Pregnancy and anxiety can seem like they go hand-in-hand. There’s so much to worry about—and the clock is most definitely ticking. Why do I look like a racoon? Is the baby kicking the right amount? Should I take off my rings before my fingers get more swollen? Will I finish the nursery in time? Will I be able to handle delivery? The concerns can seem endless. However, there’s a difference between the usual worry that takes place during pregnancy and the debilitating effects of an anxiety disorder.
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As discussed in this excellent article on What to Expect, some women have more to worry about, especially if they have experienced anxiety in the past, a pregnancy loss, infertility or live with a chronic health condition. In fact, new research shows that 18-25 percent of women struggle with anxiety during pregnancy. But when anxiety takes over your life, known as antenatal anxiety or prenatal anxiety disorder, it’s a good idea to seek help. Warning signs include:
· All-consuming worry. Obsessive thoughts about yourself, the baby or anything else that you can’t seem to turn off for even a moment.
· Inability to function. A serious lack of ability to focus, attend to tasks necessary for your day-to-day life, or complete work assignments.
· Physical symptoms. Heart palpitations, dry mouth, muscle tension, feelings of extreme panic and fear.
Anyone can develop an anxiety disorder, but the good news is that there are treatments that can ease your discomfort that won’t hurt the baby. If you already experience severe anxiety you might be more likely to experience increased anxiety. Speak to your care provider to set up a program of treatment during your pregnancy. It’s reassuring to know you have a plan in place, even if your anxiety level remains constant. Other risk factors include:
· Anxiety diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at any time in your life before your pregnancy or during a previous pregnancy.
· Pain and loss. Struggles with pregnancy loss and infertility can provoke excessive worry.
· Pregnancy complications. Anything that raises the level of concern, especially complications with mother or baby.
· Extreme stress. Stressful life events such a changing a job, moving or losing a loved one or anything else that could cause an extreme elevation in the level of stress.
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Treating anxiety during pregnancy can prevent postpartum depression and anxiety, make it easier to adapt when the baby arrives, and decrease stress during labour and delivery. In addition, studies show that it can decrease the possibility of preterm labour or a low birth weight.
Bottom line: Some anxiety is normal during pregnancy but if you are experiencing severe symptoms that interfere with your quality of life for more than two weeks, see your healthcare provider. Treatments that are safe for you and the baby are available.