Sara is a close friend of mine. She’s a woman I have known, loved, and respected for nearly 15 years. She is beautiful, college-educated, and driven. She’s also compassionate and married to a man she’s known since we were all in high school together. From the outside looking in, she leads a pretty idyllic life. But with the birth of each of her children, she also struggled with debilitating postpartum anxiety.

“The intrusive thoughts are incredibly painful,” Sarah describes. “On vacation shortly after our daughter was born, I couldn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I would picture something bad happening to her. It was so realistic I would gasp. I just felt so out of control of my surroundings. It was physically painful.”

Most people are familiar with postpartum depression (PPD). But postpartum anxiety (PPA) isn’t talked about that much. And as a result, those who haven’t experienced it usually struggle to understand just how suffocating it can be, or to recognize the symptoms.

Stories of postpartum anxiety

Women with postpartum anxiety often struggle to identify what they’re feeling.

It isn’t all that rare. In fact, according to Postpartum Support International, “Approximately 6 percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of postpartum women develop anxiety.”

Here’s how some women describe their experience with postpartum anxiety.

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety

Amy Creason is a therapist in Missouri and has experienced postpartum anxiety herself. She explains that the difference between PPA and PPD is that rather than experiencing a shift in their moods, sufferers of PPA might have a sudden onset of unrealistic worries. They simply can’t shake these off.

These excessive worries might start with something small, and then build into more. But they aren’t necessarily consistent.

Depression, on the other hand, tends to be something that is more prevalent throughout the day. It’s often marked by a loss of interest in activities, guilt, shame, and a general desire to disconnect.

Women with PPA may not experience those symptoms of depression, even as their anxiety becomes overwhelming. They may even have parts of the day where they feel fine and unencumbered by their worries until the next bout of anxiety strikes.

According to Postpartum Progress, the symptoms of PPA include:

  • racing thoughts
  • inability to relax
  • feeling like you have to be doing something at all times
  • extreme worry
  • disturbing thoughts
  • feeling like you have to check on your baby constantly
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of appetite

Treatment for postpartum anxiety

Treatment for PPA can vary, and depends on the level of anxiety you’re experiencing. Some women may be helped by talk therapy, while others may need a short-term dose of medication to help them get through this period. Only a doctor can help you to make a determination about what might be best for you and your situation. The first step is talking to your doctor about what you’re experiencing, and remaining open to the idea of seeing a therapist.

Bottom line

Most importantly, know that you’re not alone in this. What you are feeling is temporary and there is treatment available. Even though PPA is not as commonly discussed as PPD, it’s something a lot of women experience. And there is help available. You just have to take that first step.