Pregnancy and anxiety

Pregnancy and childbirth are stressful for every woman on some level, but for those living with Anxiety Disorders, it can be like a living nightmare.

Roughly one in four New Zealanders live with some form of Anxiety Disorder and women are slightly more susceptible than men – though scientists aren’t sure exactly why this is.

For women who live with these conditions (‘Anxiety Disorder’ is a broad term which covers Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, PTSD, OCD, Eating Disorders and more), the idea of carrying a baby, giving birth – and the things that can potentially go wrong during and afterwards – is completely overwhelming.

“Someone with health anxiety may already be overly alert to body changes and symptoms in the body,” says Emma Barker, Clinical Services Manager at anxiety clinic The Phobic Trust in Auckland.

“With pregnancy, the body can have all sorts of different symptoms and niggles and changes and this can cause an increase in anxiety levels and reassurance seeking from doctors.”

Signs you may be living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive and constant worry which won’t seem to go away
  • Finding it difficult to control or “talk yourself out of” your worrying
  • Often feeling restless or “on-edge”
  • Constantly feeling fatigued, or lacking in energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, even on relatively simple tasks
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep

For women who are diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder prior to becoming pregnant and who are prescribed medication, there can be some confusion about whether it’s still safe to take it during their pregnancy.

Dr Henry Plant, MOSS psychiatrist at The Phobic Trust, admits that there is a lack of evidence around the safe use of anxiety medications during pregnancy.

“Doctors will try to avoid the use of medications during the first trimester and then have to balance the risks (which may be small but are still not fully known), versus the risks of having untreated anxiety – which can itself be very damaging,” says Dr Plant. “If the pregnant woman is suffering severe anxiety, increased symptoms, subsequent health issues, sleep difficulties – then this will need to be taken into consideration when weighing up the risks.”

However, regardless of whether you are a mum-to-be with a diagnosed Anxiety Disorder, or simply someone who’s experiencing “normal” levels of nervousness around the pregnancy and birthing process, both Barker and Dr Plant say it’s important to make sure you’re looking after your mental and physical health during pregnancy. This means keeping tabs on your stress levels, seeking support (and treatment, if necessary), getting plenty of rest, eating well and doing moderate exercise.

Finally, if you or anyone you know is living with excessive levels of anxiety, consider calling one of the helplines below. These are all totally free, most run 24/7 and all are tended to by compassionate, highly trained volunteers who are devoted to helping you and your whanau make the journey from fear to freedom.

Helpline Numbers

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