Understanding Postpartum Anxiety
Postpartum anxiety is a serious type of postpartum depression that can affect many new mothers. Often, mothers with postpartum depression will report symptoms of anxiety. Postpartum anxiety itself is a different condition from PPD, though they are often confused, interchanged and even experienced together.
What is Postpartum Anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety is a mood disorder that affects women after giving birth. It is a clinically diagnosable level of anxiety. The primary symptoms of postpartum anxiety are intense worries, fears and anxiousness that severely disrupt daily life.
These symptoms are produced by the body’s natural reaction to real or perceived feelings of danger or threat. For new mothers, these feelings physiological, mental and emotional reactions to concerns, fears and worries about being a new mother and the responsibilities this entails.
It is believed that in up to 50 percent of cases postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety will occur together. This demonstrates just how broad the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety are for many women after giving birth.
Who Does Postpartum Anxiety Affect?
Postpartum anxiety affects almost exclusively new mothers. Because it is lumped into postpartum depression reports, it is difficult to determine the exact rate of postpartum anxiety. Some medical professionals believe it occurs in 10 percent of all new mothers — a similar rate of those who develop postpartum depression.
Postpartum Anxiety Causes and Risk Factors
Like postpartum depression, there is no one cause of postpartum anxiety. Anxiety can stem from drastic hormonal changes to sleep deprivation to feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for a new baby.
Though it is very common for women to feel postpartum baby blues, it is not as common for those feelings to turn into full-blown anxiety. There are a number of risk factors that may cause the baby blues to evolve into an anxiety disorder.
Medical and Family History Risk Factors
Factors in a woman’s personal health history, as well as the medical history of her family, may increase her chances of developing postpartum anxiety. Here are some possible medical history risk factors:
- Past personal history of anxiety, postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression
- Having been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in the past
- A family history of anxiety, depression and postpartum anxiety or depression
- Other pre-existing medical conditions
Life Stressor Risk Factors
For new mothers, extra stress on top of child care can trigger postpartum anxiety. Here are some of the life stressors that can cause women to develop postpartum anxiety:
- Not having the support of family or friends
- Divorce or marriage problems
- Financial hardship
- Painful life events that happened recently (loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a health emergency or an accident)
Other Risk Factors
In addition to medical history and stressful life events, there are other demographic factors that can lead to new mothers to develop postpartum anxiety:
- Being unwed or single
- Being under 20
- An unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
- Low socioeconomic status
Postpartum Anxiety Symptoms
Not unlike anxiety faced at other points in life, postpartum anxiety creates telltale symptoms and signs in women. These symptoms manifest themselves physically, mentally and emotionally.
Here are the most common postpartum anxiety symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Inability to sleep
- Muscle tension in the back, neck and shoulders
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Nervous thoughts that control your brain
- Recurring negative thoughts of worry and worst-case scenarios involving the baby’s health
- Thoughts that you aren’t a good enough mother
- Deliberately avoiding situations and interactions out of fear that something bad will happen
- Feeling constant “nervous energy”
- Feeling on edge
- Guilt and shame that you are not doing things right
- Irritability and frustration
- Restlessness and tension
There are other behavioral symptoms of postpartum anxiety. Some will constantly seek reassurance and approval from others. Mothers with postpartum anxiety may also constantly double-check or even triple-check things out of fear of having missed something. These checking patterns stem from irrational fears that the baby will be harmed or killed, though there is no logical reason to think this.
Postpartum anxiety symptoms typically set in 2-3 weeks after giving birth. Symptoms may start slowly and then intensify over several weeks. Without treatment, symptoms of anxiety may never go away. Instead, they can deepen into worse symptoms or other anxiety disorders. These may include postpartum panic disorder, postpartum OCD, or even postpartum psychosis.
Many think that postpartum anxiety and depression symptoms start after the mother has given birth. In reality, many women who develop postpartum anxiety experienced intense fear or worries during pregnancy. These fears can go on for months before giving birth; however, they are often dismissed as nerves or anticipation.
It is important to know that if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, they shouldn’t be dismissed. You aren’t simply being a “nervous mother”. Your feelings are valid. You can overcome postpartum anxiety through medication and therapy.
Postpartum Anxiety Treatment
There are many different postpartum anxiety treatment options available. The choice of treatment depends on how mild or severe your anxiety symptoms are. If your quality of life is being affected by anxiety but you can still fulfill daily routines, then you may benefit from group therapy or support counseling.
If your postpartum anxiety symptoms are preventing you from doing basic tasks, then you should pursue individual psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can teach you how to manage general anxiety and quell panic attacks should they arise.
In addition to therapy, medication also can help manage your anxiety. Medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines work together to ease postpartum anxiety symptoms immediately and prevent other issues down the road.