pregnancyPregnancy is a time of profound physical and emotional change for women. A woman's body nurtures the developing baby, while her brain is preparing her for the activities associated with motherhood. For some women this is a time of happy anticipation as she looks forward to welcoming the new baby into her life. However even in the happiest of times, women are frequently concerned about what kind of mother they will be. Will they be a "good" mother? Will they know what to do when the baby cries? Will they adjust to having to taking care of helpless infant? How much these types of questions "bother" a woman can vary from not at all to very much. Whether she has a supportive partner and other social supports can make a difference in the expectant woman's sense of well-being during pregnancy and the postpartum period. We at the Penn Center for Women's Behavioral Wellness recognize that the adjustment to parenthood starts early in pregnancy, if not before conception, and that women benefit from a supportive environment where they can share their concerns and feel safe and understood.

Depression, Anxiety and Stress During Pregnancy

It is normal to feel some degree of concern regarding the health of one's pregnancy and the developing baby. Moreover, it is a "normal" part of everyday life to experience some amount of "stress." Stress is typically thought of as any situation or environment in which a person believes that their ability to cope may not be adequate. While stress appears to motivate some individuals to work harder, others seem to fall apart when faced with relatively minor issues or situations. It is also difficult to measure stress because what is thought of as stressful by one person is not always thought of as stressful by another. Research has shown that individuals who feel that they have good social supports are less "bothered" by typical stressful life events. Depression and/or anxiety are common responses to chronic or severe stress, particularly when the individual feels that they have few family or social supports. While no one knows how much stress is good or bad, studies suggest that the developing baby can be adversely affected by high levels of maternal stress, anxiety and depression. High levels of stress throughout life can increase a woman's risk for chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and cognitive decline.

The Penn Center for Women's Behavioral Wellness is concerned about the impact of stress on women's well-being across the life span. The Center has several clinical and research programs aimed at helping women through normal transitions in life, such as becoming a mother or "empty-nester" as well as unfortunate times such as during a complicated pregnancy, loss of a family member, or divorce.

Pregnancy Complications and Loss

Women who have suffered from previous pregnancy loss(es) or complications(s) are at particularly high risk for anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms (also called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) during future pregnancies. While it is normal to worry about whether the present pregnancy will be a healthy one, the presence of any of the following symptoms are of concern:

  • Tension, feeling on edge or jumpy
  • Frequent thoughts that something may go wrong with the pregnancy
  • Irritability
  • Having difficulty getting excited about the pregnancy
  • Low mood
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Thoughts that you may be to blame for your previous pregnancy complication or loss
  • Feeling isolated, like no one can understand your worries & concerns
  • Worries that you will never have a healthy baby

If you are bothered by any of these symptoms, you're not alone. You may benefit from a consultation or from participating in a research study utilizing a type of talk therapy to help lessen your anxiety and other emotional discomforts. The goal of treatment would be to reduce your symptoms but to also decrease the likelihood that your symptoms will negatively affect your pregnancy and baby's development.

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