Woman holding her baby looking sad.

There has been a lot of talk about postpartum depression and getting help. However, how common anxiety can be during pregnancy and the postpartum period is less talked about. According to Postpartum Support International, 6 percent of women experience anxiety during pregnancy and 10 percent of women experience anxiety during the postpartum period.

Anxiety in general can be understood as overestimating how dangerous a situation is and underestimating your ability to cope in that situation.

Pregnant woman feeling pain in her belly lying in bed with insomnia at night. The concept of pregnancy and health

Factors that can make women vulnerable to intensified anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period could include:  

  • a past history of being diagnosed with anxiety
  • a family history of anxiety
  • struggles with fertility and loss
  • struggles with body image
  • relationships stressors
  • hormonal changes
  • sleep deprivation.

Feeling anxious about the transition to motherhood and parenthood is normal. ​ However, if it starts to interfere with your daily routines and lasts longer than two weeks it may be helpful to seek help. These are 5 symptoms to watch out for when pregnant or postpartum. 

1.  Excessive Worries

This is one of the main symptom associated with anxiety. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with the transition to parenthood. Worries can be absolutely normal, unless they start to feel constant and uncontrollable. This could include interfering with your ability to function in your daily routine. Worries include feeling so concerned about your baby’s health as well as being concerned about money to the point that you are not sleeping or avoiding going out in public. Worries can start to become so overwhelming that you start to feel anxious even when you are not doing a task which is specifically stressful.

2. Intrusive Thoughts

Tired young mother doing the laundry while her baby is sleeping

​These are unwanted thoughts or images that pop into your head and cause you to feel more anxious or distressed. For instance, you may be having your morning coffee and have an unwanted image of you dropping hot coffee on your baby, or have an unwanted thought that you will drop your baby when walking down the stairs. As a result, you may start to take certain precautions such as drinking cold coffee or only staying on one floor with your baby. Although these behaviours may provide temporary relief they may cause your anxiety to become worse overtime.

3. Disturbances in Sleep

Sleep is so important during the postpartum period. Especially, if you have a history of struggling with mental health issues. Often times sleep can be disrupted by overthinking and excessive worries. If you are struggling with sleep and it has nothing to do with your babies sleep habit, it is important to keep note of it. Sleep difficulties could include: interrupted sleep, difficulty falling asleep and early morning awakenings.

4. Irritability

With lack of sleep and feeling like a tiny human is constantly latched to you it is easy to feel exhausted. Even though you may not feel anxious, some women’s anxiety is more easily shown as feeling uneasy and easily snapping at people. For instance, being more easily argumentative with your partner, family or friends. Being short with the cashier at the grocery store. Or even scarier, raising your voice with your baby when they are uncontrollably crying. Pay attention to how you are communicating and ask people you love if they have noticed a difference in how you are responding to them. ​

5. Physical Symptoms 

One of the first things people may start to notice with feeling anxious are daunting physical symptoms. Physical symptoms may include:

  • feeling of nausea
  • feeling lightheaded
  • overly exhausted even after restful sleep
  • heart palpations
  • feeling overheated or cold
  • tension headaches

Your body may be telling you something and it has to do more with your emotional well-being then your physical well-being.

If you have noticed more than a few of these symptoms and that they are interfering with your daily routine or ability to bond with your baby, it may be helpful to speak with your doctor. You can get in contact with your family doctor and/or reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in treating peripartum anxiety. Psychological techniques such as mindfulness and cognitive behavior therapy are evidence based strategies which can help decrease anxiety and promote improved bonding with your baby.

B Healthy Counselling specializes in supporting women and couples during pregnancy and the postpartum period. ​

Samantha Attinello is a registered social worker who has been working as a psychotherapist and mental health professional for the past 15 years working at various hospitals in the GTA including St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Toronto Western and most recently William Osler Health System. She obtained her Master’s and Bachelor’s in Social Work from Carleton University and holds a BA in Psychology from McMaster University. She also has certifications in cognitive behaviour therapy from Hinks Dellcrest Institute. As well as, completed some training from the Gottman Institute specializing in couples therapy.

She has worked in various areas of mental health with a special interest in Women’s Mental Health and Couples Counselling. Formally, she founded and led the Women’s Mental Health Clinic at William Osler Health and has continued to work with women and couples on their goals. ​​