We have all heard of and feared postnatal depression.
It's long been in the spotlight with celebrity mothers and real new moms opening up about this mental health condition that catches many women by surprise.
But there's another, albeit less talked about, mood disorder that can strike once pregnancy is over: postpartum anxiety
. While approximately 15% of new moms are diagnosed with postpartum depression, 10% are estimated to develop postpartum anxiety according to research.
Symptoms of the condition include a noticeable increase in anxiety that can in-turn cause panic attacks and even depression.
Having a new baby is a time of emotional upheaval, even under the best circumstances. Whether it’s a mum's first or her fourth, anxiety is a common feeling during this time. However, for some women, anxiety can start to build gradually and begin to interfere with her ability to enjoy and take care of her new baby and herself.
Unfortunately, even medical care providers can miss the signs of postpartum anxiety, sometimes mistaking it for postnatal depression or attributing it to all the sudden life changes and the changes in hormones in a new mums bloodstream. Many people don’t know that it’s possible to have an anxiety disorder and depression at the same time.
A moderate amount of new fears and worries is normal and expected during this time of change. If you are experiencing quite a bit of anxiety, it can be helpful to first learn more about what anxiety is, and how it can present itself for new mums.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural response we experience when we feel unsafe or threatened. We perceive many kinds of “threats”, some can be specific and real (e.g., being followed home at night). Some feel more vague, like a general sense that something “bad” will happen. We may also have an anxious response to a threat we are imagining in our heads, like picturing a loved one getting into an accident.
Signs of anxiety
In our bodies (increased heart rate, sore stomach, tight chest and throat, shallow breathing, loss of appetite, difficulty falling or staying asleep, etc.)
In our mind (racing thoughts about the future; imagining the worst-case scenario, worrying and obsessing, etc.)
In our actions or behaviours (avoiding certain situations, activities, places, or people; over-controlling; asking others for constant reassurance; checking things repeatedly; being extra careful and vigilant of danger, etc.)
Other possible signs of anxiety during the postpartum period:
- loss of appetite
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle tension (grinding teeth, neck and shoulder pain, back pain, muscle twitching)
- difficulty concentrating and focusing
Women who suffer from postpartum anxiety tend to have a hard time letting go of concerns. It’s natural as a new mum to be worried, but if you find that it’s very consuming and it’s affecting your life, that’s when you should start thinking about postpartum anxiety.
Here are some postpartum anxiety symptoms to look out for:
1, Obsessively worrying Baby will get sick
Mums with postpartum anxiety have racing thoughts and constantly fret that their child might come down with an illness or not get enough food or sleep, and repeatedly seek reassurance from others.
2. Nagging fear you’ll hurt your child
Constantly worrying that something bad will happen to baby while you’re not paying attention, checking on her incessantly and avoiding potentially dangerous things like knives and stairs are among the signs of postpartum anxiety.
3. Inability to focus
Mums with postpartum anxiety are often irritable and agitated, and can have a hard time relaxing or focusing their thoughts.
4. Trouble sleeping and eating
If worries about your baby are keeping you up at night or affecting your appetite, you may have postpartum anxiety.
5. Dizziness, hot flashes and nausea
Sometimes postpartum anxiety can manifest physically. Other possible symptoms include increased heart rate, sore stomach, tight chest and throat and shallow breathing.
6. How is postpartum anxiety treated?
If you feel you may have postpartum anxiety, don’t worry, there are many options for postpartum anxiety treatment.
Here, some common approaches to addressing postpartum anxiety:
1. Talking to a trusted friend or family member
This may be enough for women with less severe forms of postpartum anxiety, but it’s important to talk to someone who’s uplifting and supportive.
This involves meeting with a licensed mental health professional to talk about and work through your anxiety. This is a proven successful form of postpartum anxiety treatment.
Doctors generally recommend talk therapy first and then may suggest antidepressants if they think a patient needs additional help.
Postpartum anxiety isn’t permanent, although recovery time can vary. The first step to helping yourself is talking to someone, a friend, a GP or even a stranger at a group. Just remember you’re not alone!
Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.