Prenatal anxiety symptoms

It is normal to experience worry during pregnancy; it is an emotional time and you are preparing to become a mum. However, sometimes your anxiety might feel like it is getting too much, or you may feel overwhelmed. If your symptoms start having a negative impact on your life you should talk about it to a healthcare professional – our site has information on how to do this.

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Not sure what perinatal anxiety is?

Anxiety can often manifest in different ways, so one person’s anxious symptoms may not be the same as another’s. This page outlines some of the symptoms associated with perinatal anxiety during pregnancy, and gives examples of what they might look like. If any of the symptoms below feel familiar, you may be experiencing prenatal or pregnancy-related anxiety. You can find out more about perinatal anxiety and how to manage it in our self-help tools section.

Physical symptoms

  • Racing or thumping heartbeat, or heart skipping beats
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Stomach upset, butterflies, nausea
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Muscle tension, or legs feeling shaky or weak
  • Pins and needles
  • Needing the toilet more frequently, or less frequently

Persistent, unjustified worry

You might find that you can’t stop worrying about things, and that thoughts are racing through your mind. Some worries might be quite general, while others may be more related to being pregnant. For example, you may find that you worry about: pregnancy symptoms, your relationship with your partner, how you will afford the baby, how you will adjust to a change in role from paid employment to homemaker, how your relationship might change with your partner.

 

Below is a description of many of the worries women with perinatal anxiety say they experience in pregnancy:

Irritability

  • I often snap at my partner/friends/family; and have no patience
  • I feel like I am always about to lose my temper; or find myself getting angry at really little things
  • My partner feels like they are walking on egg-shells around me
  • My mood is erratic – I’m so up & down; I can go from calm to full blown rage in seconds
  • I sometimes throw or break things to let off steam

Obsessive and intrusive negative thoughts

Getting constant negative thoughts or images that I am unable to control, for example:

  • I keep getting unwanted images or thoughts about things happening to me in public (e.g. my waters breaking, wetting myself)
  • I constantly worry I am not doing the “right things” the experts say I should do when pregnant; or obsess over what is safe to eat/drink/do during pregnancy
  • I can’t relax as I constantly question myself over things like: Did I lock back door? Is the baby ok? What if someone breaks in?
  • I can’t stop thinking about my baby’s health and wellbeing (e.g. that something bad will happen to them)
  • I keep worrying about germs contaminating my baby

Checking behaviours (to neutralise negative thoughts)

Repeatedly carrying out specific checking behaviours or rituals to reduce (or counteract) negative thoughts:

  • I obsessively monitor my baby (e.g. by constantly counting and recording the baby’s movements; or repeatedly checking the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler throughout the day) and worry that there will be something wrong
  • I religiously record everything I eat and drink; or have a very restrictive list of food and drink I allow myself to ingest – more so than is recommended by healthcare professionals
  • I am constantly checking sources of information about pregnancy (e.g. advice about safe practice; information about things that can go wrong; reading other people’s experiences)
  • I pray to counteract my obsessive thoughts; or use rituals to quieten my persistent worries
  • I excessively seek assurance from professionals that everything is OK; or book multiple check-ups/appointments (more than is usually recommended)
  • I obsessively clean the house to make sure it is spotless and tidy, often cleaning several times when I do not need to; or wash and rewash all baby clothes and bedding
  • I exhaust myself going to every antenatal class or group

Difficulty concentrating

  • My mind often feels ‘foggy’ or heavy and I can’t think properly
  • I feel like I constantly have thoughts running through my mind that I can’t control, jumping around all over the place, making it difficult to focus
  • Sometimes I find it hard to get things done; or even hold a coherent conversation
  • I feel really disorganised or have trouble remembering things (more than normal)
  • My mind is so confused I struggle to do basic things

Sleep disturbance and/or difficulty relaxing (unrelated to pregnancy discomfort)

  • Sometimes I can’t sleep as I am worrying about the baby or my health; or I have a series of intrusive thoughts running thoughts my head
  • I have difficulty staying asleep for no reason or wake early and am unable to get back to sleep
  • I feel constantly alert and on edge, unable to relax and enjoy the things I use to (e.g.  reading, watching TV)
  • I toss and turn throughout the night; worries come into my mind and I cannot shake them or get back to sleep
  • I have insomnia

Agitation and restlessness

  • I cannot do everyday things slowly – I frantically run around at super speed; constantly switching from one task to the next; I feel unable to slow down most of the time
  • I have a lot of nervous energy; I can’t sit still for at all or for long; I often have to jiggle my legs to feel comfortable
  • I make excessive lists of things to do and feel agitated if I cannot get everything on the list done
  • When I need to rest I find it hard to keep still or get my mind to be quiet
  • I have an over-exaggerated startle response; jumping at the slightest thing
  • I feel like I’m on the constant look out for danger, even though I don’t know what the threat is

Disturbing images, flashbacks or nightmares about previous trauma

I feel like I re-experience a traumatic event through flashbacks, memories, unwanted thoughts and nightmares these may be related to any of the following:

  • Pregnancy complications
  • Previous losses
  • IVF
  • A traumatic event experienced around the perinatal period

Panic attacks:

If you are worried you might be experiencing perinatal anxiety, visit our self assessements and self-help tools or talk to a healthcare professional.

Look after yourself and seek help, if you need it.