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Answers to Questions about Perinatal Anxiety

January 10, 2018 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Answers to Questions about Perinatal Anxiety

Whether you are a new parent experiencing perinatal anxiety, a partner to someone who is, a friend, or a family member, know that you are not alone. These conditions are very common.

Having information about what you might be experiencing and knowing where to get support can help.

How is perinatal anxiety different from depression and other mood disorders?

Mood disorders include depression and bipolar disorders. You may have heard about these before. In particular, a great deal of attention has been given to postpartum depression. Only recently have people begun to talk more about perinatal anxiety and their related disorders, too.

When people are depressed they experience feelings of hopelessness, sadness and sometimes unhealthy feelings of excitement. With anxiety and their related disorders, people feel nervousness, fear or worry.

How common are anxiety disorders during pregnancy and after having a baby?

The anxiety and their related disorders are the most common of all psychiatric conditions. Nearly one-third (28.8 per cent) of the population will suffer from an anxiety or related disorder at some time in their life. During pregnancy and the postpartum, as many as 20 per cent of women will suffer from an anxiety or related disorder. That is why it’s important to be aware and understand how to recognize if you or a loved one is experiencing an anxiety disorder and seek support.

People living with perinatal anxiety or postpartum depression need respect, compassion, and empathy. A new mothers’ mental health is just as important as her physical health, and shouldn’t be ignored as an important part of her well-being. Read more on preventing stigma.

How to know if you are experiencing a perinatal anxiety disorder?

Worries about your pregnancy or newborn are common among new mothers. When these worries or other types of anxiety become highly distressing or interfere in your life, you may be suffering from a perinatal anxiety or related disorder.

There are a number of different types of anxiety and related disorders. These include panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. During pregnancy and after childbirth, these conditions may appear as:

  • Fear of childbirth, fear of medical procedures (e.g., needles), and fear of vomiting
  • Panic disorder where are afraid of the normal body sensations that happen during pregnancy and the postpartum
  • Social fears
  • Worrying often about your fetus or baby as well as worries about other areas of life
  • Unwanted, intrusive thoughts about harm related to your baby
  • Birth-related trauma including repeating memories of a traumatic birth

Anxiety and related disorders can make it difficult to enjoy close relationships, socialize, go to work or function well at work.

What help is available for women facing a perinatal anxiety disorder?

  • Medication: Anxiety and their related disorders are commonly treated with medication. Some of the medications used to treat anxiety may have negative consequences for the developing fetus and newborn. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of medication use.
  • Talk therapy: In general, pregnant and postpartum women report a preference for talk therapy over medication. Studies comparing medication to talk therapy for anxiety have shown that talk therapy, in particular cognitive behaviour therapy, works just as well as medication, if not better.
  • Self-help: When a person is suffering from mild symptoms of anxiety, sometimes self-help materials may be enough.

How to get help?

There are many great places to find information about anxiety and related disorders, and how to treat them. Below is a list of resources as well as information about how to connect with a mental health provider.

Information and self-help materials:

To get treatment:

  1. Speak to your doctor.
  2. Take a look at the Canadian Association of Cognitive and Behaviour Therapies (CACBT-ACTCC). The CACBT maintains a list of cognitive behaviour therapy certified therapists across Canada: http://www.cacbt.ca/en/index.htm
  3. See the BC Psychological Association list of registered psychologists in BC along with their areas of practice: https://www.psychologists.bc.ca/
Author’s Bio:  Dr. Nichole Fairbrother is a registered psychologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Located in Victoria BC with the Island Medical Program, she maintains an active program of research in the area of perinatal anxiety disorders.

Recommended resources

Coping with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
Depression and Anxiety During Pregnancy
AnxietyBC
AnxietyBC: Anxiety During Pregnancy and Baby’s First Year
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Reproductive Mental Health: Resources

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