Anxiety in pregnancy is currently estimated to affect around 15% of women. Through my work in supporting women in preparing for birth and pregnancy, anxiety is something that I see a lot and, dare I say, I think the numbers are probably higher.
When women are feeling fearful around aspects of their pregnancy or birth it can trigger feelings of anxiety, but these feelings are known to fluctuate through pregnancy. Anxiety in pregnancy has been shown to peak in both the first and the third trimester (1).
How anxiety in pregnancy affects birth outcomes
From the evidence available (2) we know that pregnancy anxiety not only affects pregnant women’s health but also has an impact on labour outcomes. Anxiety in pregnancy can affect the likelihood of things such as
- preterm delivery
- prolonged labour
- caesarean birth,
- low birth weight
When you combine these potential outcomes with those that may arise as a result of fear, it’s clear that helping women to deal with fear and anxiety in pregnancy needs to be an important focus if we’re to improve birth outcomes for women.
I’ve been supporting women in overcoming their fear for many years now, particularly those with tokophobia, and I’ve enjoyed some incredible success rates. Success rates that are apparently impossible.
I was once told off on Twitter by a midwife specialising in tokophobia for suggesting that it’s possible to overcome tokophobia. “… [I] shouldn’t raise women’s hopes like that because they can’t. They just end up having c-sections.”. That may well be the case, but a positive c-section birth experience that is empowering for the woman is a world apart from the c-section that the woman dreads and feels anxious and terrified throughout.
That’s when I realised that I needed to get some evidence behind my Fearless Birthing method. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to get birth professionals and healthcare providers to take my work seriously. And that in turn would limit the women able to benefit from the success I’m achieving reducing strong fears and anxieties.
So, that’s what I set out to do.
Collaborating with the University of Nottingham
This is when I first met Dr. Megan Barnard. Dr. Barnard specialises in anxiety and so exploring anxiety in pregnancy was a good fit for her area of research. So we set out to design a study that would enable us to answer the question: can women reduce their anxieties and fears during pregnancy using a self-paced online programme?
Can we reduce anxiety in pregnancy?
After many iterations and submissions to the Ethics Board, we got the green light. So I’m delighted to say that there is currently a study underway which aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the Fearless Birthing method in helping women to reduce their anxiety and fear during pregnancy.
Given, Dr. Barnard’s expertise in anxiety, I thought it would be a great idea for us to have a conversation about anxiety in pregnancy so that we could all learn more about anxiety. But even more of a reason is this; Dr. Barnard is now currently pregnant. When we started working together, her interest in our work was purely professional. Now that she is experiencing some of the anxieties that we are researching, she has a unique insight into our project which I just wanted to ask her about.
A conversation with Dr. Megan Barnard
One thing that stood out for me from our conversation was that Dr. Barnard was saying that anxiety could strike anyone during pregnancy; you don’t already need to be someone who suffers from it to be affected by it during pregnancy.
Dr. Barnard also explained how much pregnancy has bought about a very human reaction to her pregnancy. Even though she studies and researches anxiety – and so is very knowledgeable on it – that doesn’t mean that she isn’t succumbing to it. And I think that is something we can all learn from. We might think that we have things covered, that we ‘know’, but that doesn’t stop our emotions from wading in and causing chaos.
This is why I think all women need access to tools that can help them to reduce their anxiety and fear, because it really can happen to anyone, at any point during a pregnancy. And given that anxiety peaks the first and third trimesters, it’s important to have access to this kind of support from early on during your pregnancy.
This is one point that Dr Barnard makes during our conversation. Typically women sign up to ante-natal classes late in their pregnancy but in fact, Dr Barnard suggests that women seek emotional and mental support much earlier on during their pregnancy. She talks about the negative impact of having the anxious thoughts ruminating throughout the pregnancy and how it’s better to address these as early on as possible.
Anxiety in pregnancy study – would you like to take part?
If you’re interested in taking part then this is who we’re looking for;
- Must be between 12-16 weeks pregnant when beginning the study.
- Must be at least 18 years old.
- Must be able to speak and read fluent English.
- Must be a UK resident.
About Dr Megan Barnard
I am a Teaching Associate at the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology, having received my PhD in Psychology in 2017. When I am not teaching students, I am interested in conducting research on the impact that anxiety has in the real world? In other words, does it stop us from doing the things we want to do, and how can we relieve some of that anxiety in order to improve our wellbeing? I have looked into the effects on anxiety within areas such as transportation and cyberpsychology, and am now working with Alexia to see if psychological interventions can reduce levels of anxiety and depression during pregnancy.
- Research by Lee et al. (2007) and Teixeira, Figueiredo, Conde, Pacheco, and Costa (2009) revealed a varied prevalence of pregnancy anxiety at different trimesters of pregnancy with high levels in first and third trimesters.
- Catov et al., 2010, Hernandez-Martinez et al., 2011, Lobel et al., 2008, Rauchfuss and Maier, 2011.