Pregnancy can be an anxious time, but extreme worry or panic can be harmful. Learn how to safely manage stress and anxiety during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a time of many changes and can bring on a lot of anxiety for many mothers-to-be. Anxiety during pregnancy can be normal. However, if anxiety is persistent or reaches the level of panic, it can be harmful to a mother’s wellbeing and potentially that of her unborn child.

Managing anxiety and pregnancy can look different for every woman and there are many options to help ensure a safe and low-anxiety pregnancy. Knowing the signs of anxiety and the treatment options can help you prepare and manage feelings of anxiety during pregnancy.

What Causes Anxiety During Pregnancy?

Anxiety can be a normal and healthy response to changes, particularly if something is new or hard to control. 

There is no exact answer for what causes anxiety during pregnancy, as it is likely a combination of factors that can lead women to feel anxious during this time. Firstly, there are many hormonal changes during pregnancy that can lead to heightened emotions. There is also a certain level of risk associated with pregnancy, and many women feel anxious about possible complications. Anxiety during pregnancy can also come from feeling underprepared or feeling a lack of support. 

While a moderate amount of anxiety can be normal during this time, severe anxiety during pregnancy can be problematic for mother and child. Severe anxiety can be linked with a mother’s characteristics and past experiences, but can also happen out of the blue.

Signs of Anxiety During Pregnancy

It is normal to have some concerns for the health of the baby and to hope for a safe pregnancy. However, if concerns about pregnancy, delivery or the baby’s health become too severe, then seeking anxiety treatment may be appropriate. Some of the signs of anxiety during pregnancy include:

  • Obsessing about the health of the baby
  • Extreme concerns about losing the baby
  • Trying to control as much about your situation and pregnancy as possible
  • Obsessing about aspects of the birth

Importantly, some women may experience regular symptoms of anxiety like sweaty palms, racing heart or dizziness. Symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy are not always linked to the experience of being pregnant, but at high levels can still impact the health of both the mother and baby.

Effects of Anxiety on the Unborn Baby

Anxiety during pregnancy can be hard on the mother and can make it difficult for her to function normally. Stress and anxiety can also cause physical changes in the body that may affect or harm an unborn baby. 

Research has shown that anxiety during pregnancy may harm the baby as the hormones and chemicals released as a result of anxiety can impact growth and development. For example, anxiety can increase the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. Children may also experience problems later in life with learning and behavior or health problems like asthma. 

While it’s helpful for women to know the effects that stress or anxiety attacks during pregnancy can have on a baby, it’s very important to note that experiencing anxiety is not a woman’s fault or the result of being a bad parent. Also, not seeking treatment for anxiety or self-medicating for anxiety can also pose a risk to the wellbeing of mother and baby.

Anxiety Attacks While Pregnant

Anxiety and panic attacks during pregnancy can be very concerning to a woman, as the physical effects can be serious and severe. Symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks while pregnant can feel like a pregnancy-related complication and can include dizziness, difficulty breathing or nausea. 

Anxiety is common during pregnancy, as anxiety is common in women and often begins during the childbearing years.  For women who feel anxious about the health of their baby, panic attacks can worsen their obsession or concerns about the impact on their unborn child. 

Anxiety and panic can make a potentially difficult time even harder. There is help available for women experiencing these symptoms during their pregnancy to keep both mothers and babies well. 

How to Treat Anxiety During Pregnancy

Many women who experience anxiety during pregnancy may have concerns about how to treat anxiety during this time. Treating anxiety can be done through medication, relaxation or cognitive techniques, or a combination of these.

Some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are medications used to treat anxiety, are safe to use during pregnancy. However, women should still discuss medication with their doctor. Anxiety medication is not the only option during pregnancy, and women often seek out therapy or alternative coping strategies until their child is born.

Related Topic: Moderate anxiety treatment

Coping With Anxiety While Pregnant

Having a child is an anxious time for many women, but there are many ways to reduce stress and anxiety during pregnancy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy or body-focused strategies have been shown to be effective for managing symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy and can help women manage anxiety during pregnancy without medication.

Worrying or panicking about the health of a child can be normal, but extreme amounts can be harmful to both mother and baby. Controlling anxiety during pregnancy can help a woman feel safe and comfortable during her pregnancy and give a child the best start to life.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD
Dr. Sarah Dash is a postdoctoral research fellow based in Toronto. Sarah completed her PhD in Nutritional Psychiatry at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in 2017. Read more

Buist, Anne; et al. “Generalized anxiety disorder: course and[…]actors in pregnancy.” Journal of affective disorders, January 26, 2011. Accessed August 27, 2019.

Cookson, Hannah; et al. “Mothers’ anxiety during pregnancy is associated with asthma in their children.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, April 2009. Accessed August 27, 2019.

Dunkel Schetter, Christine, and Lynlee Tanner. “Anxiety, depression and stress in pregna[…]earch, and practice.” Current opinion in psychiatry, March 2012. Accessed August 27, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.