You have peed on the stick, waited the excruciating 15 minutes, and peeked at the result to find those two little lines. Congratulations! You’re expecting a new baby! After the excitement wanes, you start to have dreams and hopes around the little one growing inside of you. Some expecting moms worry A LOT about their growing babies. How much worry is “normal” and when it is helpful to meet with a mental health professional?
Anxiety in Pregnancy
If you find yourself having trouble sleeping due to worrying and not due to the discomfort of pregnancy (nausea in the first trimester, physical discomfort in the third), you feel antsy or on edge, you are googling everything and anything and feel like you can’t stop doing so, or you have experienced panic attacks (shortness of breath, heart racing, fainting, crying, etc) then you may be experiencing anxiety during pregnancy. Talk therapy can help to calm down those thoughts and teach you how to use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Anxiety can be normal during pregnancy but when it is causing emotional distress there is help out there.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Pregnant women may experience a preoccupation with thoughts around their growing baby. These thoughts and behaviors are considered normal. Babies are completely dependent on their caretakers so having thoughts around their safety and wellbeing helps to ensure their survival. Symptoms of OCD include obsessions (thoughts) and compulsions (behaviors). An expecting mother experiencing OCD may have the thoughts “my baby is dying” to such an extent she requests her doctor hook her up to a stress monitor (compulsion) more than medically necessary. There is a fine line between being concerned about the health of your baby and experiencing OCD. It would be beneficial to be assessed by a therapist who can recommend the appropriate treatment.
Depression in Pregnancy
Some expecting mothers experience symptoms of depression such as low mood, anhedonia (loss of pleasure in things that were once pleasurable), appetite changes, sleep disruption beyond what’s normally expected in pregnancy, suicidal thoughts, irritable mood, or apathy/disconnection from the pregnancy. If the mother has a history of depressive symptoms or is at risk for a mood disorder such as Bipolar I, she may be more likely to experience depression during pregnancy. Talk therapy can help to give the expecting mother a safe space to express difficult emotions and thoughts. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps expecting mothers to identify and change negative thinking which can alleviate depression.
Pregnancy may bring up emotions around past traumas, especially sexual traumas. Women who have experienced a violation of their bodies may feel triggered at doctor’s appointments and especially the birth. Medical professionals often do not ask for permission especially in emergencies and the sexual survivor may feel retraumatized. Talk therapy is wonderful for treating trauma. Trauma is considered a disorder of memory. Body-based therapies can help survivors to integrate traumatic memories into the appropriate places in their brains. They may feel triggered but find the memories are less intense and emotionally impactful after therapy.
Some expecting women feel deep shame around thoughts of not wanting the pregnancy. If the mother has chosen to continue the pregnancy to birth, therapy can be an excellent place to process those thoughts and feelings. Pregnancy is not magical and wonderful for everyone. Some women who have struggled with fertility may have these thoughts when they become pregnant. Others may have terminated an unwanted pregnancy and need extra support processing their emotions. Women with these thoughts deserve to be heard. Talk therapy is an excellent source of support for these women.
Partners of pregnant women may feel overwhelmed with the pregnancy. They may be dismissed by medical professionals at doctor’s appointments. They may experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, or OCD. They may experience birth trauma especially if something unexpected and frightening occurs and no information is given to them about what’s happening. Partner’s mental health is important because they are often the main source of support for new mothers. Talk therapy can be useful to help partners express thoughts and feelings around their partner’s pregnancy.