What is Postpartum Anxiety?

I find many new moms come to my office after the birth of their child feeling scared and alone.  Their feelings do not match up to what they expected may happen, including baby blues, mood disorders and postpartum depression (ppd). Their common symptoms often include the feeling of constant worry, sleep deprivation or resting and having scary thoughts. What they do not know is these feelings are in fact something many new moms experience called postpartum anxiety. 

Anxiety After Birth

Many new mothers experience some levels of anxiety after the birth of a child.  Approximately 10% of all women experience anxiety following birth. What very few people speak about are anxiety symptoms and risk factors that interfere with daily life and cause distress to themselves and to their close relationships. This is known as postpartum anxiety.  Some researchers are now finding that postpartum anxiety is more prevalent than postpartum depression.

For Sara, the repeated image of dropping her new baby plagued her frequent thoughts. This created a feeling of crisis and uncertainty about her ability to care for her child.  Lynn experienced racing thoughts of worry, impacting her ability to sleep the few hours she had in-between her baby’s feedings. She started to develop panic attacks weekly and started resenting her baby for the upheaval she was feeling. Emily became overwhelmed with her baby’s frequent crying, finding herself feeling panic and anger every time her baby was not easily soothed.  For these women, the feelings of panic, worry, loss of sleep and frightening thoughts caused them to feel unease about their well-being, mental health and their ability to parent.

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety looks and feels similar to other forms of anxiety. These other forms include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The major difference being that it begins during the postpartum period. Postpartum anxiety typically occurs anywhere from 4-weeks to one-year postpartum and has symptoms that last longer than 2 weeks.

 Approximately 10% of all women experience anxiety following birth.

Postpartum anxiety is often experienced as anxious and intrusive thoughts that get in the way of daily life. An unwelcome involuntary thought, visualization or unpleasant idea that is upsetting, distressing and can be difficult to manage or stop. Some signs include when women feel frequent distress due to constant worry, feeling that something bad will happen, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite or physical symptoms like dizziness or chest pain. Some new moms have an inability to relax, experience panic attacks, feel disconnected from their new baby or are unable to separate from their baby, or have continuous upsetting thoughts and/or visualizations that won’t go away after a few days. Others experience a change or a stop to normal routines or behaviors due to fear or worry. These can all be signs that postpartum anxiety is occurring.

What To Do If You Think You Are Experiencing Postpartum Anxiety

Don’t keep these feelings to yourself – talk to your loved ones or seek other treatment options from a mental health care provider. A good number of postpartum women who have come to my practice have not shared their experiences with anyone in their lives due to fear and shame.  Yet when they find the strength to speak about what they are going through, most find that other postpartum women in their lives have shared a similar experience with postpartum anxiety. 

Implement a mindful approach to self-care by building an awareness of what your own needs are and how to ask for them. You should allow your loved ones to support you. 

Make sure to:

  • eat and hydrate regularly throughout the day.
  • get “enough” sleep (at least 5 uninterrupted hours daily).
  • build a support system by reaching out to friends and family members. Or, join a local parent support group or meet up in your neighborhood.
  • try to get out of the house on a regular basis and incorporate realistic movement (such as walking), once cleared by your health care provider. 

Talk to your OBGYN, pediatrician, midwife, primary care physician or existing mental health therapist if you are experiencing any anxiety symptoms after the birth of your new baby.  They can answer any questions you may have and assist in assessing your postpartum anxiety and mental health. I know it takes a lot of strength to ask for help as a new mother, but remember by doing so you are being strong from your new baby and your personal well being.

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