Postpartum Anxiety 101: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Coping Skills

Written by: Megan Stander


Time to Read: 10 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.

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Postpartum Anxiety: Signs and Symptoms

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.

  • Excessive Worry:

    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.

  • Physical Symptoms:

    Anxiety can manifest not only in thoughts but also in physical symptoms. These may include restlessness, muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

  • Difficulty Sleeping:

    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.

  • Fear of Being Alone with the Baby:

    Some mothers may experience a fear of being alone with their baby, leading to avoid situations where they would be the primary caregiver.

  • Intrusive Thoughts:

    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.

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Risk Factors

What causes postpartum anxiety?

The likelihood of developing postpartum anxiety is dependent on a number of risk factors:

  • Personal or family history of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, or panic attacks
  • History of eating disorders
  • Parenting a premature baby or a baby with health challenges.
  • Experience of pregnancy loss or the loss of a child in the past.
  • Parenting a child with health conditions.
  • Caring for newborn while managing the responsibilities for multiple children
  • Personality factors, such as being "type A," highly sensitive, or prone to worry
  • Lack of support from a partner or a network after childbirth
  • Hormonal fluctuations post-childbirth, where the impact on mood and anxiety levels may vary among individuals
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Inability to cope with caring for a newborn baby
  • Difficulty in navigating relationship changes that accompany the arrival of a baby
  • Difficulty in coping with societal expectations and the self-imposed pressure to attain perfection in motherhood

Impact on Mother and Child

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.

Postpartum Anxiety Coping Skills and Treatment

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.

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Coping With Postpartum Anxiety

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:

  • Seeking Help

    • The most beneficial step you can take for your well-being is reaching out to your healthcare provider
    • Professional help, such as therapy or counseling, can provide a safe space for mothers to explore and address their fears and worries. They can guide you in finding the support you require.
    • Also important to note is the role hormonal fluctuations play with a mother's postpartum health.
    • Understanding the hormonal aspect helps medical professionals tailor interventions and support strategies that address both the psychological and physiological components of postpartum anxiety, and,
    • If necessary, discuss potential medication options should the need arise.
  • Self-Care Strategies

    • Mothers should prioritize self-care without guilt, recognizing that taking care of themselves is an essential part of caring for their child.
    • Incorporating self-care strategies into daily life is crucial for managing postpartum anxiety.
    • Simple practices like mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and maintaining a healthy sleep routine can significantly impact mental well-being.
    • Prioritize setting aside time for activities that bring you joy.
    • Amidst the responsibilities of parenting, it's easy to overlook self-care, so dedicating a few moments to indulge in a hobby can provide a much-needed reprieve from worries.
  • The Role of Support Systems

    • The importance of a strong support system cannot be overstated in the journey through postpartum anxiety.
    • Support groups, both online and in-person, offer a sense of community and understanding, helping mothers realize they are not alone in their struggles.
    • Partners, family members, and friends can play a vital role in providing emotional support, helping with daily tasks, and creating a nurturing environment for the new mother.
    • Open communication and empathy are key elements in building a support system that truly understands and addresses the challenges of postpartum anxiety.
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Social Stigmas Around Mental Health

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.

How Long Does Postpartum Anxiety Last?

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.

Several factors can influence the duration and severity of postpartum anxiety:

  • Individual Differences: Every person is unique and deals with postpartum in their own way. Factors such as personal resilience, coping mechanisms, and overall mental health can contribute to how long symptoms persist.
  • Severity of Symptoms: Women with milder symptoms may find relief relatively quickly, while those with more severe symptoms may require more extended treatment and support.
  • Access to Support and Treatment: The availability of support from family and friends can play a crucial role in recovery. Access to therapy, counseling, healthcare professionals and support groups can provide effective tools for managing and overcoming postpartum anxiety.
  • Underlying Factors: Women with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder, may be more susceptible to prolonged symptoms.
  • Treatment Adherence: Engaging in recommended treatments/medication, and consistent adherence to a treatment plan can lead to more effective symptom management.
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Is It Okay to Breastfeed While on Anti-Anxiety Medication?

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.

When to Call Your Doctor?

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.

  • Inability to bond with your baby
  • Lack of sleep
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feelings of tension and anxiety worsening over time
  • Feeling that there is something wrong with the baby when it isn't
  • Feeling that you are worrying all day
  • Feelings of stress and anxiety impede your ability to function in everyday life


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.

How do you deal with postpartum anxiety (PPA)?

Dealing with postpartum anxiety involves a combination of self-care, seeking support, and professional help if needed. Some strategies that may help include practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, prioritizing sleep, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. It's also important to reach out to your support network, whether it's your partner, family members, or friends, and consider joining a support group for new mothers. If your symptoms are severe or persistently interfering with your daily life, it's important to seek help from a healthcare professional.

Can postpartum anxiety affect the baby?

Yes, postpartum anxiety can have an impact on the baby. When a mother experiences high levels of anxiety, it can affect the mother-child bond and the baby's emotional well-being. Babies can pick up on their mother's anxiety, which may lead to increased fussiness, difficulty sleeping, and problems with feeding. Additionally, if a mother's anxiety is causing her significant distress and impairment in functioning, it may affect her ability to provide consistent and responsive caregiving to the baby. Seeking treatment for postpartum anxiety is important not only for the mother's well-being but also for the healthy development of the baby.

What are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety?

The symptoms of postpartum anxiety can vary, but they commonly include excessive worrying or feeling on edge, restlessness or irritability, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances (even when the baby is sleeping), physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath, and intrusive thoughts or fears about harm coming to the baby. Some individuals may also experience panic attacks. It's important to note that experiencing some level of anxiety after giving birth is normal, but if these symptoms are persistent, severe, or interfering with your daily life, it's recommended to seek help from a healthcare professional.

How long does postpartum anxiety typically last?

The duration of postpartum anxiety can vary from person to person. For some individuals, postpartum anxiety may resolve on its own within a few weeks or months. However, for others, it may persist for a longer period. If you're experiencing postpartum anxiety, it's important to reach out for support and consult with a healthcare professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and guide you in developing an appropriate treatment plan.

Is it safe to breastfeed while taking anti-anxiety medication for postpartum anxiety?

The safety of breastfeeding while taking anti-anxiety medication depends on the specific medication being used. Some medications are considered safe for use during breastfeeding, while others may carry potential risks. It's important to discuss your specific situation with a healthcare provider who can provide personalized advice. They will consider factors such as the medication you're taking, its potential effects on the baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby. In some cases, alternative medications or non-drug treatment options may be recommended if the risks outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding while taking anti-anxiety medication.