for nutrient-rich, whole and unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grain, and dairy. Women who have low-risk pregnancies (e.g., walking or swimming) should aim to exercise at least 30 minutes daily. 

Have a support system

Speaking to your partner or friends about your worries in an open and no-judgment line of communication. Talking to your baby in your womb helps as well. Consider also joining a community of moms who are going through the same thing and help support each other.

Diagnosis and treatment of pregnancy anxiety

Many preggos who feel more anxious while pregnant but remain silent due to the stigma of mental health. Most pregnant women also think they’re supposed to endure pregnancy symptoms, thinking they’re normal and will go away soon or after birth.

Yes, anxiety during pregnancy is common, but there’s no reason to be ashamed if you need help. If you’re at risk or observing symptoms of antenatal anxiety, talk to your doctor about it before symptoms show up so know what to expect and prepare or at your soonest prenatal checkup.

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Plus, it’s better to ask for help than risk the condition to get worse. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that doctors should also screen for mental health conditions during prenatal checkups. Several studies have shown that the effects of stress and anxiety or depression can affect not just the mom-to-be but the baby in her womb as well.

Doctors can diagnose pregnancy anxiety by having the pregnant woman answer the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (you an answer it online here) and/or the Antenatal Risk Questionnaire (find a copy of it here). There are safe ways to get you the help you need and also keep your baby healthy. Some doctors may prescribe therapy to help a pregnant woman cope with pregnancy anxiety. Doctors may also prescribe anti-anxiety medications when necessary.

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Need help? You can find mental health facilities in the Philippines using this interactive mapDon't be afraid to reach out if you are feeling anxious, helpless, or depressed. If you need someone to talk to: 
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