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How to cope with anxiety and depression during pregnancy

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 5 mins read
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Trigger Warning: This content may contain topics or language that may be triggering for individuals experiencing anxiety, depression, or thoughts of self-harm. Please use your own judgement around what might be upsetting for you to read.

Because frankly, it’s the last word anyone who is going through a stressful moment or an anxious thought wants to hear.

If anything, it is often counter-productive and is a lot like throwing water at an electrical fire. While your heart may be in the right place, it just tends to make it worse.

So, what can people say instead? How can you help yourself or a partner who is coping with anxiety and depression during pregnancy?

For starters, here is what you need to know about the symptoms and risks of anxiety and depression during pregnancy:

What are anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression are mental disorders that can significantly impact a person’s daily life.

Anxiety is a condition characterised by excessive worry or fear, and is often about future events or circumstances.

Depression, on the other hand, is a mood disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves. It can cause a persistent feeling of sadness and hopelessness and a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.

This isn’t just a bad mood, but a chronic, lingering feeling of despair and hopelessness.

Both are quite common in pregnant women, with almost 16% of expectant mums having experienced anxiety at some point.

Another research study interviewed 1668 Australian mums who were expecting and found that 25% of them suffered from symptoms of depression. That’s almost one in every four mums.

Almost 20% had some form of moderate or higher-range anxiety, while 15.5% suffered from stress.

Why do expectant mums suffer from anxiety and depression?

That’s a great question. Fortunately, years of research have helped us understand anxiety and depression better.

For one, we now know that anxiety can arise from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. These may include trauma, stress, chemical imbalances in the brain, hormonal imbalances, or a family history of mental illness.

Sudden lifestyle changes or new events in life, such as giving birth or losing a loved one, can also contribute tremendously towards causing anxiety and/or depression.

Recogniding and identifying anxiety and depression is a great step in the right direction.

Just a few decades ago, anxiety disorders and depression in mums were simply shrugged off as nothing but an emotional phase. Some women were even blamed for their emotions and told to stop being ungrateful.

Today, identifying the symptoms and correct diagnosis of disorders has helped many women, pregnant and otherwise, lead healthier lives.

How do I identify anxiety and depression?

Once you know the symptoms, it can help you or your partner get the right help.

If you are expecting and feel restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and/or sleep disturbances, there might be a possibility that you are suffering from anxiety.

On the other hand, symptoms of depression can include fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and thoughts of self-harm.

It is best to talk to your health care professional, who will then guide you further. Remember, a correct diagnosis from a qualified professional is important in not only identifying anxiety and depression, but also finding the best ways to deal with them.

How can I calm my anxiety and manage my depression better during pregnancy?

There’s a reason why pregnancy is called a roller coaster ride. There are ups and downs in your energy, your emotions, your energy, and even your health.

This is all because of the hormones, which seem to be all over the place.

But for some parents, external factors like financial resources, the worry of taking care of an infant, and other life adjustments can further add to the stress and lead to anxiety and/or depression.

To control your anxiety, make sure you do the following:

  1. Eat well.
  2. Get some much-needed rest.
  3. Connect with friends and family.
  4. Take time to breathe.
  5. Politely say no to tasks that make you anxious.
  6. Exercise and get some fresh air.

Other strategies, like acupuncture, therapy, and adding omega-3-rich foods to the diet, have been shown to have positive results for managing depression in pregnant women.

What can expectant mothers take during pregnancy to manage their anxiety and depression?

While some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may be safe to use during pregnancy, the dosage will depend on an individual’s specific situation and medical history.

While it is safe to try breathing exercises, it is advised that you consult with a healthcare provider before taking any medication for anxiety or depression.

What is the safest way to treat depression during pregnancy?

The safest way to treat depression during pregnancy varies for each individual and should be determined by a healthcare provider. However, most non-medical options such as therapy, exercise, and lifestyle changes are safe and are mostly recommended by doctors before prescribing antidepressant medications.

How do you help a partner who may have anxiety and depression during pregnancy? 

Having a supportive partner can be a great advantage when it comes to coping with anxiety and depression. From just having a shoulder to lean on to knowing they have someone who will be there through their ups and downs is a huge relief.

If your partner is suffering from anxiety and depression, pay close attention to changes in their behavior, mood, appetite, and energy levels.

While some fatigue and lethargy are expected during pregnancy, anything extreme should be a cause for concern. You can gently encourage your pregnant partner to seek professional help and offer support throughout the process.

The next nine or so months may be quite confusing and exhausting for you too. So seek support from friends and family and join a support group.

If your partner’s anxiety stems from being overwhelmed with work, you can help with household tasks or take on more responsibilities so that they can get more rest.

Even small acts like journaling and coloring have also helped some couples deal with anxiety better. Similarly, a nice massage or a bubble bath can also help soothe a person’s nerves.

Just whatever you do, don’t say the word ‘relax.’

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or self-harm please visit Beyond Blue or contact  Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.

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