Dr. Sarah Vohra
“Am I doing this right?” How to manage pregnancy anxiety
What did you feel when you first found out you were expecting: joy, excitement, disbelief, anxiety? It’s only natural that you will experience a rollercoaster of emotions – whether it’s your first child or you’ve done it all before.
Anxiety is a common response to change. Even if you have not previously struggled with anxiety, any change in circumstances can lead to self-doubt, worries about changes to your identity, relationship, or your body, right through to concerns around loss.
While it may feel unpleasant, feeling anxious is not always a bad thing, because it can force you to prepare for change. For instance, if you’re anxious about whether you’re ready, it may encourage you to do research, talk to friends, buy what you need and go to antenatal classes.
Always remember that you don’t have to go through this alone. Let’s take a look at some common anxieties that you might experience during pregnancy, and how to manage them.
1. When should I tell people I’m pregnant?
Many women and their partners hold off on sharing the news of their pregnancy until they’ve passed the 12-week mark and had their first scan. This is a sensible approach, but can also be an incredibly vulnerable time for a new mother – as you potentially face 10 weeks without anyone bar your partner knowing. You may struggle with feeling alone, torn between wanting to share the news but fearing that by doing so it may all go wrong. You may be experiencing early pregnancy symptoms but soldiering on to avoid anyone guessing.
What to do: Consider reframing your worries about sharing your news by asking yourself: Who would I want to know if something went wrong? This way you can build a good support network of people you can call upon. If you are worried that you’ll be bombarded with questions or gifts, don’t be afraid to put boundaries in place: ask them not to tell anyone else, to not buy anything for the baby (yet!) and suggest ways they can be helpful in this initial period.
You don’t have to stop being ‘you’ when you become a mother!
2. Am I still ‘me’?
It is not unusual or shameful to “grieve” for the life you had before you were pregnant. You may have been enjoying your single life, nights out with friends, and working hard at your job. Will this sense of self and career be forgotten the moment you start maternity leave? Perhaps you and your partner were content as a team of two. How do you even begin redefining yourself as a parent and a family?
What to do: Don’t see parenthood as an “either/or” scenario – that you are EITHER a parent, a wife, a friend OR a working mother. These roles are not mutually exclusive. Think about what aspects of your identity are important for you to hold on to. While there is no doubt that your identity as a mother will be your No.1 priority in those early stages after your baby arrives, make sure you give some time – however brief – to keeping in touch with friends, connecting with your partner and maintaining links to your workplace.
3. What will happen to my body?
There’s no way around it: the joy of having a baby is inevitably going to lead to physical changes in your body – from hormonal changes to weight gain and stretch marks. For those who have struggled with negative body image pre-pregnancy, these concerns may be heightened as the pregnancy progresses. Women who may not have previously struggled with body image may find themselves scrutinizing their changing frame for the first time.
What to do: If you find yourself picking out negative body attributes, a useful exercise is to match each negative with a positive – you may not like your stretch marks, but how great do your fuller boobs look?! While comparisons with your pre-pregnancy self will be unavoidable, try to focus on the positives – your body is doing amazing things to grow this new life. If images on social media are triggering for you, fuelling comparisons or making you feel inadequate every time you log on, be unapologetic about unfollowing or muting those accounts.
Stay positive and strong, mamas! You've got this!
4. Am I doing this right?
Pregnancy could be your entry card into an online parenting community you never knew existed. While this can be a great source of support and advice, it is only natural that it may lead you to draw comparisons with other parents and what they’re doing – fuelling your doubt that you’re “not doing it right”.
What to do: Just because you shared a few chats in a community doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Think about the information you consume online and choose to subscribe to parenting forums and follow social media accounts that inspire, motivate and educate you about your pregnancy, rather than those that scaremonger or call your own decisions into judgment.
5. Will my relationship change?
It may have been just you and your partner up until this point. The idea of that changing can be nerve-wracking. You may struggle with changing moods, feeling tearful and on edge as a result of pregnancy hormones. You may feel that your partner is less interested in the pregnancy than you are – as their life rolls along with no real changes. You may be worried about finances. Perhaps your partner wants sex but it’s the last thing on your mind. Pregnancy can raise a lot of things that could test your relationship in a way that it has never been tested before.
What to do: Communication is key, even if over the most trivial issues. Remember that disagreements are common in even the happiest relationships, and don’t second guess one another. If something is upsetting or frustrating you, don’t hold it in, as it only risks exploding at a later date. You could start by setting aside time each week to sit down with your partner and reflect on the positives of the week: what have you both learnt about pregnancy and baby’s upcoming arrival? Follow this by sharing your worries and what you would like to learn more about, or be more prepared for.
If you feel you need it, help is available. Reach out to a women’s health specialist, your GP or the services below if you need urgent support.
USA: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255
Australia: Lifeline on 13 11 14
UK: Hopeline on 0800 068 4141
Other: Contact your country's crisis support hotline.
Dr. Sarah Vohra
Dr. Sarah Vohra is a Consultant Psychiatrist based in Nottingham, UK. A graduate of the University of Leeds Medical School and author of two best-selling books, she has specialised in mental health for over 10 years and is passionate about sharing her expertise in an accessible way. Sarah shares practical tips and tools to help you achieve success and lead a happier life.
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