Anxious woman resting her head on her hands

Panic attacks

Some pregnant women (like Susan) fear having panic attacks. They may begin to avoid doing things or going places that may bring on a panic attack or panic attack-like symptoms, such as:

  • certain places that remind her of a past panic attack
  • places that would be difficult to escape from should she start to feel panicky (such as the mall or public transit)
  • activities that bring on similar physical sensations of panic, like increased breathing or heart rate

Sometimes this anxiety is so intense that she barely wants to leave the house. See the Panic Disorder page to find out more and learn how to manage it.

Quick Facts about Panic Attacks

  • Panic attacks are not harmful or dangerous, although they can feel very scary.
  • You might feel like you are dying or going crazy, but you are not.
  • Panic attacks are brief, although they sometimes feel like they go on forever.
  • Panic attacks are private experiences. Others (except those very close to you) usually cannot tell that you are having a panic attack.

Obsessive compulsive behaviours

Some pregnant women experience very distressing thoughts or images that seem to keep intruding into their minds, over and over. For example, she may imagine getting some rare contagious disease that could harm her growing baby, or she may imagine everything covered in toxic and dangerous germs. Or she may have disturbing visions of intentionally harming someone.

Certain compulsions or rituals may develop as a way to deal with these distressing thoughts, such as:

  • avoiding certain objects or situations
  • repeating prayers or phrases in the head to keep thoughts away or “protect the baby”
  • obsessively cleaning or arranging things until it “feels right”
  • repeatedly checking things over and over “just in case”

For example, after driving over a bump in the road she could have a disturbing, repetitive mental image of running over a small child, and feel compelled to drive back and check five times, over and over.

Many suffer in silence and feel embarrassed or guilty for having such thoughts and urges. Having these obsessions does not mean that we are crazy, dangerous, or evil deep down inside! Our safety (and the safety of our loved ones) is determined by our actions, NOT our thoughts. Intrusive, unwanted, or even disturbing thoughts are common; everyone experiences them from time to time.

To find out more about obsessions and compulsions (and OCD), see the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder page.

Generalized anxiety

Other pregnant women (like Anjali) may start to experience excessive and uncontrollable worries. As a result, they may feel constantly keyed up and on edge, have excessive doubts, and have difficulty “shutting off” the mind, particularly before sleep. She may worry about things like the health and safety of her unborn baby and her abilities as a mom.

Find out more ways to manage worries.

If you think your anxiety is excessive and uncontrollable worries are really affecting your happiness and peace of mind, see Generalized Anxiety Disorder to find out more and learn how to manage it.

Post-traumatic stress

For some women who have experienced trauma in the past (for example, a sexual assault), the experience of pregnancy and thoughts of future childbirth may trigger intense and sometimes unanticipated emotions. This may include:

  • experiencing upsetting and vivid memories, nightmares, and flashbacks of the original trauma
  • having fears about the upcoming birth process and possible sense of loss of control
  • feeling conflicted about your body and baby
  • feeling numb and detached from your pregnancy

If you feel you may be suffering from the signs of this anxiety problem, see the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder page to find out more and learn how to manage it.

Social anxiety

Some pregnant women feel extremely self-conscious around others. They may have difficulty speaking in public and avoid certain places out of fear of perceived judgments and criticism. For example, a pregnant woman may avoid going to a prenatal exercise class because she fears the others in the class with think negative things about her. She may be highly anxious about saying or doing the wrong thing, somehow looking wrong or unacceptable, or worry about other things like blushing or freezing. Because social interactions create so much anxiety and discomfort, she may just decide to stay home and avoid other people when possible.

If you feel like you may be experiencing increased social anxiety and it is significantly interfering with your life, see the Social Anxiety Disorder page to find out more and learn how to manage it.