Postpartum Anxiety: The Problem Nobody Talks AboutKnow more about postpartum anxiety that affects 10% of new moms.
Everyone has heard of postpartum depression. Assessment and treatment are happening earlier and earlier, as doctors learn to recognize the signs and screen new mothers sooner after they give birth. Thankfully, postpartum depression is highly treatable, and as it gathers more support in the “mainstream” arena through celebrities and other public figures that speak out about the debilitating condition, it becomes less and less a topic of shame and judgment. And yet, there is one other, lesser-known condition that also affects many new moms: postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum anxiety is different than postpartum depression and is said to affect about 10% of new mothers. Here are some of the most common signs that you may be suffering from postpartum anxiety.
- Hot flashes/excess sweat
- An overwhelming sense of worry or dread
- Changes in appetite and/or nausea
- Rapid heartbeat
- Inability to focus or be still
There are many suspected causes of postpartum anxiety. The major hormonal shift that happens immediately following the birth can be a trigger. The first weeks, and even months, postpartum involve sleep deprivation, changing routines, changes to your marriage or relationship, and the exhaustion from caring for a new human being 24/7. Parenthood also brings about the weight of family and societal expectations for what it means to be a good mother. Being a new mama is a joyous, but stressful, time!
Of course, some level of anxiety is normal, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to the realization that you are now responsible for another human being. It enables mothers to feel the desire to protect, nurture, and provide safety for their newborn. New moms are ultra-alert and are always prepared to respond to an emergency. Many new mothers find their minds racing with thoughts about the baby’s safety.
Anxiety becomes abnormal when mothers cannot shake the feelings of worry and dread. It becomes problematic when it disrupts their ability to live a normal life. For example, mothers may feel that if their baby falls asleep and she can’t observe him or her, the baby may suffocate, stop breathing, or hurt themselves in the bassinet or crib. Mothers may also have visions of bad things happening during typically harmless situations, such as driving with the baby in the car. Panic attacks can be debilitating and cause mothers to isolate themselves from friends and family. When anxious thoughts overtake a mother’s grasp on reality, it becomes a problem that needs to be treated.
Thankfully, postpartum anxiety is as treatable as postpartum depression. For mild cases, joining a support group or participating in talk therapy may help tremendously. For others, cognitive behavioral therapy or medication may be necessary. Meditation and mindfulness can be helpful in centering your mind and pushing out negative, intrusive thoughts. Getting adequate sleep and exercise can also help. Exercise, especially activities that get your heart rate up, have been proven to be very effective in combating the negative effects of anxiety.
So, why is postpartum anxiety not talked about more? It is said that this condition affects up to 10% of new mothers. More support should be made available to mothers who experience anxiety, and women should be screened for postpartum anxiety at the same time they are assessed for postpartum depression. No matter what treatment plan you need, there is no need to feel ashamed for seeking help. The sooner you are diagnosed, the sooner you can find a plan that will enable you to feel better and be a better mother to your new baby.
Being a new parent isn’t easy. Between the lack of sleep, the endless housework that piles up, and the stress of taking care of a helpless baby around the clock, parenthood can be a stressful time! If you find that your anxious thoughts are disrupting your ability to be a calm, happy mother, please seek medical help as soon as possible. A happy, healthy mama equals a happy, healthy baby!