Updated April 22, 2015.
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Many mothers and families have heard of postpartum depression. While it is common and many mothers have problems with depression both before and after birth, there are also many mothers who suffer from other forms of illness, including postpartum anxiety. In fact, about 6-30% of mothers may suffer from postpartum anxiety.
So what is anxiety? Anxiety is how your body responds when you feel threatened.
It is important to point out that this threat can be real, like your house is on fire, or it can be perceived, you have a sense that something bad is about to happen, but have nothing concrete to base that feeling on.
Anxiety can produce many physical, mental and emotional symptoms. These can range from:
- Worrying all the time. This can be about real problems like the concern over a health condition your baby has, or fears about things like a fear of falling while holding your baby.
- Intrusive thoughts. If some of your worries seem to be occurring more frequently, like the example of the fear of falling with your baby, this is called an intrusive thought. You have no reason to believe that you are going to fall with your baby in your arms or to hurt your baby if you were to fall. One mother explained it like this, “I knew it was a problem when I started worrying about all the ways my baby might accidently die, like me falling while carrying the baby, or dropping the baby off the changing table, etc..”
- Sense of dread. Some mothers have an overwhelming sense of foreboding, a feeling that something bad will happen. This can be felt even when all the evidence points to the contrary.
- Problems with sleep. This one always makes new mothers laugh, because what mother wouldn’t list sleep as a problematic area in her life? The difference here is that even when you could sleep you can’t or don’t. And while you might think that sleep problems are all about the lack of sleep, being too sleepy or sleeping a lot can also be an issue, though it’s harder to see when your baby isn’t sleeping a lot.
- Concerns over your appetite. This is another area where you might find overeating or undereating to be an issue. This may also include weight loss or weight gain.
- Feeling restless. Some mothers experience the inability to sit still. The feel restless and are constantly trying to move in order to relieve that feeling. One mother said she feel like a “nervous ball of energy.” This was surprising too her because she expected to feel exhausted.
- Forgetfulness. You have a brain that does not seem to hold any information, no matter how important. You quickly learn that you have to write everything down. This one often gets blamed on the left over hormones of pregnancy, as well as the lack of sleep that is anticipated with being a new parent.
- Physical symptoms. You may experience tension in your body, like a stuff neck, or achiness. Some mothers also have physical symptoms like nausea, sweaty palms, and even hot flashes. Again, this is sometimes a part of the normal postpartum symptoms.
So, how do you tell if this is something you’re having an issue with in your life? If you recognize one of these as something you’re experiencing, call your doctor or midwife. Ask them to help you decide what’s going on and what you can do about it. Sometimes therapy can be very helpful, sometimes medication is the appropriate course of treatment. Do not wait until your next appointment or your six-week check up. Just call them and ask what they recommend. You can also call Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 1.800.944.4773.
The good news is that there is help. This is not something that you have to suffer with and certainly not be alone. There are many mothers who suffer with postpartum anxiety, even though it’s something that you may not hear called out on it’s own.
Anxiety in Pregnancy and Postpartum. Postpartum Support International. http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/anxiety-during-pregnancy-postpartum/ Accessed April 10, 2015
Paul, I. M., Downs, D. S., Schaefer, E. W., Beiler, J. S., & Weisman, C. S. (2013). Postpartum Anxiety and Maternal-Infant Health Outcomes. Pediatrics, 131(4), e1218-e1224. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2147