Many more women have anxiety in pregnancy today than in the past. This is not only my personal observation but also the opinion of midwives with whom I work and medical studies findings.
This is not because pregnancy and childbirth are more dangerous today than in the past. Today pregnancy and childbirth are much, much safer than in the past. As well, there have been lots of positive changes in pregnancy and childbirth care in recent years so pregnancy and childbirth experiences are much more enjoyable for the pregnant woman than in the past. Yet many more pregnant women are very anxious that pregnant women in the past.
This is incredibly sad as anxiety adversely affects a woman’s enjoyment of her pregnancy. As well, an anxious woman is more likely to have an unsettled baby and her child is more likely to have anxiety.
While there have always been people who have anxiety, the incidence in the community, including amongst pregnant women, has increased over recent years.
The background for this increased incidence of anxiety has a lot to with the internet and social media.
Anxiety in pregnancy usually has its origins years before pregnancy and pregnancy concerns and uncertainties compound a pre-existing tendency to anxiety and insecurity.
Social media has caused a higher incidence of anxiety amongst schoolgirls. They often read negative posts and they can be subjected to online bullying. While there has always been school bullying before the internet this bullying did not ‘come home’ and was ‘left in the playground’ at school. Now this is not the case. There is now no escape. A girl can be in her bedroom alone and be bullied by what she reads on her phone. A girl’s home should be a safe environment, but for many girls this is now not the case. This bullying can adversely affect a girl’s emotional wellbeing and result in feelings of unworthiness, cause insecurity, anxiety, and depression and even suicide.
As well, girls can be subjected every day to negative online information and news. They are so much more aware of negative world events that in the past. They now can see very graphic horrific images and videos of what is happening in the world. They cannot filter this information and these images and so anxiety and depression and fear for the future can result.
During the World Wars there was minimal information of what was happening in Europe and Asia received at home. There were only reports in newspapers. While wives would have been very anxious about their husbands who had gone to war, the level of anxiety would have been less because of limited information received at home. Their children would have most likely been given even less information as mothers would not want them worried and so children would have had minimal anxiety. Now with the internet there is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week negative news from all over the world. This can make people feel very insecure and anxious about the world today and the future. My own children do not watch these reports online or on the TV as they do not want this negative mental input. As well they prevent their own children from seeing them. They safeguard their personal and their families’ minds from negative input as much as possible. Their and their children’s mental health is much healthier because of this decision, and they are much less likely to have mental health issues.
It is not only teenagers but also their parents who have more anxiety because of these negative influences. Their parents often also have an appetite for such negative online and TV mental input, and this can adversely affect the atmosphere in the home. Children will sense this, and anxiety can result.
Parents who are anxious are far more likely to have children who are anxious. A woman who has been raised in a home where anxiety is prevalent is far more likely to have anxiety in pregnancy.
Teenagers can be exposed to negative input not only from the internet and social media and TV but also from friends and family. Because they cannot filter it they can typically feel very insecure, have negative thoughts and increased anxiety and depression.
Teachers are concerned that today, far more so than in the past, they have an increased parenting role. That should not be the case. It is happening because parents can feel inadequate as parents and because they are too busy with work and other commitments to put adequate time into raising their children. This starts with day-care. Some parents put their children in day care when they are small infants so they can get back to work. Day-care workers can take on a major role in parenting. This can adversely affect an infant’s sense of security and mental wellbeing. There is logic in allowing your child to attend a preschool part-time for socialising with other children. But be aware even this can have a negative impact on your child’s mental health.
The concerns that a pregnant woman is anxious about do not usually have any personal factual basis. They are not real for that woman. They cause unfounded fears that adversely affect her enjoyment of pregnancy. A woman cannot genuinely enjoy her pregnancy if she is very anxious. That is so sad as pregnancy is one of the most important times in her life. It is important for her to enjoy it.
Negative comments from others in pregnancy can feed her anxieties. These comments can be from family and friends and sometimes even strangers make uninvited negative comments. It is so sad when I hear a patient telling me of her own mother making negative comments and sometimes reliving her own negative pregnancy experience through her daughter. Her daughter wants to hear positive and not negative comments from her mum. Her mum will typically say: “I am telling you this because I care about you”. The daughter cannot filter such negative comments that are not relevant to her pregnancy and so the comments compound from her mother who she trusts to just feed her anxiety and fears. Appropriate maternal care is a mother being sensitive to her daughter’s emotions in pregnancy making positive comments that do not to scare her daughter.
Anxious women typically turn to the internet and social media to try the find reassuring information that will allay their anxieties. This never happened. What they read online will compound their anxieties. They get negative information from unqualified people. Sometime these people talk about their own experiences. But their comments about their experience can be fabricated and even if they are based on true events may but be an accurate record because of them not being told everything or not understanding what they were told.
Sadly, pregnant women today often, and far more frequently than in the past, are ‘fed’ negative comments and anxieties through chats with friends and in on-line chat rooms. These comments only increase their anxieties. Chatting with women of the ages of these pregnant women’s mothers I am often told this did not happen in their time. They did not micro analyse every minor pregnancy symptom, ask the opinions of others, and fear the worse. They just got on with it and didn’t worry nearly as much in pregnancy. Hence their pregnancies would have been more enjoyable.
Anxious women seek pregnancy advice often before they are pregnant. Listening to or reading negative information before pregnancy usually results in them being far more fearful when they conceive than they should be. They are far more fearful than women who are not anxious and who don’t research what to expect when pregnant.
Anxious women spend far more time on the internet pregnancy websites than women who are not anxious.
The recent COVID pandemic has resulted in many pregnant women feeling far more fearful, anxious and vulnerable.
A pregnant woman with excess anxiety can…
- have unbased fear that something terrible is going to happen to her baby. This fear of pregnancy loss throughout the pregnancy can be overwhelming.
- require extra appointments and investigations and needs considerable extra reassurance.
- can ignore warnings that there could be a problem and so don’t seek medical attention when they should because they are frightened to have their suspicions confirmed. This can adversely affect their and their baby’s wellbeing.
- spend excessive time Googling and in chat rooms seeking reassurance. But the usually negative information they read only increases their fears and makes them more anxious. As well they can become aware of pregnancy complications that they did not know and which they also start to worry about.
- be so fear consuming that they don’t listen to what is being said in medical consultations and so don’t hear reassuring comments (as ‘they really know’) and say afterwards: “I was never told that”.
- behave emotionally and not logically and rationally.
- find it difficult to follow pregnancy care instructions. So, the consequences of crippling fear on their behaviour can adversely affect their pregnancy.
- find it difficult to agree with recommended management. This can adversely affect their pregnancy.
- find it difficult to trust. They need to ‘be in control’ even though they have no real understanding of pregnancy complications and management. This need to be in control can result a in birth plan which can compromise their and their baby’s care.
- be more likely to believe internet, family, and friends unqualified and often erroneous advice than qualified medical advice. This can adversely affect their and their baby’s wellbeing.
- can find it very difficult to cope if there are adverse pregnancy or childbirth developments.
- can find it very difficult to learn of possible pregnancy childbirth and child complications and be told there can be adverse developments so their pregnancy and childbirth experience may not be in accord with their wishes or even with their knowledge of what can happen in pregnancy.
And after delivery a woman with anxiety…
- is more likely to have postnatal depression.
- is more likely to have an unsettled baby.
- is more likely to have children with anxiety.
What can an anxious women do that may help…
- Do not go to pregnancy social media sites for information.
- Do not seek the advice of Dr Google.
- Reference my website. The reason I decided to have a very comprehensive educational website was to provide my patients with accurate pregnancy and childbirth information. There are hundreds of pages of information on my website and so if you have concern check it out. Check out the FAQ’s or type the topic of your concern into the search option.
- Don’t seek advice from family or friends. It is usually negative information you will receive, is unqualified and often is incorrect.
- If you have a concern, contact me or the Birth Unit midwives (in advanced pregnancy).
- Be selective as to what you watch on TV or listen to on the radio. You do not need to see or hear negative news.
- Relaxation therapy.
- Trust your doctor.
- See a pregnancy psychologist.
- Focus on the outcome. Soon you will be cuddling your beautiful baby.