Despite being a first-time mom, I took to motherhood quite seamlessly at the beginning.
It was at the six-week mark when the “new mom high” wore off and the immense worry set in. After having strictly fed my daughter breast milk, my supply reduced by more than half from one day to the next.
Then suddenly I couldn’t produce milk at all.
I worried my baby wasn’t getting the nutrients she needed. I worried what people would say if I fed her formula. And mostly, I worried I was turning out to be an unfit mother.
Enter postpartum anxiety.
Symptoms of this disorder can include:
- constant worry
- feelings of dread
- inability to think clearly
- disturbed sleep and appetite
- physical tension
While there’s a growing amount of information that surrounds postpartum depression (PPD), there’s significantly less information and awareness when it comes to PPA. That’s because PPA doesn’t exist on its own. It sits beside postpartum PTSD and postpartum OCD as a perinatal mood disorder.
While the exact number of postpartum women who develop anxiety is still unclear, a 2016 review of 58 studies found an estimated 8.5 percent of postpartum mothers experience one or more anxiety disorders.
So when I started experiencing nearly all the symptoms associated with PPA, I had little understanding what was happening to me. Not knowing who else to turn to, I decided to tell my primary care physician about the symptoms I was experiencing.
I have my symptoms under control now, but there are numerous things I wish I had known about PPA before I received my diagnosis. This could have prompted me to speak to a medical professional sooner and even prepare ahead of arriving home with my new baby.
But while I had to navigate my symptoms — and treatment — without much prior understanding of PPA itself, others in the same situation shouldn’t have to. I’ve broken down five things I wish I knew before my PPA diagnosis in hopes that it can better inform others.
PPA isn’t the same as ‘new parent jitters’
When you think about worrying as a new parent, you might think of unease about a particular situation and even sweaty palms and an upset stomach.
As a 12-year mental health warrior with generalized anxiety disorder as well as someone who dealt with PPA, I can tell you that PPA is much more severe than just worrying.
For me, while I wasn’t necessarily concerned that my baby was in danger, I was completely consumed by the possibility that I wasn’t doing a good enough job as my baby’s mother. I’ve dreamed of being a mother my entire life, but most recently I was fixated on doing everything as naturally as possible. This included solely breastfeeding my baby for as long as possible.
When I became incapable of doing that, thoughts of insufficiency took over my life. I knew something was wrong when worrying about not fitting in with the “breast is best” community and the effects of feeding my daughter formula resulted in me not being able to function normally. It became difficult for me to sleep, eat, and focus on daily tasks and activities.
If you think you’re experiencing any symptoms of PPA, talk to a medical professional as soon as possible.
Your doctor might not take your concerns seriously at first
I opened up to my primary care provider about my shortness of breath, incessant worrying, and sleeplessness. After discussing it more, she insisted I had the baby blues.
Baby blues is marked by feelings of sadness and anxiety after giving birth. It usually passes within two weeks without treatment. I never experienced sadness after birthing my daughter, nor did my PPA symptoms disappear within two weeks.
Knowing that my symptoms were different, I made sure to speak up numerous times throughout the appointment. She eventually agreed my symptoms weren’t baby blues but were, in fact, PPA and began treating me accordingly.
No one can advocate for you and your mental health like you can. If you feel as though you’re not being listened to or your concerns aren’t being taken seriously, keep reinforcing your symptoms with your provider or seek out a second opinion.
There’s limited information about PPA online
Googling symptoms can often result in some pretty scary diagnoses. But when you’re worried about symptoms and find little to no detail about them, it can leave you feeling both alarmed and frustrated.
Although there are some really good resources online, I was astonished at the lack of scholarly research and medical advice for mothers coping with PPA. I had to swim against the current of endless PPD articles to catch a glimpse of a few mentions of PPA. Even then, however, none of the sources were reliable enough to trust medical advice from.
I was able to counteract this by finding a therapist to meet with on a weekly basis. While these sessions were invaluable to helping me manage my PPA, they also provided me with a starting point to finding out more information about the disorder.
Talking it out While talking to a loved one about your feelings can feel therapeutic, translating your feelings with an unbiased mental health professional is invaluable to your treatment and recovery.
Adding movement into your daily routine can help
I got extremely comfortable sitting at home overthinking every step I took with my baby. I stopped paying attention to whether I was moving my body enough. It was when I got active, however, that I really started to feel better.
“Working out” was a scary phrase for me, so I started with long walks around my neighborhood. It took me more than a year to get comfortable with doing cardio and using weights, but every step counted toward my recovery.
My walks around the park not only produced endorphins that kept my mind grounded and gave me energy, but they also allowed for bonding with my baby — something that used to be an anxiety trigger for me.
If you’d like to get active but would rather do so in a group setting, check your local park department’s website or local Facebook groups for free meetups and exercise classes.
The moms you follow on social media may make your PPA worse
Being a parent is already a tough job, and social media just adds a huge amount of unnecessary pressure to be perfect at it.
I’d often beat myself up while scrolling through endless photos of “perfect” mothers eating nutritious, perfect meals with their perfect families, or worse, mothers showing off how much breast milk they were able to produce.
After becoming aware of how these comparisons were harming me, I unfollowed the moms who seemed to always have the laundry done and dinner in the oven and started following real accounts owned by real moms I could engage with.
Take inventory of the mom accounts you follow. Scrolling through real posts from like-minded moms can help remind you that you’re not alone. If you find that certain accounts don’t encourage or inspire you, it may be time to unfollow them.
The bottom line
For me, my PPA subsided after a few months of making tweaks to my daily routine. Since I had to learn as I went along, having information before I left the hospital would have made a world of difference.
That said, if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of PPA, know that you’re not alone. Seek out a medical professional to discuss your symptoms. They can help you establish a recovery plan that works best for you.
Melanie Santos is the wellpreneur behind MelanieSantos.co, a personal development brand focused on mental, physical, and spiritual wellness for all. When she’s not dropping gems at a workshop, she’s working on ways to connect with her tribe worldwide. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter, and they’re probably planning their next trip. You can follow her here.