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How Anxiety and Depression during Pregnancy Affects the Mother

  • Admin
  • May 31, 2018
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For most women, pregnancy is a time of great anticipation, excitement, and joy. It is a time of emotional and physical change. However, there’re loads of mental and physical challenges faced by pregnant women, which often go undetected. Although the outward physical issues associated with pregnancy such as morning sickness and leg cramps are oftentimes taken care of, the emotional problems often go unnoticed. Healthcare providers are unlikely to inquire into the mental state of a woman. A pregnant woman may also feel embarrassed to bring the issue up.

A survey completed by Baby Glimpse in November 2017, highlights and challenges the society’s views and understanding of mental health during pregnancy. Out of 1,000 women surveyed, a staggering 36.5% of participants reported experiencing mood swings and other emotional stressors (during or after pregnancy).

An approximately 10-13% of pregnant women experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy. The prevalence rates of psychiatric illnesses in third world countries are even higher with about 16% of women experiencing depressive disorders during pregnancy. In fact, World Health Organization (WHO) ranks psychiatric morbidity as one of the world’s most troublesome illnesses. It is predicted to be the top cause of ill health by 2030.

Women with a history of psychological issues are at a higher risk. These conditions can affect the woman in many different ways. They can affect her health, her relationship with her partner, as well as her ability to connect with the baby. It’s of utmost importance that the affected woman be well-informed regarding the risks involved.

Note that anxiety can be beneficial and challenging at the same time. A low level of anxiety is beneficial as it acts as a biological warning mechanism; it acts as a protective response toward certain danger signs. However, a high level of anxiety leads to impairment of psychological and physiological functions.

What causes anxiety disorder during pregnancy?

Stress during pregnancy is related to a chemical imbalance in the brain. The improper levels of serotonin in a woman’s brain, for instance, can cause mood swings. The problem can also run in the family; in other words, it can be hereditary.

Do mental problems during pregnancy affect the fetus?

The answer is a resounding YES. It’s been proved by many studies that mental problems can affect the fetus and increase the risk cognitive impairment, adverse birth outcomes, and other disorders. According to a research expert Thomas O’Connor, professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in NYC, pregnant women who are depressed are likely to deliver babies with sleep problems. He also says women who report being depressed during pregnancy have babies with anxiety and hyperactivity problems.

Risk factors for anxiety and depression during pregnancy

A hormonal change is no doubt one of the common reasons for depressive disorders during pregnancy. Change in hormones often leads to changes in the mental and physical condition of a mother-to-be. One of the risk factors for mental instability during pregnancy is adjustments in serotonin hormone levels. This often leads to negative emotions, such as worry and fear. Also, it can trigger panic attacks as well as mood swings in a pregnant woman.

Depression may be long-lasting if not dealt with as it should be. Many psychological and social risk factors also aggravate psychological problems during pregnancy. Significant factors among them include stressful life events, domestic violence, poor social support, past history of depression, unplanned pregnancy, being young, mixed feelings about the baby, and low self-esteem. Marital problems are also one of the main factors for stress during pregnancy. Cultural, social and economic factors like lower-income, pregnant women experiencing traumatic events in the past, and problems with partner’s family are also some of the risk factors for depression during pregnancy.

Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression during Pregnancy

Diagnosing psychological problems during pregnancy can be difficult. Some of the symptoms can bear resemblance to common pregnancy symptoms i.e. change in sleep, concentration, or energy levels. It is also not unusual for pregnant women to experience some kind of concern over the pregnancy. If a woman experiences persistent symptoms of anxiety or depression, particularly if she is not able to function normally, she should see a physician. These symptoms include:

  • A sense of worthlessness
  • Low energy levels or constant fatigue
  • Being in a bad mood most of the time
  • Feeling down and excessive worry
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Decreased interest in the people around
  • Not getting sufficient sleep or getting too much sleep
  • Poor concentration

Untreated symptoms of depression during pregnancy may lead to self-harm, substance abuse, and even lead to suicide. The majority of pregnant women with psychological disorders, experience low birth weights, miscarriage and preterm birth. Even after giving birth, the mother may continue to suffer in many other ways. For example, she may be unable to properly eat, clean herself, etc. This may increase the risk of other health problems. In some cases, untreated symptoms of depression may impair a woman’s ability to promote her baby’s emotional and cognitive development. Severe or persistent mental sicknesses impede the mother-baby attachment as well as proper baby care.

Controlling anxiety disorder and depression

Eat healthy balanced diet: it goes without saying a healthy diet is vital for an expectant mother. A balanced diet contains certain nutrients, like iron and vitamin B-12, which are vital for proper brain function. A deficiency in those nutrients can lead to cognitive problems. Beans, egg whites, poultry, fish, lean meat and other protein-rich foods help in producing nerve calming chemicals within the body.

A healthy sleep is very important for pregnant women. A great sleep is the best natural therapy that can aid in calming down the nerves.

Daily and moderate exercising can boost everyday mood and improve woman endurance during labor and delivery. It betters sleeping, gives more energy and less back pain, reduces risks of pregnancy and delivery complications and quickens postpartum recovery. It might include: power or brisk walking around the neighborhood, hiking an easy trail or Pilates and aerobics exercises. It is very important to be extra cautious during the workouts and check with the healthcare provider what activities and dangerous sports should be avoided.

Yoga and breathing exercise: Meditation can also help a woman to listen to her inner voice, body or baby heartbeat inside her and to help her feel refreshed and a bit more focused. It can be practiced through breath and through mental focus. Whenever depression or anxiety attacks a pregnant woman, she should put her left hand on tummy and take several deep breaths. Yoga and breathing exercise can help her in calming down the body and mind.

Exposure to sunlight helps a person improve his or her health because the ultraviolet rays convert skin oil into Vitamin D. It has its role in immune function, healthy cell division and bone health and is necessary for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. Expecting mothers need to make sure they get recommended amounts of Vitamin D for their own well being and the healthy development of their babies as well. You can take these steps to get Vitamin D: to eat more Vitamin D containing foods, do some moderate sunbathing (in the back garden, park or anywhere outside) or through simple supplementation.

An essential oil or an oil of the plant is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. These oils are very powerful, so it is of a high importance to use them sparingly and be sure to buy high-quality oils from a well known seller. Some of them, for example, citrus oils, common lavender, black pepper, eucalyptus can be used for massage or put in the vaporizer to breathe them in. They are unavoidable ingredients for a complementary therapy called aromatherapy which is found to be helpful in easing certain annoyances, discomforts or anxiety during pregnancy.

A stressed pregnant woman can also talk to a close friend, relative or a professional counselor about any worries she has. Such people can always help her see life more positively.


While severe anxiety disorders (big grief, unreasonable fear, attacks of panic, confusion) during pregnancy can hit both the mother and the fetus, it can always be controlled or treated. Her ability to adapt and overcome the changes and sources of stress might affect her physical health and well being of her child.  It is very important to have an emotional support from the partner, family and friends, as well as the empathy of the environment. For many women, emotional crisis disappears as pregnancy goes on. If you find that emotional problems affect your day to day activities, you should talk to a close person or seek a professional help or advice. Many women keep negative emotions inside themselves but, on contrary, it is important that you talk about these problems as you will be able to handle them more easily. Also, adjust your lifestyle to your new condition, relax, walk, practice deep breathing, focus on other things. You can always use some of complementary therapies such as: yoga, aromatherapy, herbal remedies, homeopathy, shiatsu massage etc. with adequate assistance of experts in the fields.

Disclaimer: This content has been made available for educational purposes only, and it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.