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What is perinatal anxiety?

Perinatal anxiety is anxiety that you experience before or after giving birth.

If it's while you're pregnant, this is antenatal or prenatal anxiety. If it's in the year after giving birth, this is postnatal or postpartum anxiety. Some people may experience both. 

Signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety

You may worry about how you'll cope with becoming a parent. Or you may have worries about your baby's health and if you're doing the right things. But if these worries start to have an effect on your day-to-day life, it's important to seek help.

If you're experiencing perinatal anxiety, you may have these symptoms in your body:

  • A churning feeling in your stomach
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Pins and needles
  • Feeling restless or unable to sit still
  • Headaches, backache or other aches and pains
  • Faster breathing
  • A fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Finding it hard to sleep, even when you have the chance
  • Grinding your teeth, especially at night
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Needing the toilet more or less often
  • Changes in your sex drive
  • Having panic attacks

And perinatal anxiety may also make you:

  • Feel tense, nervous or unable to relax
  • Have a sense of dread, or fear the worst
  • Feel like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Feel like other people can see you're anxious and are looking at you
  • Feel like you can't stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
  • Worry about anxiety itself, such as worrying about when panic attacks might happen
  • Want lots of reassurance from other people or worry that people are angry or upset with you
  • Worry that you're losing touch with reality
  • Worry a lot about things that might happen in the future, for example that you or your baby might be in danger
  • Ruminate – think a lot about bad experiences, or think over a situation again and again (this may happen if you've had a traumatic birth experience)
  • Depersonalise – feel disconnected from your mind or body, or like you're watching someone else (this is a type of dissociation)
  • Derealise – feel disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn't real (this is a type of dissociation)

Anxiety and depression

Lots of people are aware that you can become depressed after having a baby. But many parents also experience anxiety during pregnancy and after giving birth. It's common to experience depression and anxiety together.

See our page on postnatal and antenatal depression for more information about depression around childbirth.

I brushed a lot of these signs and symptoms off, thinking of course you’re going to be more anxious, you’re now in charge of something so precious and so fragile

Treatments for perinatal anxiety

If you're worried that you're experiencing perinatal anxiety, talk to your GP or health visitor. Your doctor should discuss treatment options with you, so you can make a decision together about what's best for you.

See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more tips, including how to speak to your doctor. 

Talking therapy

Your doctor is most likely to offer you a therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Your local mental health services may also run specific counselling or group programmes for anxiety. You can speak to your GP to find out what's available.

If there are long waiting lists for talking therapies in your area, your doctor may recommend that you try an alternative to therapy. These can help you manage your mental health while you're on the waiting list.

We have more information on talking therapies, including finding a therapist.

Self-help resources

Your doctor could give you access to online CBT programmes to try yourself. Or they may prescribe self-help books to help you learn to manage your anxiety.


If you were already taking medication for an anxiety disorder before pregnancy, your doctor may talk to you about your options. This might be to continue with your medication. Or to stop and change to a talking therapy, such as CBT.

If you have any concerns about taking medication, you can talk to your doctor or pharmacist. We also have information about taking antidepressants while pregnant or breastfeeding.

A combination of talking therapy and medication

Your doctor may offer you a combination of talking therapy and medication. Some people find that taking medication alongside having talking therapy can help them get the most out of their therapy. But others find medication or talking therapy are more helpful on their own.

If you were already taking medication for an anxiety disorder before pregnancy, your doctor may suggest that you combine this with a talking therapy, such as CBT. Your doctor may also suggest doing both if symptoms haven't improved with either talking therapy or medication.

See our page on treatments for anxiety for more information. 

I was dealing with panic attacks, and distressing thoughts about my baby being better off without me.

This information was published in March 2024. We will revise it in 2027.

References and bibliography available on request.

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