It’s natural to worry after the birth of your little one. You wonder, Are they eating well? Sleeping enough? Hitting all their precious milestones? And what about germs? Will I ever sleep again? How did so much laundry pile up?
Perfectly normal — not mention, a sign of your already-deep love for your newest addition.
But sometimes it’s something more. If your anxiety seems out of control, has you on edge most of the time, or keeps you up at night, you may have more than the new-parent jitters.
You’ve probably heard of postpartum depression (PPD). It’s gotten a lot of press, and trust us, that’s a good thing — because postpartum depression is very real and worthy of the attention. But are you aware of its lesser-known cousin, postpartum anxiety disorder? Let’s take a closer look.
Keep in mind that most (if not all) new parents experience some worry. But the symptoms of postpartum anxiety disorder include:
- constant or near-constant worry that can’t be eased
- feelings of dread about things you fear will happen
- sleep disruption (yes, this is a hard one to pick out, since a newborn means your sleep will be disrupted even without having anxiety — but think of this as waking up or having trouble sleeping at times when your baby’s sleeping peacefully)
- racing thoughts
As if all that wasn’t enough, you can also have physical symptoms related to postpartum anxiety, like:
- heart palpitations
- nausea or vomiting
- shakiness or trembling
There are a couple of even more specific types of postpartum anxiety — postpartum panic disorder and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Their symptoms match those of their non-postpartum counterparts, though may relate more specifically to your role as a new parent.
With postpartum OCD, you may have obsessive, recurring thoughts about harm or even death befalling your baby. With postpartum panic disorder, you can have sudden panic attacks related to similar thoughts.
Postpartum panic attack symptoms include:
- shortness of breath or a sensation that you are choking or unable to breathe
- intense fear of death (for you or your baby)
- chest pain
- racing heart
Vs. postpartum depression
This shows that you can certainly have PPD and postpartum anxiety at the same time — but you may also have one without the other. So, how do you tell them apart?
The two can have similar physical symptoms. But with PPD, you typically feel overwhelming sadness and may have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby.
If you have some or all of the symptoms above — but without intense depression — you may have postpartum anxiety disorder.
Let’s be honest: A new baby — especially your first — can easily trigger worry. And when every new product you buy carries with it an all-caps warning label about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it doesn’t help matters.
This mom’s account describes how this worry can really turn into something more. But why does this happen? For one thing, during the whole trying-to-conceive, pregnancy, and postpartum process, your body’s hormones are going from zero to 60 and back again.
But why some women get postpartum anxiety disorder and others don’t is a bit of a mystery, given that the hormone fluctuations are universal. If you had anxiety before your pregnancy — or if you have family members with it — you’re certainly more at risk. The same goes for obsessive compulsive disorder.
Other factors that can up your risk include:
- history of eating disorder
- previous pregnancy loss or death of an infant
- history of more intense mood-related symptoms with your period
One study found that women with previous miscarriage or stillbirth were more likely to have postpartum anxiety.
The most important step in getting help for postpartum anxiety is to get diagnosed. That 18 percent figure we mentioned earlier for postpartum anxiety prevalence? It could be even higher, because some women may stay silent about their symptoms.
Be sure to go to your postpartum check-up with your doctor. This is usually scheduled within the first 6 weeks after delivery. Know that you can — and should — also schedule a follow-up appointment whenever you have worrisome symptoms.
Both postpartum anxiety and PPD can affect your bond with your baby. But there is treatment available.
After talking about your symptoms with your doc, you may get medications, a referral to a mental health specialist, or recommendations for supplements or complementary treatments like acupuncture.
Specific therapies that might help include cognitive behavioral therapy (to help reduce focus on worst-case scenarios) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Certain activities can also help you feel more in control, like:
- relaxation techniques
Not buying it? One study of 30 women of childbearing age found that exercise — especially resistance training — lowered symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Now, these women were not in the postpartum stage, but this result bears considering.
With the right treatment, you can recover from postpartum anxiety and bond with your sweet little one.
You may be tempted to put off treatment due to thinking, My anxiety will go away when junior hits the next milestone. But the truth is, anxiety can snowball quickly rather than resolve on its own.
Remember, ladies: The baby blues are common, but they usually only last a couple weeks. If you’re dealing with longer-term, severe worry and symptoms that are getting in the way of life with baby, tell your doctor — and don’t be afraid to keep bringing it up if it doesn’t get better with initial treatment.