Perinatal Anxiety

Perinatal Mental Health

There is growing awareness of postnatal depression amongst the community. It is estimated that around 1 in 7 new mothers and 1 in 10 new fathers experience postnatal depression. Rates of postnatal anxiety are estimated to be similar amongst new parents, and it is not uncommon for depression and anxiety to occur together, where depression is the inevitable low which follows the sustained arousal associated with anxiety. The perinatal period spans the time between pregnancy and the first year of birth – it includes both the antepartum and the postpartum.

The Nature of Perinatal Worries

Anxiety is an emotional and physiological response to a perceived threat. In the perinatal period, this threat may include a real or perceived threat of harm to the pregnancy or baby, one’s own health, body or body image. It may also include one’s imagined capacity as a ‘good’ mother, judged either against her own standards or the standards she responds to in society. Perinatal anxiety is typically a feeling of fear or panic, but it may also include agitation, frustration or anger. Many parents described it as an aversive physical state, of heightened physiological arousal, often accompanied by racing thoughts which interfere with the ability to find ease or pleasure, particularly in the relationship with baby.

Change and Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal part of any change. Of course, the perinatal period of a time of enormous change, physical and emotional. Pregnancy also heralds significant changes to identity and relationships, as well as worries about birth, her own body and health and her baby’s health and their future. Pregnancy naturally stirs anxiety, precisely because it is a period of change. Some anxiety in pregnancy is normal. However, when her anxiety remains high, causes significant distress or interferes with work or relationships, this may be a sign that the anxiety is a problem and the individual may need to seek treatment.

Untreated Anxiety in Pregnancy

High levels of antenatal anxiety which remain untreated are a significant risk factor for postnatal anxiety. The birth of a baby does not tend to alleviate anxiety, instead the anxiety tends to shift focus and diminish the pleasure of the new baby.

Treatment for Anxiety

Anxiety is a treatable condition. Psychologists at the Centre for Clinical Psychology are trained to support parents with anxiety, using evidence-based treatments including cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness, and other approaches, whilst keeping the baby in mind. It can also be helpful to forge a relationship with a psychologist during pregnancy with whom you can consult with once the baby arrives.

Anxiety in Early Parenting

An intense desire to do the ‘right thing’ and provide the best care for baby is a frequent concern of modern parenting. Yet, this can also be a cause of intense anxiety for parents. Caring for a baby is an enormous responsibility, and yet babies can be terribly confusing and make us feel terribly confused and incompetent at times. What is the ‘right’ way to respond in any given situation? How does a parent ever know if she or he is doing this well? When these are the dominant concerns, moments of ease can seem few and far between. Anxiety can be exacerbated in situations where a woman has experienced a traumatic birth, where the mother or father are without the support of significant others (or each other), or difficulties have occurred with infant feeding or sleep. Many parents also worry about the effect of their anxiety upon their pregnancy and their baby.

Working with a psychologist about these concerns can be important. There are effective treatments for anxiety, and obtaining support with the specific concerns of early parenting is important. The psychologists at the Centre for Clinical Psychology are skilled at working with families with these concerns and during this period. To make an appointment, call the Administration Team at the Centre for Clinical Psychology (03) 9077 0122 or email