It is entirely understandable that pregnancy is a stressful time. There is so much going on, from the physical body changes to the emotional rollercoaster, and not to mention entering a whole new life phase. Since pregnancy doesn’t come with a manual instruction book, it is very much about figuring it out along the way. If this isn’t stressful enough on its own, new moms have a newborn baby to take care of as well.
So when women get anxious during those nine months of pregnancy, it isn’t a total surprise. However, anxiety is one of those things that can have ‘healthy’ levels, and levels that are more dangerous and harmful. There are times during pregnancy where being anxious is reasonable and it makes sense, but if anxiety tips towards the other end of the scale, it can have dire results.
Being anxious can refer to having thoughts of constant stress on your mind and worrying about all the small details. This can lead to not being able to fully participate in society and get daily tasks done. Anxiety can also refer to having panic attacks, which is when someone gets so worked up about something that they physically can’t breath and all rational thought processes go out the window.
Anxiety isn’t something that someone can just ‘get over’, especially not in the moment of an anxious spell. It needs to be handled with care and understanding, especially when pregnant. However, anxiety is definitely something to get under control and have manageable strategies during pregnancy, for your sake and the baby's.
15 Links To ADHD In The Child
Now, ADHD is caused by many different things and it isn’t the label of doom that many parents think it is. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is very manageable in today’s society and children who have it can lead fully functioning lives. Certainly, ADHD leads to more complications with certain things, so if it can be avoided, that is also a good thing.
Anxiety during pregnancy has links to ADHD. It isn’t a proven cause and it is judged on a case by case basis. A study in Belgium’s Catholic University followed 71 mothers and their first-person children from pregnancy and measured the anxiety levels throughout pregnancy. The children were later assessed for ADHD behaviours at ages 8 and 9. During the 12th and 22nd week of pregnancy, there were strong shows of anxiety in the mothers and this provided links to the ADHD in the children. So that might be the weeks to really get anxiety under control during pregnancy!
14 Social Issues Laid On For Baby
An anxious mind leads to an anxious life. While it isn’t genetic, it is certainly environmental, and babies pick up on what’s going on in their environment more than we may realise. If anxiety continues from the pregnancy into the neonatal days and beyond, it is going to have a direct impact on how baby sees the world.
Anxiety can lead to social issues in many ways. From not wanting to organise a catch up with someone due to fear of them not showing up, or not panicking about what conversations are going to take place, social anxiety is a very real thing that many people struggle with on a daily basis.
If you’re an anxious mother, you are essentially teaching your baby how to be anxious as well. Children learn much of their socialisation through observation and you are the main person they start off observing. So anxious behaviours are going to be directly learnt, unless you get that anxiety sorted during pregnancy!
13 Amplifies The Emotional Rollercoaster
Surprise, surprise, pregnancy is an emotional rollercoaster. There are hormones raging all of the time, self-consciousness and self-esteem bouncing around with bodily changes, and preparing to bring a new baby into this world. If pregnant women aren’t getting emotional, then something is wrong with that.
However, these emotions can become somewhat dangerous when they are tied to an anxious mind. Anxiety really taps into any negative emotion and plays it up. It takes that one bad thought you had about yourself and shouts it out for the world to hear. This is not something that pregnant women need. Especially if anxiety is telling you that you’re fat now and you don’t have the strength to shout back ‘well of course I’m fat, there’s a baby growing inside!’. Anxiety is mean and controlling in this way and will use pregnancy as an excuse to amplify these negative emotions. Obviously, you have enough to deal with during pregnancy without all this, which is why it is so important to have strategies to manage anxiety.
12 Affects The Hormones During Pregnancy
Beyond messing with the emotional rollercoaster, anxiety actually has a biological affect on the hormones that are released during pregnancy. Now, there are endless hormones released at different times and all of these have their important role to play in developing a baby.
Namely, anxiety is directly linked to cortisol levels in babies. This is a hormone that is passed to the baby via the placenta. During fetal development, cortisol is what kicks the lungs into gear and gets them functioning inside the womb so that they can do their oxygen thing on the outside. If cortisol levels are thrown out of balance, the lungs don’t develop at the expected pace and this can be problematic.
Anxiety can lead cortisol levels to be higher in newborn babies. While it sounds like that’s a good thing and leads to super lungs or something, high cortisol levels actually lead to high stress levels in babies.
11 A Hyperactive Hypothalamus In The Baby
In the brain, the hypothalamus does much of the controlling. This little guy is responsible for regulating hormones and has direct links to the nervous system and endocrine system. It impacts on things like how much sleep we get, what the temperature of our body is, and how many hormones it wants to bombard us with at different times (obviously during pregnancy it goes into overdrive).
So since the hypothalamus is responsible for some pretty important bodily functions, it is desired to have standard activity in it. There is research showing that anxiety in pregnancy had resulted in increased activity of the hypothalamus in infants. A hyperactive hypothalamus isn’t just a tongue-twister to say, it is also rather problematic. It can lead to hyperactive behaviours, increased hormones changes early on which results in weight gain, and it can mess with the sleep patterns of babies. The latter is already something that moms worry about, let alone even more confusing sleep patterns!
10 Worsens Pain And Discomfort Of Pregnancy
Many people are willing to write off anxiety as a ‘mind over matter’ type thing. For those who haven’t experienced anxiety, it is easy to disbelieve when people say that there are direct physical effects of anxiety.
Anxiety is well known to lead to physical pain, whether in the form of an anxiety attack or something else. Since anxiety heightens any concern, worry, or discomfort in the mind, it can force the brain to tap into and focus on something that isn’t feeling right in the body.
Since during pregnancy there are so many things not feeling right in the body, from feet swelling to the size of balloons to the hairiest legs you ever did see, pregnancy changes the body a lot. There are also increased experiences of pain, in the lower back and hips especially. Having anxiety during pregnancy can mean that these pains are harder to alleviate and harder to focus less on for they are drawing the attention of an anxious brain.
9 Morphs Baby’s Brain
During fetal development, mom is basically hardwiring baby’s brain without even realising it. This is done through biological science and through environmental factors as well. Pretty much, everything that mom does goes straight to moulding baby’s body, including the brain.
The fetal brain is pretty vulnerable and picks up on things really quickly. It is an impressionable little thing as it grows bigger in the womb and is really sensitive to the external factors influencing it. A study found that women who have high levels of anxiety during pregnancy impacts on how the baby’s stress axis in the brain develops. If you think about this stress axis being a straight line, anxiety tips it somewhat slightly off centre. This means that babies can’t regulate stress as smoothly and are more prone to anxiety themselves. Anxiety becomes a vicious cycle in this regard, tilting stress axis from moms to baby all around.
8 Low APGAR Score At Baby’s Birth
When baby’s are born, the doctors and midwives are going to assess them pretty much straight away. It’s a no pressure test, but no one really wants to be assessed after coming from a womb to the real world! Doctors do all this while mom is still recovering from the shock of pushing a baby through places that widened at exponential rates.
The APGAR score is based on tests relating to the baby’s appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration. These are all things that indicate that baby is ready to function in society and is responding and reacting to things normally. The APGAR test is done one minute after birth and then again five minutes after birth. It doesn’t seem like a lot could change in those four minutes, but with babies it could!
Parents who have had anxiety problems during pregnancy impact on their baby’s score. The APGAR score tends to be lower in moms with known anxiety conditions. This can lead to baby not being able to process things as well later on in life.
7 Respiratory Distress For Baby
As we mentioned earlier, anxiety in pregnant women can have a direct impact on hormone levels, especially cortisol. This hormone is responsible for helping organs mature in the developing fetus so it plays a pretty big role. Cortisol levels are really important to seeing baby grow at a steady rate and be ready for delivery.
With anxiety, there is the chance that cortisol levels in the baby will be too high. Since cortisol has a direct impact on the lung development, higher levels can be problematic for how the lungs are looking at the time of birth. If the lungs aren’t developed properly, the baby can be born with respiratory distress. An imbalance of cortisol can mean the lungs aren’t functioning properly and it can be harder for baby to get those first vital breaths of fresh air once outside the womb. Obviously this isn’t going to appease an anxious mother in any way, but rather make things even more anxious!
6 Risk Of Preeclampsia
There are so many things that expectant moms have to be on the lookout for and so many conditions to avoid for their baby. It is no wonder then that anxiety levels do tend to rise in pregnant women. However, when these anxiety levels rise too much, there can be problems with how the pregnancy is progressing.
One condition that you really don’t want to get when you’re pregnant is preeclampsia. This is characterised by high blood pressure and too much protein in the urine, which can suggest issues with the kidney. It isn’t pretty and it is one of those things that you just don’t want to have to worry about while carrying a developing baby. Preeclampsia can be dangerous for unborn babies.
So of course, an anxious woman who has preeclampsia due to her anxiety is just going to end up being a hot mess. It is one of those vicious cycles. Fortunately, preeclampsia is totally treatable.
5 Lower Birth Weight For Baby
If babies are too big or too small, it doesn’t matter a huge amount. There is no ‘right’ baby weight to expect, but there is a weight for each individual baby that is just right in its own way. The birth weight is compared with a baby’s gestational age. A birthweight that comes in less than 2,500 grams is considered a low birthweight.
Low birth weights are often associated with premature babies. It can be a problem because babies need a strong body to get ready for this crazy world. A low birthweight can indicate that things aren’t fully developed and bone density strength isn’t up to scratch yet. It also means that baby might not be able to eat as well and get the nutrients required to continue developing.
Anxiety can have a direct impact on the birthweight in some cases. It is also known to lead to premature birth, which in turn suggests a lower birth weight.
4 Can Turn Into Fear Of Childbirth
Being anxious about childbirth is pretty normal. After all, what can really prepare a woman for having the downstairs region go from the size of a pin prick to a bagel in a matter of hours. There aren’t enough squats in the world to get the hips and pelvis ready to have a baby’s head come shooting through.
Pre-pregnancy anxiety is normal in small doses, but when it blows out of proportion it can become a major problem. Tokophobia is a legitimate fear of giving birth and can stem from anxiety during pregnancy. When it becomes a phobia, it has very dire effects on mental health and can be really difficult to process the actual birth.
While most expectant moms are a little irrational with certain things, an expectant mom with tokophobia is a whole different ball game. Trying to explain that things are going to be ok and the baby will be born healthy and well is just going in one ear and out the other.
3 Leads To Postpartum Depression
The baby blues are a known thing amongst new mothers. After all, as blissful as having a baby is, it is also incredibly stressful and has just turned life in a whole new direction. It is pretty normal during an adjustment period and transition phase to experience some down moments.
However, when these down moments become down days and you end up spiralling in a depression, there are going to be problems. Postpartum depression is a very real thing and a very big concern amongst pregnant women. It is fairly treatable and manageable if it is identified early on.
There are many risk factors and contributors to postpartum depression, and anxiety during pregnancy is one of them. As an anxious mind leads to an anxious lifestyle, it is easy for anxiety to carry on after pregnancy and manifest itself in the form of depression. Treating and managing anxiety during pregnancy lessens the likelihood of postpartum depression.
2 Hormonal Changes Plus Anxiety Equals Panic Attacks
So we’ve already discussed the hormonal rollercoaster and the role that anxiety plays on this. Good old anxiety is over there taking the negative thoughts that hormones and emotions are throwing out and putting them in a giant blender, or something like that.
When anxious thoughts get too much, which during pregnancy can be very much because the hormones are messing with them, the result can be a panic attack. These things are scary enough when you’re not carrying a growing child inside you, let alone if you are.
A panic attack generally starts with the heart racing, feeling weak or faint or dizzy, getting a tingling sensation in the fingers and toes, and feeling a sense of impending doom. All of this accumulates to chest pain, breathing difficulties, and a total loss of control. Just about everything about a panic attack is not ideal during pregnancy and really needs to be avoided.
1 Mental Health Affects Physical Health
It is almost common knowledge these days that mental health directly ties into physical health. A healthy mind means a healthy body and all that means a healthy lifestyle and outlook on the world. This is the ideal scenario, especially during pregnancy.
However, when anxiety has its say, things aren’t looking so sunshine and rainbows. Anxiety directly impacts on your physical health, especially in terms of how you eat and exercise. During pregnancy, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet and exercising regularly is super important. This is important for mom-to-be, as well as the growing baby to make the womb as hospitable and full of nutrients as possible.
Women who experience anxiety generally find it harder to exercise and eat well. Giving into comfort food and taking a lazy day is the easiest option during moments of anxiety and might sound more appealing during pregnancy. The irony is that good food and exercise are actually going to make you feel better and help combat the anxiety!
Sources: Webmd.com, Womensmentalhealth.com, Psychcentral.com, Tommys.org, Huffingtonpost.com, Mayoclinic.com