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Postpartum Anxiety: The One No One Talks About

woman looking worried, All About Women Post-Pregnancy KC article

You buckle your newborn into her car seat, get in the driver’s seat, and start driving down the road. All of a sudden, you feel like you can’t breathe very well, your hands start to shake against the steering wheel, and your heart almost beats out of your chest.

What’s going on? Nothing happened. Everyone is safe, but you can’t seem to calm down.

If you have found yourself in this or a similar situation, you may be suffering from a postpartum anxiety disorder. Never heard of it? You’re not the only one.

Most women have heard of postpartum depression and have been warned to watch for signs after giving birth, but postpartum anxiety is not often talked about and very under diagnosed.

Here we will look at what it is, how and why it surfaces, and what you can do about it.

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety falls under the larger umbrella of Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD), along with postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Believe it or not, postpartum anxiety is actually more common than postpartum depression and affects approximately 10% of all new moms.

The reason it is not often diagnosed is because many women either don’t realize they have it or don’t want anyone to know they have it. There’s also a common misconception that new moms should be anxious all the time. While some worry is normal and, at times, necessary, excessive worry or anxiety is not.

Here are some common symptoms of postpartum anxiety to watch for:

  • Constant and uncontrolled worry
  • Inability to sit down or rest (including insomnia)
  • Racing thoughts
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Constant feeling that something bad is about to happen

Postpartum anxiety is a generalized disorder, but it can also be broken down into two more specific types: Postpartum Panic Disorder and Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

As the name suggests, Postpartum Panic Disorder brings with it recurring panic attacks, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. Women who suffer from this disorder often feel out of control and may even think they’re experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is less common, but still affects somewhere between 3-5% of new moms. Women who have Postpartum OCD have both repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and corresponding repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that are meant to try to lessen the obsessions.

Where Does Postpartum Anxiety Come From?

As we said before, some element of worry is normal for new moms, especially first-time moms. There is a natural sense of protection followed by some anxious thoughts over the well-being of your new baby. However, it is when those thoughts start to spin out of control and become irrational that you may be slipping into postpartum anxiety.

Several different factors can trigger this condition. After you have a baby, there is a huge drop in the level of estrogen and progesterone in your body. This big hormonal shift can cause a lot of emotions to surface, including uncontrolled anxiety.

Parents.com explains some of the other factors at play after the birth of your baby:

In the days that follow, you're dealing with sleep deprivation, changes to your relationship, and new schedules and responsibilities, including round-the-clock care of a newborn. Add to that society's expectation that this should be one of the happiest times in your life and that you should know what to do instinctively, and it's no wonder so many mothers start to come unglued.

Another big factor in developing postpartum anxiety is if a mother (or someone in her immediate family) has suffered from anxiety disorders, OCD, panic attacks, or depression in the past. It’s important to note, though, that any mom (regardless of her history) can develop a PPMD.

When Will My Postpartum Anxiety Go Away?

Unfortunately, you may find that your postpartum anxiety doesn’t just “go away.” Hormones do tend to level out after about 6 months postpartum, but that doesn’t always mean all of your symptoms will.

Certain antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications have been found to be very safe and effective for mothers experiencing postpartum anxiety disorders. While medication is a good and viable option, there are also other treatments that have been found to be effective including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and relaxation techniques.

Here are some other practical tips for lessening the feelings of any anxiety you may be experiencing:

  • Rest as much as possible. You need adequate sleep to function (both mentally and physically), so try to sleep whenever your baby is sleeping.
  • Be healthy. Drink lots of water and make sure you’re eating healthy foods that will give your body the energy it needs.
  • Don’t overdo it. Allow others to help you and give yourself permission to let some things go.
  • Talk about your thoughts and feelings with a close friend. Chances are you have one that has dealt with similar issues.
  • Be open and honest with your partner. They need to be able to understand your feelings and know how to help.

If you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety or any type of postpartum mood disorder, talk to someone about your symptoms. One of the worse things you can do is try to hide it or ignore it.

At All About Women, we sincerely care about your emotional and mental well-being just as much as your physical well-being, so reach out to one of our caring obstetricians or midwives and schedule an appointment today.

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