There may be many reasons why a mum-to-be might bring anxiety into her pregnancy.
If this applies to you please know you’re not alone.
Even for women who are mentally and physically well the process of growing a baby brings with it a cocktail of hormonal changes that can lead to anxious and worrisome thoughts.
This is often not helped by morning sickness, exhaustion, physical aches and pains, and of course the natural concerns about the upcoming birth, total life change and nagging doubts that lead us to question “Will I be a good mum?”
Unfortunately, many women will go into their pregnancy not physically or mentally well, and this can take its toll on the body, including the baby.
Current figures suggest that 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in a miscarriage, and some women will experience multiple miscarriages.
Nothing for me was more heartbreaking than hearing a good friend’s story of her baby loss. It’s not surprising that women who do go through this terrible ordeal may approach a new pregnancy with a significant amount of anxiety and trepidation.
Of course, it’s not just baby loss that can affect one’s mental health, it’s not uncommon for mothers to experience birth trauma, and this can result in severe stress and anxiety when approaching the due date, or even the prospect of becoming pregnant again.
Many concerns can come into a pregnancy which have nothing directly to do with the physical aspect of carrying a baby. Concerns about work, money worries, more seriously domestic abuse – there’s significant evidence that this increases or can be triggered by a pregnancy.
Women who have an unexpected or perhaps unwanted pregnancy are also at significant risk of stress and anxiety.
It’s cliché and unhelpful to believe that every pregnancy is “a special time”, for so many women it really isn’t.
So what if this applies to you?
Well, first up… anxiety and stress are a natural bodily response – see them as a warning light that something is wrong and you need to take action to do something about it. This is often easier said than done. So here are some tips:
- Acknowledge that you need support – suppressing feelings doesn’t solve them in the long term. Instead they evolve to become excess stress, and this can have a detrimental effect on you and your babies long term health. Sustained high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol isn’t great for the body, and unfortunately passes through the umbilical cord to the baby. If you can, don’t stress about this! I’m hoping you’ve taken the point about acknowledging you need support. Taking this first step is often the hardest.
- Take Action – look to your network for a listening ear, if you need more than a chat with a friend then consider contacting a counsellor. There are also free helplines that you can call to talk about stuff straight away – use them! You’re not wasting anybody’s time.
- Tell you healthcare team – they have provision for women who need extra mental health support, please ask for it if you need it. Unfortunately many healthcare systems work on the “squeaky wheel gets the oil” principle.
- Be Active – if you can, be active. The happy hormone, dopamine reduces the effects of cortisol over time. The UK Chief Medical Officer recommends 150 mins of moderate activity per week for pregnant and postnatal women. Moderate means you can talk but not sing! Try a brisk walk, swimming, dancing, running, cycling – those sorts of things. There’s no evidence of harm for healthy women, just don’t bump the bump! If you’re not sure, seek advice – the Active Pregnancy Foundation is a good place to look.
Here are some trusted sources for guidance and support:
Family Lives is a charity to support all aspects of family life as well as suport regarding pregnacies and miscarrages. They offer a free online chat Monday – Friday 1.30 – 5.30 pm as well a helpline that’s open Monday – Friday 9am-9pm and Saturday-Sunday at 10am-3pm
Contact number: 0808 800 2222
Time To Talk is a free and confidential service provided by the NHS for 18+ UK residents. They work with a range of feelings of low mood and anxiety and offer counceling over the phone. You can do a self-refarral over the phone or by filling in a form for your specific area.
The Samaritans is a free 24-hour listening support service where you can phone to talk about anything that might be bothering you.
Contact number: 116 123
CALM (Campaign against living miserably) is a free online chat line for people who are feeling down for whatever reason. From 5pm until midnight every single day of the year, you can call them or use their webchat to talk to mental health trained staff.
Contact number: 0800 58 58 58
Your GP can also help refer you to local communities and organisations that are not included on this list, specifically for your area and for the kind of help you need.
She is also the CEO of the English charity Active Pregnancy Foundation
Our clinical team endorses Sally’s suggestions.