Pregnancies can be very exciting and times of pure joy; however, they can also be scary and tumultuous. Medical conditions, uncertainty and the family’s socio-cultural situation may all challenge the ability to enjoy the pregnancy and give birth to a child who can thrive.
When anxiety or depression occurs during pregnancy it is referred to as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression. Up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience antenatal depression. Anxiety is just as common, and many parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time.
It is normal to experience a degree of anxiety and ‘ups and downs’ when expecting a baby. However, some people develop a more pronounced anxiety or lower mood (depression) which affects their daily life and functioning.
The signs and symptoms of antenatal anxiety and depression can vary and may include:
- Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Abrupt mood swings
- Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
- Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
The perinatal period (pre-conception through a baby’s first year of life) can be complicated by such factors as medically high-risk pregnancies, premature/sick newborns, drug use by the pregnant woman and/or her family, familial conflict, legal concerns, parents who have cognitive, behavioural and/or mental health needs, ambivalence about the pregnancy, and poverty. Even healthy pregnancies with optimal psychosocial conditions can be affected by anxiety and uncertainty as individuals make the transition to parenthood.