Postpartum depression (PPD) is likely more heard of than postpartum anxiety (PPA), which Healthline describes as its lesser-known cousin. Postpartum depression, known as the “baby blues,” affects women who feel worry, sadness, and tiredness after giving birth.
This period of low mood usually lasts a few days to a few weeks, but if they linger for a period longer than this, it could mean a new mom has PPD. Hormonal changes, a history of depression, and stress can bring on PPD, and any woman can experience it.
According to the American Psychological Association, PPD affects up to 1 in 7 women, including women who have uncomplicated pregnancies and those with problem pregnancies. First-time moms and women who have given birth more than once can both experience the disorder.
Like PPD, postpartum anxiety is a mood disorder that is a clinically diagnosable level of anxiety, according to PostpartumDepression.com. The condition is characterized by:
- Constant, intense worry or fear that cannot be eased
- Feeling fearful about the future
- Intrusive thoughts about negative things that can happen, no matter how unlikely
- Disrupted sleep patterns due to worry
- Racing thoughts, feelings of dread
- Constantly irritability
- Fears about parenting that are unfounded
All of these symptoms are debilitating to new mothers who have them and can make daily life challenging to manage. While some worry for an infant is considered normal, it is a serious condition when irrational fears or worry becomes excessive and hard to control.
New moms (and dads) have a great deal they can worry about now that they have a little one to care for. They may worry if the baby is getting enough sleep or enough to eat or if the child is feeling well or developing normally. But constant worry can leave parents feeling on edge, making them second- and third-guess their actions, their decisions, and their reality.
According to TheBump.com, anxiety for mothers who have PPA falls into two categories. The first involves the fear of “contaminating” the baby or making the baby ill with food the child does not need to be eating. The second involves accidentally harming the child, like dropping the child.
PostpartumAnxiety.com says PPA is often lumped with postpartum depression, so it is difficult to document how many mothers have the condition. “Some medical professionals believe it occurs in 10 percent of all new mothers—a similar rate of those who develop postpartum depression,” the website says.
Some observers in the medical community see a connection between PPA and PPD, as new mothers can experience both. Some moms may have anxiety issues independent of becoming a mother, so having PPA post-childbirth could be expected.
Identifying Postpartum Anxiety Symptoms
Postpartum anxiety shares physical symptoms with anxiety, according to Healthline. Among them are:
- Heart palpitations
- Nausea, vomiting
- Shakiness, trembling
Some women may experience any of these symptoms during a panic attack when feeling anxious over their newborn. They also could experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and hot flashes. A woman having a postpartum panic attack may also experience intense fears, such as the baby dying or getting very sick.
Why Some Women Experience PPA
Some women are more susceptible to postpartum anxiety because of factors that are unique to them, such as a history of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), as mentioned earlier, or other mental health disorders they may have. Several mental illnesses have anxiety as a symptom, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
In some cases, life situations affecting a new mother could bring on PPA, such as being a single mother, which can be stressful, particularly if the new mom is on her own with no physical or emotional support for her and her baby.
Other factors for PPA include strained relationships, such as marital problems or divorce, financial hardship, or another life event, such as a death in the family, a move to a new place, or a health emergency.
According to Healthline, women who have a history of an eating disorder or a history of mood-related symptoms linked to their menstrual cycle might be at risk of developing PPA. Women who have been pregnant before but either lost the baby or experienced the death of an infant are also at increased risk of having PPA.
Prior pregnancy loss, such as a miscarriage, stillbirth, and/or induced abortion, could also raise the risk of a woman experiencing PPA, according to a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
How Postpartum Anxiety is Treated
Because some changes in mood are common after childbirth, it can be challenging to gauge how long to manage periods of anxiety or depression without professional help. However, you are advised to call your doctor and seek guidance on how to address it, especially if you have noticed that symptoms have lingered for some time and appear to be worsening or making it harder to care for your infant.
PPA is treatable, so do not hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider who can help. Treating postpartum anxiety is similar to how PPD is treated.
Physical exercises, holistic practices, such as mindfulness,
Therapy. Women with PPA can work with a medical professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or social worker, to learn how they can practice positive coping strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can work with unhealthy behaviors and beliefs and replace them with ones that promote effective management of stress and other triggering situations. Healthline notes that CBT can help reduce worst-case scenarios that are common in women who have PPA.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy might also help women with PPA, particularly those who have experienced a traumatic event or are having difficulty bonding with their newborn or struggling with their parenting roles. EMDR is often used to help patients who have post-traumatic disorder, but some women have used it to address the trauma they experienced while having a baby.
EMDR has patients revisit unpleasant or distressing experiences or emotions while focusing intently on a stimulus, such as a person’s moving hand, a flashing light, or a sound. All of these stimuli help desensitize patients to their painful memories or triggers.
Medications. Women with PPA could be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to help them manage their symptoms. However, medications might be prescribed only in those cases that are severe, and they also might be prescribed for short-term treatment under a doctor’s direction because many of these medications are habit-forming, which could lead to addiction.
A person with PPA could also try physical exercise, mindfulness exercises, which can curb racing thoughts, and other activities that bring stability and focus. Joining a virtual support group that connects new parents who need encouragement, comfort, advice, and emotional support could help women with PPA.
Get Help Today For Postpartum Anxiety
It is important to treat a mental health disorder as effectively as possible with the proper therapies and medications if needed. Unchecked anxiety and depression can lead one to turn to illicit substances or abuse ones that are sold legally, such as alcohol or prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Abuse of these substances can lead one to a deep and dark addiction that could threaten their physical, mental, and emotional health for many years to come.
If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression, or any other mental health disorder, and is abusing substances just to cope, reach out to The Palm Beach Institute as soon as possible for help.
We offer the full continuum of addiction care at our facility and treat people who are dealing with substance use disorders and mental health disorders. Call today.