Every pregnant mother has some worries — but when anxiety begins to overwhelm you, what can you do?
Anxiety during pregnancy – is it normal?
Each pregnancy is a unique experience and we all navigate the journey differently. There are changes on every level, from the obvious physical to the lesser seen energetic, mental and emotional. Hormones are racing and some women find they can go from elation to anxiety in seconds!
Regardless of whether you’re a first-time parent or adding to your family, nine months of pregnancy can raise all sorts of vulnerabilities. You may worry: Is my baby healthy? Why is the baby kicking so much…or so little? How will we cope financially? How will I manage childbirth? What foods should I be avoiding? Are the test results ‘normal’? Will I be a good mother… Rest assured it’s completely normal to experience some degree of worry when expecting a baby!!
However, some women can develop a more serious form of anxiety or lowered mood, which can be debilitating to their daily life and functioning. When this occurs it’s known as perinatal anxiety or depression, and it’s thought that one in five expectant mothers will experience this at some stage during pregnancy or the first year of parenthood. Thankfully there are treatments and support services out there to help women navigate anxiety in pregnancy, regardless of what form it takes.
What can you do?
Firstly, if you or someone you know is struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression, check in with your GP or mental health professional. With their support, there are many wellbeing interventions that can have a tremendous benefits, including prenatal yoga.
If the anxiety is related more to the normal changes taking place within your body, and remains manageable, prenatal yoga is hugely beneficial in reducing stress and stilling the mind. In fact, prenatal yoga has been shown repeatedly to increase feelings of wellbeing during pregnancy.
How prenatal yoga can help
According to Harvard Health, “by reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga modulates the stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, reducing cortisol production and easing respiration.”
Other studies highlight that regular yoga sessions not only improve mood and lower cortisol levels during pregnancy, but can also lower rates of postpartum depression. In addition, there’s evidence that yoga during pregnancy can:
- Reduce the need for pain relief during birth
- Help improve physical health and strength in the lead up to having a baby
- Increase feelings of optimism, power, and well-being
- Decrease anger
- Improve relationships
- Improve sleep disturbances
- Decrease back and leg pain
- Reduce pregnancy-related uncomfortable experiences
- Decrease stress levels during high-risk pregnancy complications.
Prenatal yoga can also help to build community and a deeper connection with other pregnant women around you. This building of community and a sense of being ‘held’ by those around you can really help wellbeing as you navigate pregnancy, birth and beyond
Prenatal Yoga Sequence for Anxiety:
The following 6 poses provide a gentle sequence designed to soothe the nervous system.
- Balasana (wide legged Child’s Pose)
Kneel on the ground, big toes touching, knees wider than hip-width apart. Allow the sit bones to rest back on the heels, before slowly softening the chest towards the mat or a supportive bolster. Extend the arms out in front and rest your palms on the mat (or bolster). Allow the forehead to rest down and close the eyes. Consciously engage the breath and feel the rise and fall of your belly as you slowly inhale and exhale.
- Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Take a comfortable cross-legged position. Rest your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly. Close your eyes, and begin to take a long deep inhalation and a long deep exhalation, in and out through your nose. Allow your breath to become steady and rhythmic.
- Side Extensions
Keep your left hand extended down the side of your body toward the ground and reach your right arm overhead, palm facing the midline. Reach up and lean your body over toward the left side, lifting through the bottom of your waist to prevent compression of your lower back and abdomen. Repeat on the other side.
- Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)
Tuck your toes under and sit back until your sitting bones rest on your heels. Place your hands in Anjali mudra at the heart centre. Close your eyes, and breathe into the sensations in your feet and legs. Allow the breath to be rhythmic and soft.
- Cat Pose
Come into table top position with the hands shoulder distance apart, knees hip distance apart. Inhale the breath with a neutral spine. Exhale the breath and gently tuck the tail bone. Round the upper back and bring the chin towards the chest.
- Supported Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose)
Place one block on the high setting and another one, a few inches away from it, on the medium setting; place a bolster over both blocks and lie back. Bring the soles of your feet together and allow the knees to drop out to the side. Tuck blocks or a blanket under knees to support. Allow the torso to melt down over the bolster and soften the arms down by your side, palms facing up. Lengthen the back of the neck and tuck the chin in slightly. Close your eyes and allow your body to completely relax and let go.
Knowing your body and noticing any changes in mood or thought patterns are the best way to seek support and navigate through any form of prenatal anxiety. Some anxiety and worry is normal, but if it becomes debilitating talk to your midwife / GP.
A prenatal yoga practice can be a great way to support and check in with yourself during pregnancy, along with reducing stress and soothing the mind and body.
- PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia https://www.panda.org.au
If you are passionate about nurturing women during pregnancy and postnatally, and offering holistic yoga classes with safe, appropriate and nourishing practices designed specifically for pregnant women and new mothers, you may be interested in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course. We also offer Online Extension Modules to enhance and further your learning in this area, covering topics including Perinatal Nutrition & Ayurveda, Prenatal & Postnatal Anatomy and Physiology and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Physiology for Women’s Health.
Shannan O’Neill is a passionate yoga practitioner, experienced yoga teacher and founder of Pure Yoga and Wellbeing. She is a wife, mother of two precious children and a passionate advocate for women’s health particularly during pregnancy, birth and beyond.
Illustrations by Sophie Duncan www.deerdaisy.com