Pregnancy is not for the faint of heart, even under the best of circumstances, and for a woman who battles anxiety, pregnancy can be a particularly hard time. Not only do you have plenty of new things to be concerned about, but you also worry that the anxiety itself will affect your little one. If a gestating woman finds herself in these shoes, how concerned should she be? Can an anxiety attack hurt your baby during pregnancy? It's definitely something you want to keep under control.
According to a medically reviewed article in Everyday Health, up to 10 percent of pregnant women experience panic attacks, the symptoms of which include rapid heartbeat, chest pain, trembling, breathing difficulty, and/or dizziness. Although impact on the developing fetus is not inevitable, pregnant women should be aware that such impact is possible.
Psychologist Dr. Gina Hassan is quoted by Everyday Health as having said that “Blood flow to the fetus is reduced when their mothers are experiencing high anxiety, which can lead to low birth weight and premature labor." The article also noted that major panic attacks can affect the mother-child relationship even after birth, as a mother’s ability to cope in the postpartum period may be challenged.
Minnesota-based marriage and family therapist Crystal Clancy tells Romper, "Research is showing that pregnant women who experience chronic anxiety during pregnancy are more likely to experience pre-term labor, low birth weight babies, and fussy babies. This also creates a higher risk of postpartum depression, anxiety or OCD, and PTSD. A new mom who cannot sleep is at risk for postpartum psychosis."
But how do you know if your anxiety is serious enough to have such effects? Clancy says the term "chronic anxiety" refers to those who are frequently in high stress settings — an abusive marriage, a dangerous neighborhood, or an extremely high stress job, for example. "It is normal to have some level of stress in life, and good to know that those daily stressors, or even something stressful happening during your pregnancy, such as a job loss or loss of a loved one, are not necessarily going to affect your pregnancy," Clancy clarifies. "It is important to look at the overall picture, reduce stressors wherever possible, and learn healthy ways to manage anxiety, such as therapy, relaxation techniques, meditation, and in some cases, medication."
If you have concerns about your anxiety, talk to your healthcare provider about exploring your options. Starting with therapy might help, and there are some anxiety medications that can be taken during pregnancy, too. Don't hesitate to reach out for help — it doesn't make you less of a mother, it makes you a braver one.