In many cultures, pregnancy is viewed as a period of bliss and serene calm while anticipating the birth of a baby. Many pregnant women joyfully imagine what their new addition will bring to their family life, and are mildly prepared for the physical discomforts that may accompany their pregnancy. Most depictions of pregnancy – whether based on friend and family input, the media, or even medical professionals – are hardly complete. Pregnancy is a major developmental change that affects most areas of life, and it manifests in more complex ways than just causing mood fluctuations and feelings of gratitude. The neurological, physical, and psychological characteristics of pregnancy suggest a natural and unique crisis involving a woman’s identity, relationships, and her physical health.
Normal psychological processes that women encounter during pregnancy may include:
Changes in the way a pregnant woman sees herself, lives her life, relates to others, and experiences her health and/or physical challenges during pregnancy, can contribute to her likelihood of experiencing stress, conflict, depression, anxiety, irritability, and/or fear. When these changes are not anticipated, or when the resulting stress or depression is not managed with support, the consequences can extend to the baby as well. Even though emotional and physical vulnerability during pregnancy is normative, women with histories of trauma, abuse, or loss, those affected by prior psychiatric difficulties, teenage mothers, and/or women suffering from the stress of poverty or lack of social support may be especially likely to exhibit heightened symptoms of anxiety, stress, and/or depression during pregnancy.
Given the well established impact of maternal stress on a child’s well-being and the potential for stress to limit a parent’s empathic responsiveness toward her baby, it is crucial to seek and receive support early, even if a mother suspects that her symptoms are mild and/or normal. Most prenatal healthcare professionals and community organizations can provide women with referrals to preventive services such home-visiting programs, newborn care classes, pregnancy support groups, or supportive phone lines such as The Parentline.
Recognizing the vulnerability of pregnancy as a deep, complex transition may initially be uncomfortable, but shifting one’s perspective to a more balanced view can help women lower their anxiety, decrease feelings of guilt, and access the support they need.
 Slade, A., Cohen, L.J., Sadler, L.S., & Miller, M. (2009). The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy. In Zeanah (Ed.) (2009). Handbook of Infant Mental Health.