Antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety: what are they?
For all parents, pregnancy and early parenthood are powerful and life-changing events. Adjusting to big changes can be stressful, and it’s natural to feel anxious and to worry during pregnancy, or while caring for your new baby.
But worry or anxiety can be a problem if it happens all the time, and gets in the way of your health, your daily life, or your relationships. Because pregnancy and early parenthood are times of such big change, they’re also times when parents are more likely to have problems with anxiety.
Antenatal anxiety is anxiety that happens during pregnancy. Postnatal anxiety is anxiety that happens after birth. Antenatal and postnatal anxiety have the same symptoms and are managed in the same way. The only difference between them is the timing.
You might hear antenatal and postnatal anxiety referred together as perinatal anxiety.
Antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety are common mental health conditions and often happen together with antenatal and postnatal depression in women and antenatal and postnatal depression in men.
Symptoms of antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety
- have trouble relaxing or sleeping, even when your baby is asleep
- have tense muscles or a ‘tight’ chest
- feel your heart racing
- breathe faster
- feel sweaty
- have ‘pins and needles’ in your hands, feet or face
- feel lightheaded or dizzy
- have twitches or trembling
- have a stomach ache
- have changes in your bowel habits.
Thinking and emotional symptoms
- find it hard not to worry
- have trouble concentrating
- feel restless, irritable or on edge
- get frustrated easily
- feel panic or dread
- have thoughts like ‘I can’t handle this’ or ‘I can’t calm down’
- have thoughts about something bad happening to you, your baby or your partner.
- avoid doing everyday tasks like going out
- check on your baby constantly
- have a change in your appetite or eating habits – for example, you might stop eating or start overeating.
What to do about symptoms of antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety
Most people have symptoms of anxiety every now and then. If symptoms don’t last long and don’t really interfere with daily life, it’s probably OK. You can manage these symptoms with practical strategies and help.
But it’s not OK if:
- you’re having some of the symptoms above nearly every day
- the symptoms are distressing or difficult to control
- the symptoms interfere with your health, your relationships, or your ability to manage your daily life.
If this sounds like you, it’s important to seek professional support.
If you’re having thoughts about hurting yourself or your family, you should urgently speak to your GP or call Lifeline Australia on 131 114. If you believe that someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 000 or take the person to your local hospital’s emergency department.
Practical strategies for antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety
Managing antenatal and postnatal anxiety is good for you, good for your baby, and good for your family.
Here are some simple steps to cope with anxiety:
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling – your partner, a family member or trusted friend.
- Keep a diary or journal to record your feelings. You might be able to see a pattern in how you feel in different situations. For example, you might notice that your heart starts racing whenever you go out with your baby.
- Try breathing for relaxation, muscle relaxation, mindfulness or positive thinking exercises.
- Practise self-compassion.
- Look after yourself by doing some regular physical activity and trying to eat healthy food.
- Do activities that relax and recharge you, even if it’s only for a little while. This might be going for a walk, reading a book, having a relaxing bath or listening to a podcast.
- Ask for and accept practical help from family and friends – for example, help with grocery shopping, cleaning and baby care.
- Join a local or online support group to connect with others who might be in a similar situation and can share advice from their own experiences.
There are also online mental health resources that can help you manage your anxiety. For example, Head to Health, Reach Out Breathe, MindSpot, MumSpace and myCompass all offer free online resources for managing anxiety.
If these everyday tips don’t help enough and you’re struggling to deal with your anxiety, seeking professional help is important. Mental health services are there to help you recover so that you can be the parent you want to be.
Professional help for antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety
If you have antenatal or postnatal anxiety symptoms that aren’t going away and are difficult to control, professional help is important for you and your baby.
Talking to your GP about how you’re feeling is a great first step. Your GP will talk with you about how to manage anxiety. They’ll also assess your symptoms and guide you to the most appropriate services and treatment options. This might include a referral to a psychologist. You can also go to the Australian Psychological Society’s website to find a psychologist.
Your GP can give you a mental health care plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for up to 10 sessions with a mental health professional per year.
Other people and services that can help you with antenatal and postnatal anxiety include:
- your obstetrician or midwife
- your child and family health nurse
- the Perinatal Anxiety & Depression (PANDA) Helpline on 1300 726 306 or MensLine on 1300 789 978
- ForWhen on 1300 242 322
- local mental health services
- your local community health centre.
When you get the right support, it’ll help you feel better sooner.
Parents in rainbow families might have to navigate additional challenges on their journey through pregnancy and after birth, like not having enough support and understanding of their needs. It’s good to let your GP or another health professional know what you’re experiencing. And you can call PANDA to see whether they can refer you to an LGBTIQ-friendly GP.
When your partner has antenatal anxiety or postnatal anxiety
If you have a partner with antenatal or postnatal anxiety, your support is very important in helping them feel better sooner. And when you and your partner are well, it helps you give your baby what they need to grow and thrive.
Here are some things you can do to support your partner during this time:
- Listen to your partner, and reassure them that you’re there to support them and that things will get better.
- Talk to your partner often and ask how they’re going. This will help you both be aware of any symptoms and changes.
- Stay calm and help your partner use everyday anxiety strategies. For example, you could do breathing exercises together, or make a relaxing walk part of your daily routine.
- If everyday strategies don’t help your partner with managing anxiety, encourage them to seek professional help. You could look into options for your partner.
- Help your partner with getting support. For example, you could book your partner’s appointments and go to them together.
- Look at ways to give your partner more time to care for their wellbeing. For example, you might need to take on more baby care and housework for a while.
High stress situations, trauma, a previous stillbirth or neonatal death, or family violence can increase your risk of developing anxiety and depression. If you’re experiencing any of these, or you have other problems or concerns, talk to your doctor or nurse. They can help you find the support you need so that you and your baby stay safe.