Postpartum anxiety is a common mood disorder that affects up to 15% of new mothers.
Postpartum anxiety is just as common, if not more so, than postpartum depression. It’s seldom discussed and when it is, it’s usually grouped together with postpartum depression as if they’re a package deal. The truth is, women can get BOTH postpartum depression AND anxiety or they can get one of the two.
Here’s what all moms need to know about postpartum anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Basically speaking, anxiety causes a person to worry. Anxiety, in itself, is a common and natural human reaction. It’s our body’s instinctive way of protecting us from a possible threat. For new and expectant mothers, anxiety is almost expected, and seems to be part of the maternal instinct. We need to worry about our newborn babies in order for them to survive.
An anxiety disorder, however, is different. It’s when you lose your natural ability to stop worrying when the threat has passed. Postpartum anxiety is what it’s called when a women develops an anxiety disorder following the birth of her baby. Women can also suffer from prenatal anxiety during pregnancy. A postpartum anxiety disorder can cause a mother to worry so much that it disrupts her life and affects her health and well being.
Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Intrusive thoughts
- Paranoia (always feeling like something bad is going to happen)
- Loss of appetite
- Needing to be in control of everything
- Physical manifestations including nausea, excessive sweating, shaking or trembling, heart palpitations or fatigue
While the symptoms themselves might not seem overly concerning, living with postpartum anxiety can be extremely debilitating. A mother who suffers from postpartum anxiety may suffer from extreme sleep deprivation if she stays up all night worrying or watching her baby breathe. She might start to avoid leaving the house or socializing with friends. The constant worrying, paranoia and intrusive thoughts can take a severe toll on her mental and physical health.
Symptoms of Postpartum OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
- Compulsive and repetitive behavior
- Scary and intrusive thoughts
- Going to extreme lengths to avoid bad thoughts from becoming reality
- Becoming obsessed about things like germs, illnesses, death, accidents, etc.
- Extreme fearfulness
Postpartum OCD is a form of anxiety that manifests as compulsive behavior. It’s similar to other forms of OCD, just in this case, the worries relate to a new baby. For example, a mother suffering from postpartum OCD may clean, wash or sanitize everything obsessively for fear of the baby getting sick. Intrusive thoughts are very common in a mother with postpartum OCD and she may rearrange her entire life in order to avoid bad things from happening, even if they seem like a long shot.
Symptoms of Postpartum Panic Disorder
- Profuse sweating
- Feeling light-headed or dizzy
- Chest Pain*
- Racing heart beat
- Uncontrollable shaking or trembling
- Chills or hot flashes
- Numbness or tingling in hands, feet or face
- Hyperventilating or shortness of breath
*always seek medical care if you are experiencing any kind of chest pain.
A panic attack can feel so bad that it’s often mistaken for a heart attack. It’s important to rule that out, especially if it’s your first panic attack. But if you become prone to panic attacks in the postpartum period, then it’s likely you suffer from a postpartum panic disorder. This is a more intense form of anxiety that can have several effects on a new mother’s life. It can often happen when a mother’s fears become severe and she feels like she has no control over what’s happening.
Are My Worries Postpartum Anxiety?
First of all, having a baby is terrifying. There is a lot worth worrying about. Starting from the moment of conception, you will likely worry about your child their entire lives. So how do you know if your worries are truly postpartum anxiety or just the normal worries that come along with motherhood?
This best way to answer this question is by determining how much your worrying is affecting your life.
- Do you avoid leaving the house because you’re worried about your baby getting sick?
- Do you lose sleep worrying if your baby is breathing?
- Do you avoid driving because you fear getting into an accident with baby?
- Is your relationship suffering because you don’t trust your partner with the baby?
- Do you panic when you can’t control absolutely everything?
- Are you losing weight from worrying so much?
If your entire way of life has changed in order to accommodate your worries, then it could be a sign of a postpartum anxiety disorder. It’s best to keep a journal or workbook to keep track of your worries. Seeing it on paper can help you identify if they’re getting out of control. Even if you’re not sure, speak to your healthcare professional about your worries. If nothing else, they may be able to provide you with some solutions to help ease your anxiety.
Postpartum Anxiety Treatment Options
In the same way that mothers can suffer from both postpartum depression and anxiety, they can also suffer from either one to all three forms of postpartum anxiety. Often, if a general anxiety disorder is not treated in the early stages, it can progressively become worse and worse. That’s why treatment is essential.
Some popular treatment options include:
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Talk therapy/Support Groups
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Yoga + Meditation
- EFT Tapping
- CBD treatments
There are many treatments available for anxiety, including alternative and natural treatments. You may not find success until you’ve tried several different ones, or a combination of them. Even if you have established a proper treatment plan for your postpartum anxiety disorder, you should never ignore it. Anxiety, like most mental health disorders, is something that can easily be triggered again.
Self Care for Postpartum Anxiety
Living with anxiety can cause a lot of stress and even lead to bouts of depression or other mental illnesses. Practicing self care is extremely important to avoid triggers and relapses. But keep in mind that self care alone may not be enough to eliminate your symptoms. Instead, it should be used in combination with an anxiety treatment plan.
- Eat healthy
- Use vitamins or supplements
- Get enough sleep
- Meditate to help ease your worries
- Journal your intrusive thoughts
- Exercise regularly
- Take time for yourself
- Spend time outdoors
Postpartum Anxiety + Addiction
Just as there are good ways to manage symptoms of anxiety, there are also destructive ways. Drugs or alcohol can numb the pain and help you forget your worries, but they only offer temporary relief and do more harm in the long run. Addiction is something that many people with anxiety struggle with, especially those with OCD, as addiction is a type of compulsive behavior. For more information and addiction resources, visit Addictions.com/anxiety-disorders.
Talking About Postpartum Anxiety
Anxiety, in general, is one of the most common mental health disorders in the world. While postpartum anxiety isn’t talked about as often as postpartum depression, that doesn’t mean it isn’t as important or as dangerous to mom and baby’s health.
If you’re suffering from symptoms of postpartum anxiety, including OCD or a panic disorder, make sure to seek help from a qualified professional and establish a treatment plan. Speak up about it with other moms too, and I promise you’ll find that you’re not alone. (If you’re interested in sharing your postpartum anxiety story with us, click here for more info).
Healthline | What You Need to Know About Postpartum Anxiety
What to Expect | Postpartum Anxiety
Verywell | Do You Have the Symptoms of Postpartum OCD?
PostpartumDepression.org | Postpartum Panic Disorders
Postpartum Progress | A Toolkit for Postpartum Anxiety & Panic Disorders
Addiction Center | Generalized Anxiety Disorder