When Worry Takes over: Postpartum Anxiety
It doesn’t require a therapist to know that emotions are all over the place after a new baby comes. A mom’s body and hormones just went through a major transition, which can leave her feeling all sorts of ways. Thankfully, most people are educated about the signs of postpartum depression and even new dad’s are informed of what to be on the lookout for in case PPD rears it’s ugly head. However, postpartum anxiety appears to be on the rise and can look quite different from postpartum depression.
According to the American Pregnancy Society, up to 10% of new mom’s suffer from postpartum anxiety. And while it’s natural to feel some sense of concern when you have a new baby, postpartum anxiety is marked by constant worry. Postpartum anxiety is an obsessive worry that something bad will happen, either to baby or mom. New mothers who feel an overwhelming sense of dread, rapid heartbeat, irritability, hot flashes, or have difficulty sleeping may be suffering from postpartum anxiety. Some new moms experiencing postpartum anxiety might have a difficult time attaching to or loving their new baby. Because it’s presentation is different from PPD, many new moms feel pressured to dismiss their symptoms even though they are debilitating.
Naturally, there is plenty to worry about as a new mom. Is your baby eating enough? Perhaps your baby is jaundiced or needs to stay in the NICU. Your body just went through war and you’re trying to manage your pain. Sleep is a thing of the past and you might feel distant from your partner. Perhaps you have an older child who you feel you’re neglecting. You’re breaking from work but your career is important to you. These are all normal factors of adjustment to motherhood. But combined and with a heightened sense of anxiety, life can feel overwhelming.
In addition to the normal worries of motherhood, there are risk factors that might increase the likelihood of developing postpartum anxiety. If you can identify these before you have a baby, it can help you put a support system in place earlier. These risk factors include: family or personal history of anxiety, previous trauma around pregnancy, previous pregnancy or infant loss, lower socio-economic status, job/housing/financial crisis, strong mood reactions during PMS, and/or a family history of a perinatal mental health issue. Health issues such as pre-eclampisa, gestational diabetes, or preterm labor also increase the chances that a new mom will suffer from postpartum anxiety. Lastly, having a child in the NICU or with health issues, or being a new mom of multiples is also a risk factor for postpartum anxiety.
It is also important to note that stopping breastfeeding is associated with an increased level of both anxiety and depression. This makes sense from a biological perspective because mom’s hormones are (once again!) changing once she stops lactating. If you’ve breastfed before, you might recall (what some mom’s describe as) that wonderful feeling of relaxation when your milk let’s down. The sudden absence of oxytocin and prolactin can be felt in the form of anxiety. So while this doesn’t necessarily fall into the category of postpartum anxiety on it’s own, it’s important to understand this link. This should be temporary and the anxiety should return to a normal level after hormones level out and mom adjusts.
So, let’s say you’ve identified yourself as high risk for postpartum anxiety, or you’re in the throes of it a few weeks or months into motherhood - now what? First of all, have hope! In the words of postpartum support international (PSI) - “You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will get better”! And as a perinatal therapist and someone who has personally experienced postpartum anxiety, I 100% agree with this. If your worries aren’t going away on their own, get help.
Get on the internet, ask a friend for help, pick up the phone. Reach out and connect with someone who can help you. I recommend searching for a postpartum therapist or calling a new mom’s hotline. A therapist might connect you to a new mom’s group, or in some cases where necessary, help you get on medication to help manage your anxiety.
Ask any mom and she’ll tell you: worry is a normal part of motherhood. But if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with worry or fear, let a trusted person know. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and let someone know you’re not ok.
Postpartum Support International Helpline: 1-800-944-4773
Postpartum Support International - http://www.postpartum.net
Suicide Prevention Support: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Northshore Moms - 1-866-364-MOMS
PPD MOMS - 1800-PPD-MOMS