Few studies have looked at peri- and postpartum anxiety triggers. However, a new study, published in February 2019, has found an association between insomnia during late pregnancy, and anxiety both pre- and post-childbirth.
The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, was part of the Akershus Birth Cohort in Norway. The researchers analysed data from over 1 500 participants, utilising birth records and questionnaires conducted in the 17th and 32nd weeks of pregnancy, as well as two months post birth.
The findings from the study
The study found that, on average, 10.2% of pregnant women reported symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder. The researchers found that those women who suffered from gestational insomnia had a higher chance of suffering an anxiety disorder pre- or post-pregnancy, with the study suggesting that gestational insomnia could be an indicator of a mood disorder. However, pregnancy insomnia is expected to affect around 78% of all pregnant women, and not all 78% will experience a mood disorder.
In fact, the research points to insomnia in later pregnancy, from around week 32. The women who experienced insomnia in the later part of pregnancy scored higher for anxiety and depression, with the main concerns being the fear of childbirth, relationship dissatisfaction and stress.
“For most new mothers, the period after childbirth is characterised by positive emotions and expectations. However, the postpartum period can also be filled with negative feelings,” said the researchers.
They added that research on perinatal mental disorders has focused on depression, and in particular postpartum depression (PPD). Less research has looked at postpartum anxiety (PPA), which has also been found to be an important issue as it can impact mother and baby bonding.
The study found that mothers who suffer from PPA are less likely to breastfeed their baby than those without anxiety. Symptoms of PPA include tension, worry and unease, fatigue and low self-confidence in your abilities. The problem is that women with PPA are less likely to ask for professional help than those who are experiencing PPD.
The researchers state: “Health professionals should be aware that women with gestational insomnia may have an increased risk of mood and anxiety disorders.”
The study went on to share that the significant association between insomnia in late pregnancy and anxiety (particularly prior to giving birth), can help healthcare providers identify women with anxiety and mood disorders who may require extra care to help prevent or treat PPA.
The researchers indicate that this insomnia can be a helpful marker in identifying women who are prone to anxiety. Insomnia may give an indication of underlying depression during pregnancy, which is a strong risk factor for postpartum anxiety.
Further research is required to examine the best course of action, and if treatment of anxiety, depression and insomnia in pregnancy can help prevent the development of PPA once the baby has arrived.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.