Signs of Anxiety: Phobias and Post-Traumatic Stress

First trimester

Have you read the previous part about GAD, panic attacks and obsession (OCD)?

Phobias Related to the Perinatal Period

Many specific intense fears can arise during the perinatal period. Two phobias occur frequently and can significantly interfere with how you function.

The first is the fear of giving birth, also called tokophobia. In short, the fear of giving birth can involve many fears, such as pain, complications and death, either for you or the baby. It can also include the fear of losing control during delivery or that childbirth will be traumatic. To a certain degree, the fear of giving birth is felt by the majority of women. Once again, to be considered an anxiety disorder, it has to interfere with the way the mother functions. The pregnant woman recognises that her fear is excessive. Finally, her fear is actually associated with avoidance. I already dealt with this subject in an educational entry, and you can read, “Do you know about the fear of giving birth? It’s called tokophobia.”(in french).

The second phobia experienced during the perinatal period is the fear of vomiting

In fact, the fear of vomiting is a rather common phobia in children and adults. During pregnancy, nausea can reactivate this fear in some mothers, who then become fearful of the pregnancy, delivery, and even the postnatal period given frequent regurgitation and vomiting in newborns. Then other worries follow, such as fear of not being able to care for the baby or burdening the family. Like for fear of giving birth, the fear of vomiting can negatively affect the mother’s preparation during pregnancy. She will try to avoid situations that might make her want to vomit. After giving birth, the new mother will tend to over-verify the health of the child and exercise over-control to avoid either the baby or a member of the family becoming ill.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder after Childbirth

As the name indicates, post-traumatic stress disorder associated with childbirth is identified when the father or mother has anxiety symptoms following birth that is judged to be traumatic, scary or threatening.

Main Signs: In other words, post-traumatic stress disorder can occur when the parent shows anxiety symptoms following childbirth that is judged to be traumatic, scary and threatening. They saw the childbirth experience as a threat, a danger to their life or their baby’s or partner’s life. It can occur by merely having witnessed a threat to the baby and/or partner. The person feels powerless to act.

Once the childbirth is over, the parent states that they repeatedly relive the traumatic experience:

  • Repetitive involuntary memories or thoughts that cause distress
  • In flashbacks where they feel as if they’re reliving a traumatic situation
  • In repeated dreams of the event that produce a feeling of distress
  • When seeing something that makes them think of childbirth (hospital gown, umbilical cord, specific people).

Similar to the previous anxiety disorders, the parent can show signs of increased irritability, anger, hypervigilance and jumpiness. This can lead to avoidance or efforts to avoid memories or things that remind them of the experience, such as the location, certain people, or conversations about childbirth.

Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia

This is probably the least studied anxiety disorder during the perinatal period.

Main Signs: Excessive and persistent fear of social situations or a fear of being negatively judged. The parent feels anxiety almost every time they’re with people that could judge them. The parent recognises that their fear is excessive. They generally avoid social situations or experiences them with much distress.

For 2–6% of mothers, body changes, new parent roles and spending a lot of time with the child can make them feel like don’t have exciting things to say and/or can look bad to others. She will often compare herself to others and even doubt how she’s caring for the baby, which will lead her to isolate herself even more. By doing so, this increases her distress.

Read the next part, Possible Impacts of Anxiety Disorders.

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