Postpartum depression in the form of postpartum anxiety is not often discussed but worrying about your little one after delivery is every new mom's instinct and super common. Your brain goes through thousands of thoughts: Did I breastfeed them enough? Do I have enough milk supply? Is the crib comfy enough for them to sleep on? Is my baby getting enough sleep? What about laundry? Did I miss my doctor's appointment?”
The questions could go on and on 24/7 whether you're busy juggling the kitchen work and taking care of the baby or going for a quick shower where you can have more time to contemplate and sit down with your thoughts.
But, that's good. Worrying means you love your bundle of joy, right?
However, if you have the CONSTANT urge to worry and racing thoughts about your newborn, mom life, and just about everything, you might need to take a step back. Having these thought obsessions that seem to be out of control and are always keeping you up at night may be more than just your new-parent jitters tingling.
I'm sure the infamous postpartum depression disorder is familiar to you but have you ever heard of postpartum anxiety?
Read on to find out what postnatal anxiety is and how you can help yourself overcome it!
Why I am here and who I am:
Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama. I am a labor and delivery nurse with over 15 years of high-risk OB experience. I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6. This means I am quite familiar with the postpartum period and how to navigate it. I am the online birth class educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes and the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society, a pregnancy & postpartum membership community! I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey! You can find me over on IG teaching over 230k mamas daily. I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey!
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What is postpartum anxiety? Is it different than postpartum depression? How likely is it to get postpartum anxiety?
This type of conversation is so underrated for anyone going through motherhood but I'm a believer in talking about negative experiences being a HEALTHY conversation. If it's so easy to talk about the good stuff, why can't speak about our struggles with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety the way we talk about our baby's first step, getting excited about buying baby stuff, etc.?
Before anything else, you should decide within yourself that having postpartum anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of. Loving yourself means allowing yourself grace through these tough situations. I tell my mamas in my membership and repeat it in my blogs and now I say it to you, be gentle with yourself.
I applaud you for being brave and having the courage to let go of your pride and acknowledge that there is something that you need to address so you can live a better quality of life, right? It's not that there's something “wrong”; it's just that you've gone through a significant life event and you just need to figure out how to move through it.
Now that we've reset your mind with the right mindset, let's dig into the details!
I'm pretty sure you've heard about baby blues AKA postpartum depression from your healthcare providers and fellow mamas too. Your health professionals may have even asked you to fill out questionnaires about your mood during the postpartum visit. I know these questions can be redundant but answer them truthfully as this may be an avenue for help.
Postpartum depression is a common response after childbirth when your estrogen and progesterone levels have decreased, leaving you with crying spells, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. These symptoms are mild and should only last for a couple of weeks. There's nothing wrong with you, mama!
It's important to draw a fine line between postpartum depression vs postpartum anxiety because once you know what's going on, the next step is to find the right kind of help. Not all treatments such as interpersonal therapy or medications for depression will work with postpartum anxiety.
Anxious thoughts here and there are natural especially in the early weeks after having your little one. These worries eventually go away and get less tense as you feel more familiar with your new life of taking care of a newborn.
Postpartum depression feels like functioning at 5% and having low energy. It's hard to concentrate and you lose interest in the things you usually love to do. That's because your hormones are triggering a roller coaster of negative emotions: feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, helplessness, and self-blame.
Postpartum anxiety feels more crippling at times. As time goes by, it becomes more distressing and persistent to the point that it takes control of your life.
Sounds familiar? Hugs to you, mama. It may feel chaotic now but I promise you it will all get better! Starting today, I want you to make a promise to yourself that you will do everything to help yourself. If it all becomes too overwhelming, just take a deep breath, close your eyes, and give yourself some good ol' pep talk: “You've got this. You're doing great.” Do not ignore it, ask for help and accept help when given.
Symptoms of postpartum anxiety
Postpartum anxiety has emotional, mental, and physical effects. If you have a family history of anxiety, you're more prone to have excessive and persistent worries and may even experience physical symptoms like being unable to relax and panic attacks.
Here's a checklist of symptoms that you can look out for:
- obsessions or intrusive and unwanted thoughts
- always dreading things you fear will happen
- extreme fear of death for you or your baby
- lack of sleep
- rapid heartbeat
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath or intense sensation of choking
- nausea or vomiting
What does postpartum anxiety feel like?
The traditional stereotype of a mental illness during the postpartum period is a depressed woman laying in bed and not being able to do anything.
Dinosaur era much?
Let me paint the picture for you, mama. Modern postpartum anxiety looks like a mom who just had a child and seemingly has her life together. But on the inside… she's struggling with mental health as anxiety and intrusive thoughts live in her head rent-free.
It's like your thoughts are nagging you 24/7 about what you should and shouldn't do in your everyday life.
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 befall your baby. With postpartum panic disorder, you can have sudden panic attacks related to similar thoughts.
How to overcome postpartum anxiety?
If you're not comfortable talking to a psychologist yet and getting a diagnosis, I suggest you try and talk to other women who can relate to you. Talking about your experiences with people who get you feel at home and don't feel stressed.
Whatever happens, I want you to be intentional. Now that you know what postpartum anxiety looks and feels like, the next time you recognize the symptoms happening, work on your thoughts.
It's a little brain hack that I personally can vouch for. I can't speak for every health professional but on a personal level, I've done this dozen of times and it always works. When you try to have that self-talk and self-assessment, the emotions that you attach to a situation can sometimes slowly go away.
The best way to overcome postpartum anxiety is to get professional help. I know it's scary but it's something you have to do not just for you but for your baby as well. Be honest with your doctor about the symptoms and experiences you're having.
Once you've been diagnosed, your psychiatrist may give you prescribed medications, a referral to a mental health specialist, or recommendations for supplements/complementary treatments (i.e. acupuncture). Other specific therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
How to help Postpartum Anxiety?
One key to relieving postpartum anxiety is movement. Try to take a short 15-minute walk in the morning or a quick home exercise. Doing physical activities releases endorphins, the hormone that triggers that happy, positive feeling in your body.
You can also try mindfulness and relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or a 5-minute quiet time where you just close your eyes and feel the present.
Here are other tips and tricks you can easily do at home:
- Cuddling your baby…A LOT! Cuddles and warm hugs release oxytocin AKA the love hormone that puts you in a good mood and actually helps lower anxiety levels.
- Sleep. Underrated, but it works! A well-rested mind and body mean you have your A-game on and lessen the anxiety triggers.
- Spend time with moms like you. Whether it's in person or online, connecting with your tribe gives that sense of validation and a home-ish feeling. Knowing that there are other supermoms out there who are going through the same things as you keep the anxiety from creeping in. You can try out our mama community membership for free for 7 days! You will have access to experts and a community of like-minded mamas.
- Wean slowly but surely. If you're breastfeeding and have decided to wean, keep it gradual to prevent sudden hormonal changes.
- Get back up! Taking care of a baby is a ton of work. If you have someone who can step in when they can other than your spouse, grab the chance. You don't always have to be a one-woman team!
How to help someone with postpartum anxiety?
If you're someone who has a friend or loved one going through postpartum anxiety, there are many things you can do to help even in small ways:
- Be a listener. Sometimes, being able to just let it all out and confide in a person you trust goes a long way. Be there for her and if you can't find the right words to say, a little hug does more than you'll ever know.
- Give her assurance. Words of affirmation play a big role. Remind her how much of a good mom she is and that her worries are not her reality.
- Support her decisions. If you can't go with her during her therapy sessions, cheer her on! If she's seeking treatment, tell her that she's doing a great job and show how supportive you are of her decision.
- It's the little things. Nothing puts a smile on a woman's face than being seen! Praise her for her small wins. This could be her progress or her little improvements from day 1.