I frequently receive referrals of clients from pediatricians and OBGYN’s. One of the most common reasons is that their patient has reported feeling somewhat depressed and/or anxious, post-delivery. Most everyone is familiar with postpartum depression. However, we don’t often hear about postpartum anxiety, which is a condition that can lead to feelings of anxiousness, feeling overwhelmed, irritable, generally fearful, inadequate, and often feelings of shame about feeling anxious.
It’s a painful and disorienting experience for a mom who has just delivered her baby.
Postpartum anxiety is somewhat different from postpartum depression. With depression, someone can generally be described as feeling extreme sadness and even disinterest in their newborn. While with postpartum anxiety you can appear happy yet have immense worry. And “worry” is the key word here.
Good news! This is also a fairly common condition that is often very treatable.
Approximately 10% of new moms experience postpartum anxiety, which is different from what most of us are familiar with hearing, postpartum depression.
And that is just the number of moms who report this condition. Because of the shame involved, the number may very well be higher. That is why postpartum anxiety is sometimes referred to as “the hidden disorder.” Even healthcare professionals can miss the signs, which would explain why it can often go unrecognized and untreated.
I actually don’t like the word “disorder” in this context as I have found the vast majority of moms who experience postpartum anxiety to be rather normal women, who are experiencing normal but upsetting thoughts and feelings, about an incredibly powerful experience – giving birth to another human being! It’s bad enough for a new mom to feel this way so let’s do what we can to remove the stigma and drop the word “disorder.”
What is postpartum anxiety?
It is completely common for new parents to be concerned or even worry about how all this newness is supposed to work. How does the baby sit up in the baby tub without drowning? How am I ever going to get to the store, let alone shower again? What if the baby rolls over in the middle of the night? And until you get the swing of things, it’s appropriate to be vigilant, protective and cautious.
There is an amount of time to adjust to the new normal. That’s for sure. And it takes some people longer than others (and that’s okay).
However, postpartum anxiety is this kind of ongoing, relentless worry that starts to affect your regular functioning because your brain is constantly consumed with irrational fears. You may also exhibit symptoms like:
• Constant worry – fretting over your baby
• Feeling on edge, like something bad is going to happen all the time
• Rapid heartbeat
• Inability to sit still
• Can’t focus
• Panic attacks
• Not bonding with your baby
When might you have postpartum anxiety
Postpartum anxiety can happen between birth and 1st birthday. But it most commonly shows up between the 2nd and 6th week post-delivery. Any life stress or weaning may also trigger it. Women that have a history of certain symptoms of PMS (including agitation or weepiness), a personal or family history of anxiety or depression, or a history of OCD or eating disorders may be particularly susceptible.
Hormones are at play
Being pregnant and subsequently nursing your body is like hormone soup. So, it’s no wonder that your emotions may be all over the place. However, after the first few weeks, they start to settle.
Sarah Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure says, “I think of postpartum anxiety as the loss of the normal sense of balance and calm, and postpartum depression as a loss of heart.”
Tips for postpartum anxiety
All of the following tips I offer here really come under the overall heading of self-care. New first-time mothers and moms who have had a number of babies have told me that truly embracing these self-care tips have significantly helped to ease much of their anxiety.
Talk it out
There’s an old saying, “Pain shared is pain halved.” Certainly, start by sharing this with your partner who may be in a great position to support you. The simple act of talking it out can help relieve at least some of your suffering, especially if another woman has gone through the same thing. Being a new mom is not easy!
But if you feel it is greater than you want to share with your partner, a family member, friend or coworker, then consider getting professional help. It is not uncommon to seek short-term care to get over this hump. And it’s better to seek help sooner rather than later.
Take a break
Allow yourself to be supported. You may think that you’re prepared. That you and your partner have got it under control, but you don’t have to power through. It’s important to have a support system and when the going starts to get tough and you feel like the anxiety is getting to you, CALL IN THE TROOPS!
People love to help, especially when it comes to babies!
Do yourself a favor, go get a mani-pedi. Sit alone under a tree in a park and read your favorite book or magazine. Catch a yoga class. Go out on a date. But get out and remind yourself of who you are. It will help you catch your breath and keep things in perspective.
Get some exercise
Exercise can relieve anxiety, reduce tension, and make you feel empowered. If you can get someone to watch the baby at least once a week, go for a run, take that spin class or go for a hike. If regular coverage isn’t an option, at least get out of the house and speed walk the baby in the stroller to get that heart pumping! You’ll be thankful that you did.
Join a moms group
This is one of the very best things you can do for yourself. Talking to other new mothers may help you gauge if your level of worry is about right, or if you really don’t need to be worrying as much as you might be. All new parents worry at some level about their babies, just in different ways.
Meeting other moms may help you get a better understanding of where you’re at. It may also increase your confidence and encourage you to seek help if the amount and degree of worry is impacting your ability to function.
You may find comfort that you’re not the only one having a hard time or you may come to realize that many of these fears are slightly over-the-top. It may give you a new perspective of motherhood and your relationship.
Often times these kinds of groups become mini-therapy sessions and (bonus points) it will get you out of the house! Moms who join these groups, almost always report feeling better. Just knowing that you’re not the only one can be a true blessing and stress reliever!
Ask for help
If you are considering seeking professional help, it is always better to see someone in person. Even with Facetime or Skype, something can get missed over wifi. Nothing replaces direct human contact. I routinely see new moms in my practice and I also invite and encourage them to bring their babies if that helps them to feel more comfortable.
It can also be that someone can stay with your baby such as a trusted family member or friend.
There’s an app for that
That said, if you are concerned that you can’t go to a therapy appointment for fear that your baby will miss a feeding or worse yet you take him/her to your therapy session and they will cry through the whole session, there’s an app for that.
7Cups, BetterHelp, and Talkspace are companies that provide support from licensed clinical therapists through your phone or computer. Each have different formats and plans available, but they all offer affordable and accessible mental health services to people with internet access.
It may be awkward at first, but any form of communication about how you’re doing, even your own personal self-reflection can have great value and may be just what you need to help you develop the ability to manage your anxiety.
One of best lessons to really take to heart is that taking care of yourself is also taking care of your baby. You know every time you’re on an airplane they say cover your face first with the air mask before assisting others or children. Well, there’s a reason for that! You’re needed! There’s no need for you to sacrifice yourself for your child. They need you. The healthy, happy you. So please take care of yourself!
As the father of three, I know that being a new parent can sometimes have the most extreme emotions of sheer and utter joy and deep, deep love and then can send you down a mental road of worry and despair in a single minute. But hopefully, this post can give you some tips to help you move through these lovely, but often challenging times. I have worked with hundreds of new parents and love it! This is one of the most satisfying things I get to do in my profession! If you would like to have a free 15-minute consultation, I would be happy to see if I could be a good resource for you.