Postpartum Anxiety 101: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Coping Skills
Time to Read: 8 min
Welcome to Raising Mama!
Time to Read: 8 min
Welcoming a new life into the world is a profound, joyous, and at the same time a challenging experience. The postpartum period brings with itself unexpected changes in a mother's hormonal levels. Postpartum anxiety is one such complex and nuanced aspect of the postpartum experience, affecting women in varying degrees and durations.
Additionally, when combined with certain risk factors, it can prime a woman for a host of emotional and mental issues that might require her to develop better postpartum anxiety coping skills.
In all likelihood, you might have heard of baby blues or postpartum depression. Baby blues begin soon after birth, may leave you feeling unusually weepy and sad, and will not last for more than a couple weeks.
However, when these mild symptoms persist and one shows signs of excessive worry, withdrawal, crying jags, loss of appetite, and difficulty in sleeping, a new mom could well be headed towards depression.
And beyond postpartum depression lies postpartum psychosis, also known as puerperal psychosis or postnatal psychosis. This is a severe mental illness that can develop a few weeks after giving birth and is primarily characterized by hallucinations, manic moods, delusions, fearfulness, and "out of character" behavior among many other symptoms.
Postpartum anxiety is an underlying, common factor in all of the above-mentioned disorders and is characterized by excessive worry, fear, and tension that can often manifest in physical symptoms such as restlessness, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping. Unlike the more widely known postpartum depression, anxiety tends to be overshadowed and overlooked, making it vital to shed light on its prevalence and significance.
It is essential for new mothers as well as their partners and support systems to be aware of the risk factor, be watchful of the signs, and learn how best to manage postpartum anxiety.
Understanding the signs of postpartum anxiety is the first step toward addressing it effectively. New mothers may experience persistent and intrusive worries about their baby's health and safety, fear of being alone with the baby, or an overwhelming sense of inadequacy as a parent. Physical symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal discomfort may also accompany these mental struggles.
Mothers with postpartum anxiety often experience intense and irrational worries about their baby's health and safety. These worries may extend to other aspects of life, such as the mother's own well-being or the well-being of family members.
Anxiety can manifest not only in thoughts but also in physical symptoms. These may include restlessness, muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Many mothers with postpartum anxiety find it challenging to relax and fall asleep, even when the baby is sleeping. Sleep disturbances can contribute to increased feelings of exhaustion, isolation, and exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Some mothers may experience a fear of being alone with their baby, leading to avoid situations where they would be the primary caregiver.
Disturbing and intrusive thoughts about harm coming to the baby or oneself are common in postpartum anxiety. It's important to note that these thoughts do not mean the mother intends to act on them, but they can be distressing nonetheless.
The likelihood of developing postpartum anxiety is dependent on a number of risk factors:
Postpartum anxiety not only affects the mental well-being of the mother but can also impact the mother-child relationship. The constant worry and fear may hinder the bonding process, making it challenging for the mother to engage emotionally with her baby.
Infants are remarkably intuitive and can pick up on their mother's emotional state, potentially influencing their own emotional development.
While new moms going through postpartum depression can experience symptoms of anxiety, not all mothers suffering from postpartum anxiety are depressed. Which is why it is essential to correctly diagnose and address the issue.
Interpersonal psychotherapy, medications or other approaches to treating anxiety won't work when you believe the patient is suffering from depression.
First and foremost, understand that you are not alone. Navigating the challenges of caring for a newborn is hard at the best of times. Your emotions are valid, and it's crucial to recognize that postpartum anxiety is not something you caused.
Overcoming postpartum anxiety often requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are three effective strategies to cope and manage postpartum anxiety:
Unfortunately, the social stigma surrounding mental health issues can add an additional layer of difficulty for new mothers experiencing anxiety. The pressure to conform to societal expectations of the perfect mother often leads women to downplay or hide their struggles, fearing judgment or criticism.
It's crucial to create a supportive environment that encourages open conversations about mental health, eradicating the stigma and allowing mothers to seek help without fear of judgment.
The duration of postpartum anxiety can vary widely among individuals. For some women, postpartum anxiety may be a temporary and mild experience that resolves on its own within a few weeks or months.
Others may find that their symptoms persist for a more extended period, and in some cases, the anxiety may become chronic.
When breastfeeding, it's advisable to consult your healthcare provider to assess how safe it is to breastfeed while on anti-anxiety medication. Substances from medications can be transmitted to your baby through both your bloodstream and breast milk.
While some medications pose no harm and are deemed safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, others may carry potential risks and are not recommended.
Your healthcare provider can assist you in weighing the potential risks and benefits of medications, taking into consideration the severity of your condition, your medication preferences, and your past responses.
Additionally, they will consider specific factors related to your baby, such as any medical illnesses or prematurity.
If you are experiencing postpartum anxiety or any of these symptoms, it is best to call your doctor or healthcare provider. Getting prompt treatment is the best way to recover from postpartum anxiety. Do not be afraid of the stigma associated with anxiety or let it prevent you from seeking help.
Every woman's experience is unique, and by offering compassion, support, and a non-judgmental space, we can collectively contribute to a world where every mother feels seen, heard, and supported on her journey through the intricate tapestry of postpartum emotions.
Postpartum anxiety is a formidable adversary, but it's not insurmountable. While some may find relief through self-care, support networks, and time, others may require more targeted interventions such as therapy or medication.
By raising awareness, fostering open conversations, destigmatizing the challenges mothers face, and providing the necessary support, we can empower new mothers to navigate through the storm of anxiety with confidence and resilience.