Pregnancy Anxiety: What’s Normal and What Isn’t

Pregnancy is a whirlwind of emotions–joy, excitement, and, yes, anxiety. It’s completely normal to worry about your growing baby’s health, the upcoming birth, and the massive life changes on the horizon.

However, prolonged anxiety can negatively affect the mother and unborn baby, increasing the risk of preterm labor, low birth weight, developmental issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, and postpartum depression. Let’s differentiate between the normal level of anxiety during pregnancy and when you should seek treatment.

Understanding Anxiety During Pregnancy

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or concern, all normal experiences for pregnant women. However, the condition becomes an anxiety disorder when your worry affects your daily life—unlike a fleeting fear; your anxiety symptoms are intense, prolonged, or both.

Here are some risk factors for anxiety during pregnancy:

  • Hormonal Fluctuations: Shifting levels of estrogen and progesterone can influence mood and heighten anxiety.
  • Previous Pregnancy Loss: You’re at a greater risk of antenatal anxiety when you have a history of miscarriage, infertility, or other pregnancy-related complications.
  • External Stressors: Work pressures, relationship issues, financial concerns, and other stressful life events can worsen your anxiety.

While some butterflies are normal, anxiety disorders can manifest in physical and emotional ways:

  • Excessive worry: You find yourself constantly worrying about your baby’s health, even with regular checkups.
  • Trouble sleeping: Anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall and stay asleep
  • Physical symptoms: Physical manifestations like a racing heart, muscle tension, and shortness of breath can accompany anxiety.
  • Irritability and mood swings: Feeling on edge and easily frustrated are common signs of underlying anxiety.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Anxiety can cloud your ability to focus on daily tasks.

The effects of prenatal stress may appear much later, sometimes years after your baby arrives. 

A 2015 study by the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children exposed to maternal stress were more likely to experience symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A 2019 study by the Society for Research in Child Development also suggests a potential connection between prenatal stress and the development of depression during adolescence. 

Coping Strategies for Pregnancy Anxiety

Natural Remedies for Anxiety During Pregnancy

A healthy diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids supports brain health and mood regulation. Nutrients like folate, magnesium, and vitamin D are particularly beneficial for reducing anxiety. Drinking plenty of water is also important, as dehydration can cause concentration difficulties and increased stress and anxiety.

Walking, swimming, and other low-intensity activities trigger the release of endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Yoga is particularly useful, as it combines physical activity with deep breathing and meditation. Remember to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen to ensure it’s appropriate for your stage of pregnancy.

There are several activities to calm your mind when you’re feeling anxious. For example, you can try taking slow, deep breaths, focusing on filling your belly with air, and then slowly exhaling. Another option is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body, starting with your feet and working your way up the calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, shoulders, arms, face, and neck. You can also meditate to focus your attention on the calming image of the present.

By promoting relaxation through gentle, targeted techniques, prenatal massage helps reduce stress hormones, leading to a calmer and more balanced emotional state. Additionally, it enhances circulation, relieves muscle tension, and improves sleep quality, all of which contribute to an overall sense of well-being.

Professional Support for Anxiety in Pregnancy

Counseling And Therapy

A counselor provides a supportive environment to explore your fears and concerns. That includes using tried-and-tested techniques to challenge negative thought patterns and providing effective strategies to manage stress. Your therapist also helps you identify underlying issues to increase emotional resilience.

Support Groups 

These networks provide a safe space to share your experiences and emotions with other mothers in similar situations. In addition to the sense of community and camaraderie, social support provides validation and practical advice to manage your anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Meds Safe for Pregnancy

Consult with a doctor before turning to anxiety and depression medication. The following drugs are considered safe for anxiety treatment during pregnancy:

  • Specific SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), and escitalopram (Lexapro). 
  • Specific SNRIs (Serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) like venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and duloxetine (Cymbals) 
  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin SR, Forfivo XL)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline and nortriptyline (Pamelor)

Lifestyle Adjustments to Manage Anxiety Early Pregnancy

Establishing a Supportive Network

Start by discussing your anxiety with someone you trust, like your best friend, partner, therapist, doctor, or another expectant parent. You can also connect with other pregnant women in your neighborhood or on online forums. 

Balancing Work and Rest

Give yourself a break from the emotional demands of pregnancy. You can delegate your to-do list to someone else or discuss flexible work arrangements and reduced workload. Additionally, get enough sleep and dedicate time to your favorite activities, for example, reading, soaking in a warm bath, or getting a prenatal massage.

Creating a Stress-Free Environment

Declutter your living and working spaces to promote a sense of order and tranquility. Moreover, incorporate soothing elements, such as soft lighting, calming scents, and relaxing music, into your surroundings. Most importantly, set boundaries with people and situations that cause unnecessary stress.

Preparing for a Positive Pregnancy Experience

Importance of Prenatal Education

Prenatal education equips you with the information you need to make informed decisions about your pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. Here’s how it benefits you:

  • Reduced Anxiety: Understanding the physical and emotional changes throughout pregnancy can alleviate anxieties about what’s normal and what’s not. You also learn about the changes in your body for more informed self-care.
  • Preparation for Parenthood: Classes can provide valuable information on infant care, feeding, and development, making you confident about the arrival of your baby.
  • Support: Prenatal education fosters a sense of community by providing the opportunity to connect with other expectant parents, share experiences, and build a support network.

Setting Realistic Expectations and Goals

Every pregnancy has its joys and challenges. Here’s how to focus on your own journey with realistic goals:

  • Adapt your goals as needed, recognizing that some aspects of pregnancy and childbirth are unpredictable
  • Avoid comparisons
  • Celebrate small milestones along the way
  • Set achievable goals, such as maintaining a balanced diet, staying active, and attending regular prenatal check-ups to enjoy a sense of accomplishment.
  • Discuss your expectations and concerns with your healthcare provider

Developing a Birth Plan

A birth plan communicates your labor, delivery, and postpartum care preferences to your healthcare team. The document may indicate:

  • Pain management options
  • Birthing positions
  • Who you want in the delivery room
  • Delivery environment, for example, hospital, birthing center, or home birth

Remember, a birth plan is a guide, not a script. Be open to modifications based on your doctor’s recommendations and the situation during labor.

When to Seek Help for Anxiety During Pregnancy

Recognizing the severity of your anxiety during pregnancy is crucial for the well-being of both the mother and the baby. Look out for symptoms such as constant worry, panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, or intrusive thoughts that interfere with daily life. You may also experience physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and dizziness. The good news is that you’re not alone. There are several resources and professional interventions available, including:

  • Healthcare Providers: Your obstetrician or midwife will assess your symptoms and refer you to appropriate mental health services.
  • Therapists and Counselors: Mental health professionals, such as psychologists, counselors, or therapists, can offer various forms of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is effective in treating anxiety.
  • Support Groups: Joining a prenatal or anxiety support group can provide a sense of community and shared understanding. Many organizations offer both in-person and online support groups.
  • Hotlines and Helplines: National and local hotlines can offer immediate support and resources. Examples include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline and Postpartum Support International (PSI).
  • Medication: Your healthcare provider can discuss the risks and benefits of different medications during pregnancy and guide you to an informed decision.

FAQ About Anxiety During Pregnancy

Yes, severe anxiety increases the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which can cross the placenta and affect the baby’s development. Potential effects include low birth weight, premature birth, and developmental challenges later in life. Fortunately, you can manage common symptoms of anxiety with relaxation techniques, professional prenatal care, and support from friends, family members, and other women in their pregnancy journey.

Activities like deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and prenatal yoga have proven effective in reducing pregnancy anxiety. Always choose pregnancy-safe techniques and consult with your doctor before taking on something new.

You can support your partner by listening to them, providing reassurance, and validating their feelings. This is in addition to helping with household chores and attending prenatal appointments together. 

Prenatal classes manage pregnancy anxiety by educating women about childbirth, breastfeeding, and newborn care. They also offer a supportive environment where expectant parents can share their experiences and concerns.


Pregnancy anxiety is a normal part of pregnancy. Although everyday worries don't usually harm the mom or baby, chronic stress can impact your health and potentially complicate labor and your child's development. As such, self-care goes a long way in managing your anxiety symptoms and improving your pregnancy experience. Don't hesitate to consult with a health provider for a professional diagnosis and treatment. Are you overwhelmed by pregnancy anxiety? Contact RMC today for compassionate prenatal care.