Having a baby is a life event that can be both joyful and stressful. During the pregnancy and postnatal period, many women experience some feelings of uncertainty, worry or stress. These feelings may be brief and resolve after some assurance from loved ones or healthcare providers. However, about 10 percent of women may experience anxiety that may affect their daily lives. These moderate to severe cases of anxiety may be diagnosed as Perinatal Anxiety Disorder.
The information about Perinatal Anxiety Disorder is also available for download in pdf format.
Research shows there are multiple causes such as genetic predisposition, anxious personality, unexpected stressful circumstances, etc. Having a difficult past experience may make the current pregnancy changes seem especially worrying or scary. First-time mothers may be overwhelmed with new responsibilities and demands during the transition to motherhood, and they feel ill-equipped to handle the baby without prior experience.
Treatment is important because continued anxiety affects the mother’s physical and mental health, as well as the bond between mother and child. If left untreated, it may also affect the child’s emotional and cognitive development.
An anxiety disorder is not a condition the person can “just snap out of” or “just stop thinking”. Professional assessment by a perinatal psychiatrist is required before the recommendation of treatment options.
Doctors may prescribe medication to treat the anxiety disorder, and options are available for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. In some cases, the anxiety may be so intense that therapy would not be effective without medication for interim management. Discuss any concerns with your doctor, so you can collaboratively work out the best treatment plan for your situation.
One type of psychotherapy known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been proven to be effective in treating anxiety. By learning ways to change your thoughts, behavior and reaction in certain situations, you learn to be less anxious and fearful.
In situations where the mother is very fearful of handling her baby or the mother-infant bond had been disrupted by illness, it can be helpful to have mother-infant therapy sessions, whereby the mother is encouraged to observe her baby’s cues and learns how to enjoy the process of interacting with her baby.
Practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be a useful way to calm the mind and body. Done regularly, it is like resetting your “stress meter” so that the effects of stress do not accumulate to unmanageable levels.