Anxiety in the perinatal period

Anxiety is something we all experience from time to time. It includes both physical sensations and emotional reactions. Anxiety is a response to a situation we might see as a threat to us or a situation we feel we have no control over, for example moving house, being in a difficult relationship or giving birth. In these situations it's understandable to be worried and you may even find it hard to sleep, concentrate or eat for a brief period. These feelings of worry usually stop when the situation has resolved.

What you need to know

  • Tip 1

    We know that manageable levels of anxiety can be helpful in certain situations such as in emergencies or when we need to meet a deadline; we all have different tolerance to stress/anxiety. However if your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last a long time you need to access help to learn how to deal with it.

    Perinatal anxiety is anxiety experienced during pregnancy or in the year after childbirth. You might hear it called:


    - prenatal or antenatal anxiety if you experience anxiety during pregnancy

    - postnatal anxiety if you experience it after giving birth

    - some women may have severe anxiety around childbirth also known as tokophobia

    - you may experience panic attacks

    - if your anxiety leads you to experience unwelcome thoughts, images, urges or doubts, or there are repetitive activities that you feel you have to do you may have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.


    Many women experience anxiety during the perinatal period. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that 13% of women experience anxiety during pregnancy, this is higher than figures for depression. Perinatal anxiety is less well known about, but far more prevalent that we had first thought.

    Some of the symptoms to look for in perinatal anxiety are listed below:

  • Tip 2

    How you might feel:


    - Anxious

    - Frightened

    - Worried

    -Stressed/on edge

    - Unsettled

    - Detached

    - Strange (not feeling yourself)

    - Feel numb

  • Tip 3

    How you might think:


    - Racing thoughts

    - Unable to concentrate

    - Constant worrying

    - Thinking the worst case scenario

    - Doubting yourself

    - Going over the same worries/thoughts

    - That other people know your are anxious and are watching you

  • Tip 4

    What are some the physical signs you may experience?



    - Unexplained aches and pains

    - Decrease in appetite

    - Difficulty sleeping

    - Sweating

    - Stomach churning

    - Tight chest

  • Tip 5

    Some of the things you might start doing:


    - Having difficulties getting off to sleep or staying asleep

    Unable to sit and relax

    - Constantly on the go/pacing

    - Find it difficult to finish off one thing

    - Eat less (or more)

    - Being snappy/increased irritability

  • Tip 6


    Need help right now? Call NHS 111 or contact Samaritans


    Want to talk to someone?


    We know that talking about how you are feeling can often be very difficult, however there is help out there, you do not have to feel like this. We hear that women often worry that they will be judged or seen to be 'not coping', this is a common misconception. Health professionals are aware of how common anxiety is during the perinatal period, and are able to support you and your family.

    Pandas (Pre and Postnatal depression advice and support) have a free helpline from 9am to 8pm every day 0808 1961 776


    Want to find support on social media and apps?


    Baby Buddy is an app designed to look after you and your baby’s physical and mental health. You can download it online, or from Google Play or the App Store.

    - Pandas offers online support and information as well as a helpline


    Want to talk to other women and families who have been through this?


    - To find your local peer supports group click here.  

    - Pandas support and information for people coping with pre and postnatal mental illness, as well as their families, friends and carers.


    Want to read more about it?


    - For information from the Royal College of Psychiatry Click here

    - For information from MIND Click here

    Content adapted from MIND

There are lots of things that you can do to stay physically and looking after yourself throughout your pregnancy and postnatally. Exercise, eating well, stopping smoking and stopping alcohol can all help. Take a look at the emotional well being page here for more ideas.

  • Talking therapies are available free on the NHS - here is a link to find your local service
  • If your anxiety is starting to interfere with your life
    by making things harder to do,or take longer,or if you find yourself avoiding situations because of how it makes you feel, you can probably benefit from talking to someone about how you are feeling. Talking therapies can really help with anxiety. The earlier you get help,the better the outcomes.
  • Please check out the resources below to find helpful information that works for you.

If you experience any of the following symptoms (known as "Red Flag symptoms"):

  • New thoughts of violent self-harm
  • Sudden onset or rapidly worsening symptoms
  • Persistent feelings of estrangement from your baby

To find your local PNMH specialist community team click here

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