Severe Anxiety While Pregnant: Causes and Treatment

Severe anxiety while pregnant: What are the causes, effects and treatment options?

Pregnancy comes with different feelings, behaviors, cravings, hatred, and other moments. Some of the moments are exciting while others like anxiety and stress may occur in some women and are not nice at all.

Most pregnant women will worry about their health, the financial strain of raising a child, and the fear of the unknown. For example, some parents worry about what will become of their children.

Anxiety when occurring infrequently and without much intensity is nothing to worry about. However, severe anxiety while pregnant can be overwhelming.

For a woman, the worries discussed above and many others in addition to changes in the hormones in her body can lead to a cycle of anxiety and depression. This can be experienced by others through anger outbursts, crying, irritability, and extreme sadness.


Is Prenatal depression and anxiety common?

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG), Prenatal depression and anxiety are some of the most common mental health conditions that are experienced by pregnant women. It affects up to 70 percent of pregnant women.

Depression on its own affects up to 14-23 percent of all pregnant women. When evaluated, the following are the main worries for most pregnant women:

  • The health of the baby
  • Their own health and fear of complications
  • The financial burden of raising a child
  • Whether the spouse will be supportive
  • Risk of miscarriage
  • Fear of abuse by the spouse and others
  • Fear of getting postpartum depression as experienced in 600,000 American women

There are many causes of anxiety and depression while pregnant.

How common is pregnancy anxiety?

It’s estimated that as many as 15% of women experience clinically significant pregnancy anxiety. Women who have been pregnant before are less likely to experience anxiety. However, if you had serious anxiety during your previous pregnancies, you may experience anxiety during the current pregnancy.

Actually, even though anxiety disorders during pregnancy and postpartum are underdiagnosed they may affect up to one in five women. Moreover, pregnancy anxiety can affect either parent. Even more important, pregnancy anxiety is highly individual. This means that any solution to pregnancy anxiety that may work on alleviating worries for your friend may not work on your worries.

It is important not to judge yourself unfairly if you can’t cope with anxiety during pregnancy. This is because pregnancy can be a very emotional experience. The factors that can lead to anxiety when pregnant include:

  • High-risk pregnancy
  • History of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and/or depression
  • History of miscarriage(s)
  • Major life stressors including marital problems or financial problems
  • Perfectionism (trying to avoid making any mistakes or trying to do everything just right)

Moreover, it is difficult to know whether you can manage the anxiety on your own or if you need help from a doctor. This is because anxiety can be a serious condition, especially during pregnancy.

What is pregnancy anxiety?

Antenatal anxiety is the anxiety experience during pregnancy. Most antenatal anxiety cases present with shortness of breath and extreme fear and it can affect either the father or the mother. Mostly, the fear is about the welfare of the baby or how to take care of the unborn and the child after delivery.

If you find yourself seeking frequent reassurance that your baby is healthy and developing normally, then you might be having antenatal anxiety. The doctor will check the symptoms and signs and help in diagnosing the mental condition.

Pregnancy anxiety is a form of anxiety that pregnant women experience, usually during their first trimester. Anxiety can be both internal and external.

Internal causes of pregnancy anxiety include concerns about the health and well-being of the mother and her baby, stresses about bodily changes, and concerns about the financial implications of having a child. External causes may include pressures from family or friends to have or not have a child, pregnancy announcements on social media, or even negative comments from strangers.

What are the symptoms of anxiety while pregnant?

There are several symptoms of anxiety while pregnant. Some of the signs are quite common in all women. However, some of the symptoms signify severe anxiety while pregnant.

Some of the common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Being constantly worried
  • Having a fear or feeling that you are about to experience something bad
  • Having racing thoughts frequently
  • Lack of appetite or too much appetite sometimes
  • Lack of sleep or having disturbances in your sleep
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Dizziness and hot flashes
  • Nausea

These are also some of the common pregnancy symptoms during the first trimester. This means that if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms while pregnant, you may be anxious.

Anxiety can range from mild to severe. Mild anxiety will typically not cause any bodily harm and it’s often considered normal. But if your anxiety is moderate to severe, you should consult with a doctor as soon as possible because it could affect your health and the baby’s health.

These symptoms are the same symptoms in other anxiety disorders. The same symptoms can be experienced in persons having a generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, and other anxiety disorders.

What causes pregnancy anxiety?

There are many different reasons why a woman might experience anxiety while pregnant. Studies have found that some of the most common causes of pregnancy-related anxiety include:

  • History of high anxiety, panic attacks, and/or depression
  • Perfectionism (trying to live without making mistakes and trying to do everything just right)
  • History of miscarriage(s)
  • Major life stressors including marital problems or financial problems
  • Knowledge and expectations of childbirth
  • High-risk pregnancy
  • Your partner’s or family’s reaction to the pregnancy
  • Fears about child development
  • Fears about the child’s health
  • Fear of being a parent
  • Fears about financial stability

Some women will also experience anxiety due to their own personal history. For example, if you have been in an abusive relationship before, you may have concerns about your partner’s behavior during this time. And finally, some women will experience stress due to work demands.

If you’re in a position where you need to maintain a high level of performance at work throughout your pregnancy, it can be challenging for your mental health.

What can happen if you get severe anxiety while pregnant?

Having anxiety while pregnant can destabilize a woman completely. This can lead to the woman not being able to take care of herself or the baby. In addition, if left untreated, anxiety can lead to both psychological and physiological issues.

Some of the issues that affect either or both the woman and the baby include:

  • Poor nutrition or poor feeding habits
  • Drug abuse to mask the symptoms
  • Smoking
  • Suicidal tendencies.

All these can lead to the following effects on the mother or the baby:

  • Getting a baby with a low birth weight
  • Giving birth prematurely
  • Getting a baby with developmental problems
  • Passing of the anxiety disorder to the baby
  • Lack of proper bonding between the baby and the mother

Treatment of prenatal anxiety

While seeking treatment for your severe anxiety while pregnant, it is great to engage your doctor. The advice of your obstetrician-gynecologist is important before you decide on the method you will use to treat the anxiety.

In most cases, treatment may be through a lifestyle change or adaptation method or by using medication. The doctor may recommend natural medications for anxiety while pregnant or other medications including SSRIs or Benadryl for anxiety. For medication, note that you have to ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks.

In more severe anxiety cases, your anxiety doctor can use CBT and other advanced treatment methods for anxiety. This is because CBT is not a medication and thus can not hurt the baby or the mother.

What anxiety meds can you take while pregnant?

SSRIs are generally considered an option during pregnancy, including citalopram (Celexa) and sertraline (Zoloft). However, both of these medications should be approached with caution due to the potential for birth defects.

Anxiety can be a serious problem, especially when you’re pregnant. But there are plenty of ways to cope with and reduce anxiety while pregnant.

If your anxiety is interfering with your ability to cope, prevent yourself from harming yourself or others, or function on a daily basis, you should talk to your doctor about what treatment options are available.

There are many different treatment options for severe anxiety during pregnancy. Your doctor will work with you to find the best option for you and your unborn baby. Treatment may include:

  • Counseling
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • A support group

What can I take naturally for anxiety while pregnant?

If you want to take something to reduce your anxiety while pregnant, but want a natural remedy, there are plenty of options. These herbs have been used for centuries to help people cope with stress and anxiety. You can find them in many different forms including teas, tinctures, or capsules.

The herbal remedies are quite effective in relieving the symptoms of anxiety. Lavender, Lemon balm, Chamomile, Passionflower, Kava, and Valerian are all natural anxiety remedies that can be taken when you are pregnant.

If you’re looking for an alternative that’s a little more mainstream, there are also supplements like fish oil and magnesium that might be able to help alleviate your symptoms.

Tips for reducing your anxiety while pregnant

If you’re struggling with severe anxiety during your pregnancy, you’re not alone. Talk to your doctor about what can be done to reduce the symptoms of your anxiety. There are some great, non-medicinal ways to reduce anxiety as well. Some of the best ways to reduce anxiety include:

Exercise: Regular exercise reduces stress hormones in pregnant women and has a calming effect on their moods and energy levels. The benefits of exercise don’t stop there–exercise during pregnancy is also shown to promote healthy weight gain, prevent gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, and even improve fetal outcomes.

Enough sleep: Sleep deprivation can cause or worsen mental health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s important to get as much sleep as you need while pregnant to avoid these consequences. You should plan for eight hours of sleep each night while pregnant.

Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is all about focusing on being present in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. To practice mindfulness when you feel anxious, take a few deep breaths from your diaphragm (not just your chest), close your eyes, focus on your breathing pattern for a minute or so, then repeat this process three times. Write down what thoughts come into your head when you start practicing mindfulness so that you can learn more about what triggers your anxiety and how it affects you throughout different situations each day.

Journaling: This is a great way to relieve stress and clear your head. Writing about your worries helps you think through them. You can always go back later and read what you wrote, which can be helpful for seeing any patterns in your thoughts or behavior.

Schedule worry time: You’ll need to take care of yourself during this time, so make sure you have some “worry time” scheduled into your day. This means setting aside at least 15 minutes every day to worry about all the things that could go wrong with the pregnancy–whatever bothers you the most. After those 15 minutes are up, don’t dwell on it for the rest of the day… put it out of your mind!

Massage: Massages have been shown to reduce anxiety by releasing endorphins. Couples massage has also been shown to improve intimacy and relationship satisfaction, especially if one spouse is pregnant!

Meditation: Meditation has been known to help people relax, combat anxiety and stress, release negativity and promote positivity, among other benefits. It’s also a good idea for an expecting mother because it will teach her how manage her emotions both during pregnancy and after she gives birth!

Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been shown in studies to greatly reduce anxiety levels. If you’re pregnant now or thinking about becoming pregnant soon, give acupuncture a try

Yoga: Yoga is a great way to calm your nerves and get into shape for the baby. Plus, it’s a natural way to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Yoga often helps women sleep better, which can be beneficial during pregnancy.

Breathing exercises: Breathing is one of the best ways to control your emotions during pregnancy. When you’re feeling anxious or frustrated, try these breathing exercises to help yourself calm down and focus on what’s going on around you:

  • Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this five times in a row;
  • Count how many breaths you take in one minute;
  • Choose a calming word that has a positive meaning to you—like “peace” or “love”—and repeat it silently while inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. Repeat this four times in a row;
  • Put both hands on your stomach and close your eyes while taking deep breaths;
  • Sit upright with legs crossed and hands resting on thighs with palms up;
  • Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through pursed lips for 10 minutes or more if possible

Does anxiety affect pregnancy?

Anxiety is a normal part of the human experience and the vast majority of people deal with anxiety at some point in their lives. But does it affect pregnancy?

Severe anxiety affects both the mother and her unborn child. Pregnancy anxiety can cause an increased risk for preterm birth, low birth weight, fetal distress, and infant mortality. In addition to these physical effects, maternal anxiety also has emotional ramifications for both mother and child.

If you’re experiencing extreme pregnancy-related anxiety that’s interfering with your daily life or if you’re unable to function normally because of it, consult a doctor or therapist about your condition so they can give you advice on treating it.

Short-term treatments used for pregnant women include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), hypnosis, relaxation techniques, and counseling. Medications used to treat anxiety during pregnancy include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines. The decision to use medication is usually made jointly by the doctor and mother.

Can anxiety cause miscarriages?

One of the more common misconceptions about pregnancy anxiety is that it could cause a miscarriage.

While there are no studies linking pregnancy anxiety to miscarriages, it is worth noting that stress, in general, isn’t good for new moms, which includes pregnant women.

A recent study found that stressed mothers-to-be were more likely to give birth prematurely and have smaller babies. This can result in the need for costly interventions and even cause long-term health problems.

Still, researchers did find a lot of adverse effects from higher levels of stress during pregnancy. And this included not just physical health, but mental health as well. So if you’re feeling anxious during your pregnancy, it’s imperative to find coping mechanisms now so you don’t experience postpartum depression after giving birth.

Can panic attacks cause miscarriage in early pregnancy?

A 2002 study found that pregnant women who experience stress and anxiety are more likely to have an early miscarriage than those who don’t. The researchers also noted that while the study couldn’t definitively say that stress and anxiety caused the miscarriages, it did increase their risk.

If you’re experiencing panic attacks or severe anxiety while pregnant, this is something you should discuss with your obstetrician. Your doctor can help you manage these feelings so they don’t negatively affect your pregnancy.

And if you want to avoid panic attacks during pregnancy, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your stress levels. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Practice deep breathing exercises for 10 minutes each day
  • Get lots of sleep and exercise regularly
  • Spend time with supportive people
  • Read books about pregnancy on a regular basis

Can panic attacks during pregnancy hurt the baby?

Yes, anxiety can hurt the baby. It’s important to remember that every woman is different, and there are different levels of severity when it comes to anxiety in pregnancy. Some women might experience a little bit while others can’t go a day without feeling it.

There is no single way to deal with all the feelings you’re experiencing during your pregnancy, but there are ways to cope with them. Your doctor may recommend therapy or medication if your symptoms get worse and you’re having trouble managing them on your own.

One thing that’s important to remember is that nobody knows how their baby will react until they’re born so don’t worry too much about hurting the baby before they’ve even had a chance at life!


Pregnancy is far from perfect for everyone. For some women, the idea of being pregnant brings excitement, while for others it’s the opposite. In any case, pregnancy affects a lot of people, and one of the most common pregnancy symptoms is severe anxiety.

If you’re feeling anxious about being pregnant, you’re not alone. One in ten pregnant women experiences severe anxiety, and this can negatively impact your unborn child as well as you. Fortunately, you can learn to cope with your anxiety and get the support you need. 

Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. After all, it’s the birth of a child! Unfortunately, for some expectant mothers, the prospect of being pregnant can trigger anxiety and stress. If you’re among the unlucky few who experience severe anxiety while pregnant, though, you’re not alone.

Some studies estimate that as many as 15% of women will experience clinically significant pregnancy anxiety. But don’t run away screaming! There are plenty of ways to cope with and even reduce your anxiety while pregnant.


How long does anxiety last in pregnancy?

There is no set length of time for how long you will experience anxiety while pregnant. Anxiety can last from a few minutes to months. Panic attacks typically last for between 5 and 20 minutes, but this isn’t always the case.

What is pregnancy anxiety?

Pregnancy anxiety is a form of anxiety that arises from the anticipation of the joys and challenges of being pregnant. It may be a result of an underlying mental health problem, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What are the symptoms of pregnancy anxiety?

The most common symptoms are insomnia, panic attacks, irritability, mood swings, decreased concentration and memory lapses. Some women even experience dissociation and depersonalization–a feeling like they’re watching themselves from outside their body.

How do I manage my pregnancy anxiety?

There are many treatments for pregnancy anxiety. The most common method is therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist which often includes medication to help treat the underlying condition which might be causing your pregnancy-related stress. Some other options include breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, and relaxation techniques like yoga or guided imagery. If you have severe symptoms you should seek medical attention right away.

Can anxiety cause birth defects?

There is no evidence to show birth defects are more common in pregnant women with anxiety versus those who do not have anxiety.
One of the most common questions people ask is whether or not anxiety can cause birth defects. This question is understandable, but the answer is no. There has been no evidence to show that birth defects are more common in pregnant women with anxiety versus those who do not have anxiety. You can rest easy knowing that your pregnancy will be just as safe and healthy as any other pregnant woman’s pregnancy.

Dr. David Barlow

David is a well-known researcher and author in the anxiety disorders area with extensive research on their etiology, nature, and treatment. He started the site to share his real-life experiences on the management of anxiety disorders with successful diagnosis and treatment being his motivation to write or review the content on this site.