Anxiety in Pregnancy
Pregnancy can be both an exciting and worrying time for parents-to-be. Pregnant women experience a range of physical and emotional changes, all of which may trigger anxiety. Fear of the unknown, stress, feelings of insecurity over work or money, and daily pressures add to hormonal changes during pregnancy and may make women feel overwhelmed. Couple this with the constant worry over the baby’s health, and anxiety becomes a real possibility.
Boston-area researchers looked at the rates of detection and treatment of maternal anxiety by obstetricians during pregnancy and at six weeks postpartum. They screened nearly 500 women and compared the results with each woman’s medical records.
More than 20 percent of tested positive for an anxiety disorder, depressive symptoms, or both prenatally, and 17 percent screened positive at six weeks postpartum. But “the majority of women who screened positive were not identified by their providers during pregnancy or postpartum,” say the experts.
“Only 15 percent of positively screened participants had evidence of any mental health treatment during pregnancy. In the postpartum period, only 25 percent of positively screened postpartum women received treatment,” they report, adding that care is “seriously lacking and needs to be addressed.”
Elevated anxiety can affect mother-infant interactions, warn researchers from Michigan State University. They write, “Many postpartum women experience emotional dysregulation, often involving elevated anxiety.” A range of brain and hormone factors could contribute to this anxiety. They add that recent contact with infants seems to mitigate this anxiety.
Women who have suffered adverse outcomes in previous pregnancies are at particular risk. Miscarriage, fetal death, and preterm birth reduce women’s quality of life scores and significantly raise their anxiety scores during subsequent pregnancies. One study found that “health anxiety” was only elevated in pregnant women who had experienced earlier complications during pregnancy.
However, anxiety relating to childbirth is widespread among pregnant women. A team from the University of British Columbia, Canada, surveyed 650 women at 35 and 39 weeks gestation, with low-risk pregnancies. Twenty-five percent of women reported high levels of childbirth fear, and this was positively correlated with anxiety, daily stressors, and less available help. “Fear of childbirth appears to be part of a complex picture of women’s emotional experiences during pregnancy,” say the team.
A further study focused on mothers older than 35. The researchers, from Finland, reviewed women’s attitudes to the risks associated with pregnancy in this maternal age group. They write, “Being ‘at risk’ (due to age) causes anxiety and concern, which older pregnant women try to ease by preparing themselves for pregnancy and seeking information.