You’ve likely heard of postpartum depression and the baby blues, but postpartum anxiety is a bit different from other mental health challenges new moms face. Even under the best of circumstances, becoming a mother, whether for the first time or for the third time, can be overwhelming. Some women become excessively concerned with the challenges of being a mom and are then diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. Unlike postpartum depression, which has been in the headlines for many years, postpartum anxiety is another condition that affects a mother’s behavior after the pregnancy is over. Stress can quickly build up in a mother, especially if she’s been short on sleep, impacting her ability to love and care for both her baby and herself.
What is Postpartum Anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety is a mood disorder that arises in women after giving birth. After giving birth, a woman may start experiencing irritability, difficulty sleeping, and overwhelming panic.
It’s completely normal for a new mother to be concerned about her infant’s wellbeing, but it can become a mental health problem when the concern becomes excessive.
Many people are unaware that postpartum anxiety is, in fact, more common than postpartum depression. However, it’s not always recognized because either the mother does not want to talk about it or is unaware she has it.
While anxiety about your new role as a mom is normal and expected, getting the support you need to manage your stress is essential.
Who Suffers From Postnatal Anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety can affect any pregnant woman who has had a full-term pregnancy, miscarried, or recently weaned a child from breastfeeding. Any woman who has adopted a child could experience postpartum anxiety as well.
Postpartum anxiety doesn’t consider whether a woman is giving birth for the first time or has given birth multiple times before. Still, any woman may have to deal with postpartum anxiety. A woman may suffer postnatal anxiety regardless of her age, social status, or the number of children she has cared for.
Every experience of taking care of a baby is unique. Since the experiences vary, there may be unexpected challenges or difficulties, which a new mom is unprepared for.
Women who have previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition may be more likely to experience postpartum anxiety. Connecting with your psychiatrist, midwife, or trusted medical professional can help you learn coping skills to adapt to your new role and manage your mental health. Learn how to find a therapist to help you cope.
What factors contribute to postpartum anxiety?
Being a first-time mom, experiencing a traumatic delivery, hormonal changes, suffering from miscarriages or child loss, and a history of mental illness are some factors that can contribute to postpartum anxiety.
There is an overwhelming number of unwritten rules of being a mom, which can increase stress. As soon as you become a mom, other moms will share experiences, advice, and suggestions that may be unwanted.
Hormonal changes may also contribute to postpartum anxiety. Your hormone levels will return to normal about six months after pregnancy, particularly once you stop breastfeeding. In the first six months, though, your estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin levels will be higher than usual.
Giving birth can be a traumatic experience for some women. You may have felt like you weren’t given the dignity you deserved during delivery. Or you may have suffered from an unexpected complication, which caused you to have a panic attack. Some women remember their childbirth as a traumatic and stressful period that can manifest as postpartum anxiety days, weeks, or even months later.
Anxiety may affect women, especially those who have had multiple miscarriages or even child loss. Severe distress may also be triggered by other causes, such as a history of mood disorders, past trauma, or eating disorder.
How common is postpartum anxiety?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 10% of new moms experience postpartum anxiety.
Postnatal anxiety affects mothers consciously or unknowingly after completing their pregnancy. Many new moms experience postpartum anxiety but can dismiss the thoughts as negative thinking. Those who reach a diagnosis may require some additional coping strategies to help minimize the catastrophizing of their negative thoughts.
Postpartum Anxiety Symptoms
1. Ruminating Thoughts
One of the postpartum anxiety symptoms is ruminating thoughts. Rumination happens when your brain starts cycling the same thoughts repeatedly, expanding on them and making them larger than life. You might’ve typically been able to shut down negative thoughts in the past. However, when you throw in sleepless nights, elevated hormone levels, and the stress of a new role, it can be hard to ignore pessimistic thinking.
A new mom with postpartum anxiety is going to keep herself busy. You might constantly be working to keep your newborn safe, clean, fed, and washed. You might become overwhelmed by all the new responsibilities of being a new mom who works 24/7 without any breaks. Your self-care is just as important as your baby’s needs. If you can’t take care of yourself, you won’t be in the best shape to care for your baby. Call in a parent, friend, or your significant other to step in when you need some time to take a long bath, go for a walk, or do anything that strengthens your mental health.
3. New Baby Obsession
First-time moms often become obsessed with every detail or change their baby experiences. Of course, this is normal. Your role as a mom is to protect your baby and look out for your bundle of joy.
Unfortunately, this can lead to postpartum anxiety. It starts with a harmless midwife phone call, but eventually, thoughts begin to catastrophize into other areas. You begin to worry about whether or not your baby is getting enough sleep, eating enough, or developing at the same rate as other babies.
You might use apps or articles to determine if your baby is progressing well. If your baby doesn’t start crawling, laughing, speaking, or walking at a certain age, you begin to panic. The reality is all babies progress differently in various ways.
4. Disrupted Thinking
Many women with postpartum anxiety see an increase in disrupted thinking. You might notice an uptick in terrifying thoughts that cause you to doubt yourself as a mom and struggle with this new transition you’re going through. Remember, you are not your thoughts. The thoughts you think don’t reflect on you. The mind is out of your control. Your actions are in your control, though. You can choose to ignore any negative thoughts that surface.
5. Fear of Being Alone
When struggling with postpartum anxiety, you may experience a fear of being alone with your baby. Many new moms get anxious when midwives stop visiting because they fear they’ll make a harmful mistake. Experiencing this fear is completely normal. So while you might start compulsively locking doors that have already been locked, checking the oven, and listening to make sure your baby is breathing while it sleeps, remember that this paranoia is temporary. Your hormones make you feel this way so that your baby is safe as you’re its mom and protector. Ultimately, though, your baby is safe in your care.
6. Physical Symptoms
You can also suffer physical symptoms that make the process of raising your child difficult. These symptoms include heart palpitations, exhaustion, hyperventilation, sweating, nausea, vomiting, shakiness, appetite loss, and more.
7. Sleep Deprivation
Some people believe that since you may have to feed your baby several times in the night, waking up repeatedly through the night is a natural response. But what if you can’t sleep but keep checking on your baby? That might be postpartum anxiety. Plus, sleep deprivation will also negatively impact your anxiety levels. You can try this guided meditation for sleep to help you fall asleep.
8. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Postpartum anxiety can often manifest as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessions become recurrent. If your focus is on the baby, you might overfeed her, wake it up too frequently while she’s sleeping, or overdo her care. This compulsion can make you feel like you have to act on your obsession or something bad will happen.
How long does postpartum anxiety last?
If a medical professional or you notice symptoms early on, it might only last a couple of weeks as you transition into motherhood. If untreated, it might last months as you feel more comfortable in your new role.
How to Overcome Postpartum Anxiety
Overcoming postpartum anxiety doesn’t need to be challenging. If you’ve got the right support system in place, you can overcome the fears that fill you with self-doubt.
The biggest challenge with postnatal anxiety is that some women go through it long before realizing they have it. There are several postpartum anxiety strategies available to help people conquer their parenting stress, so why not start with self care ideas? If you have some of the symptoms of postpartum anxiety, it might be time to start taking care of yourself, for you, and your babies.
You might start by trying to get in some more sleep. Could you begin good habits such as consuming nutritious foods while still exercising by starting with the shortest workouts first? Trying to take as much time for yourself as possible and still meditating daily helps reduce postpartum anxiety.
1. Attend therapy sessions
If self-care doesn’t help minimize your symptoms in a couple of weeks, you might schedule some therapy sessions with your midwife or counselor.
Interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or dialectical behavioral therapy is often used in the sessions. You’ll progress effectively over time, and treatment succeeds with patients with other disorders when taken seriously.
Consider investing in some therapy sessions for your partner as they may need some support for their new role too.
Attending therapy together can be helpful, so you both know how you’re feeling. It also helps to learn the same lessons together to lift each other when you’re struggling with a specific aspect. For instance, if you or your partner catastrophize, you can name it to them and help them back on track.
2. Make contact with others
Try attending a mothers’ club or organization to meet other moms with children around your age. Meetings don’t always have to be in person, especially with the advent of technology, and people may opt to hold them virtually. Video chats, in particular, can helpful to chat with others without having to go out. When one meets a party of other moms dealing with the same problems, it becomes even easier to help one another resolve the anxiety. You can also join forums for moms with children who were born in the same month as yours, as you may encounter the same challenges at the same time.
3. Consider seeking medical treatment.
If postpartum anxiety has progressed to a higher degree, it might be time to seek medical treatment. Medication is an excellent choice for patients who can’t get the support they need from therapy or self-care alone. Your doctor or psychiatrist will prescribe the medication that would best treat your postpartum anxiety based on the symptoms you experience. It’s also important to remember that changing your prescription without your prescriber’s knowledge may exacerbate your situation in most cases. So don’t take less or more than what your doctor prescribes. When the doctor sees a positive difference in your wellbeing, you should taper off the medications.
The bad news is that nearly any mother will suffer a level of postpartum anxiety. However, some may spend more time treating the stress, while some may see the condition go away in a matter of days. By having the right coping strategies and support during pregnancy, you can minimize the symptoms post-childbirth. You’re going to be a great mom. It’s normal to experience postnatal anxiety, especially if this pregnancy, childbirth, or newborn experience is different than the rest or your first one. Get the support you need early on; it’ll make all the difference. Try this anxiety meditation to help you cope with your postpartum anxiety.