Is this normal or am I just being paranoid?
Have you ever experienced an intense worry that your infant is going to be injured or die because of something that you did or did not do? Do you find yourself checking on your baby several times to make sure he is still breathing? Do you find yourself feeling paranoid or preoccupied about something bad happening to you or your family?
There is a chance that you could be suffering from Postpartum Anxiety.
After giving birth, I often found myself worrying about messing up and seriously hurting my baby. I was that mom freaking out and making sure my daughter was still breathing if she slept too long. I sometimes found myself imagining all these crazy scenarios that ended with the death of me or my daughter.
At times, I thought I was going crazy. It was something I did not talk about and ultimately decided it was a result of my day job (I am a licensed therapist and I sit and listen to horrific stories all day). Looking back, I believe I was experiencing Postpartum Anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to stressful situations. It is also characterized as worry or nervousness. Although anxiety can be an uncomfortable feeling, it is a necessary and healthy feeling. Anxiety allows us to be on alert and react in unsafe or risky situations.
When you are preoccupied with worry, negative outcomes, and your daily functioning begins to suffer, you could be experiencing an anxiety disorder.
An anxiety disorder is something that needs to be closely monitored by a professional.
How do I recognize that I am experiencing anxiety?
Anxiety is simply feeling worried or nervous. It is important to recognize changes in your own body when you are experiencing anxiety. Anxiety can be totally normal, but once it starts to impact your daily routine, it may be characterized as anxiety disorder.
People who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder experience persistent symptoms of anxiety on most days. It is also difficult to control the worried feelings. Anxiety can be different for everyone, but common symptoms include:
- Excessive worry
- Poor Sleep
- Muscle Tension
- Increased Urination
- Poor Concentration
- Gastrointestinal Disturbances
It is important to remember that we can experience physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms of anxiety. This means that we notice physical shifts in our body (ie increased heart rate and sweating).
We also experience changes in our thoughts (racing thoughts, preoccupation). Behavioral changes can include irritability, avoidance, and other behaviors that others can see.
What is Postpartum Anxiety?
Postpartum Anxiety is increased fear and worry that women feel after giving birth. As I was researching information about postpartum anxiety, I was surprised at how little information is available to women. This is despite the fact that researchers believe that about 10% of new mothers experience postpartum anxiety.
This is higher than the occurrence of postpartum depression in women.
All new mothers experience some level of anxiety. For many women, the anxiety begins during pregnancy.
Some theories suggest that the intense and frequent dreams that pregnant women experience, is a reflection of their increased anxiety as she prepares to have her baby.
Remember, some anxiety is normal!
Postpartum anxiety is a concern when it begins to impact your daily functioning.
This can be the mother who is unable to sleep because they are paranoid that their baby will stop breathing. Or the mother who refuses to leave the house because they are too anxious about germs or other potential dangers for their baby.
Postpartum anxiety is something that is often overlooked or misdiagnosed.
Many women do not discuss their symptoms and suffer in silence. It is important to know the signs and symptoms so that appropriate self-care and support can be put into place before symptoms become unmanageable.
What is the difference between Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety?
Postpartum Depression is increased sadness, decreased mood, and other behavioral changes that can occur to women after they give birth. According to AmericanPregnancy up to 80% of women experience changes in their mood during the first few weeks after they give birth. This phase, commonly referred to the baby blues, is the short term dips in a mother’s mood caused by hormonal changes and other postpartum body changes.
When depressive symptoms persist for longer than a couple of weeks and/or they feel more intense, a mother may be experiencing postpartum depression. Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or worthless a lot of the time.
- Feeling alone and inadequate as a new mother.
- Increased crying.
- Feeling like you are not bonding to your baby.
- Poor eating or sleeping; or increased eating or sleeping.
- No longer having any interests in activities you previously enjoyed.
- Isolating from others.
- Severe mood swings
- Not taking care of yourself or your baby
- Thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or your baby.
The main difference between postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety is experiencing depression or sadness versus feeling nervous or anxious. Although some of the symptoms between the two disorders are similar (ie irritability, mood swings, and changes in sleep), these disorders are not the same. It is possible to have both at the same time.
Many women report minor symptoms of anxiety and/or depression after giving birth. With the hormonal changes and other challenges you face as a new mom, some of these feelings are to be expected. If these feelings become unmanageable or overwhelming, reach out to your doctor or other professional to get further assistance.
Will this go away?
Some symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety may resolve with time. As you get more comfortable in your new mom routine, some of the initial worries may go away. Some women report experiencing symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety for more extended periods of time. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, preoccupied with anxious thoughts, or if your symptoms worsen seek professional help.
As new mothers, we often want to be in total control and it is hard to accept that something may be going wrong. You do not have to suffer in silence and Postpartum Anxiety is a treatable condition. With the right support and ongoing self-care, Postpartum Anxiety can be resolved.
Who Develops Postpartum Anxiety?
Anyone can develop Postpartum Anxiety. Most women experience some symptoms of anxiety after giving birth. Women who have a history or family history of anxiety or other mood disorders are at an increased risk of developing Postpartum Anxiety.
What do I do if I think I have Postpartum Anxiety?
If you are concerned about having Postpartum Anxiety, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Postpartum Anxiety is a treatable condition. Some doctors may prescribe medication, others may recommend therapy, or a combination of both.
Ongoing self-care is key to all mothers, even if they are not experiencing a lot of symptoms. As you adjust to all the changes of a new baby, taking time to take care of yourself is imperative to maintaining your mental health. Self-care is simply doing something that makes you happy. Doing something for you!
Self-care can be as simple as watching your favorite tv show uninterrupted, taking a hot bath, or getting your nails done. Self-care is often the things that we say we no longer have time for. As a new mom, I neglected myself and as a result, my mental health declined.
In the beginning, committing to self-care may take some effort. Once you establish a routine, you will start to notice a difference in your mood and your functioning. Start off by identifying one simple task that you can do daily that makes you happy. If it’s necessary, schedule self-care time. Make the commitment, you will thank yourself later!
Read: Self-care for moms
Advice from other moms
I recently asked other moms about their experiences with Postpartum Anxiety. Here is what they had to say:
Michelle – The Perfectly Imperfect Mummy
“The Symptoms I suffered were many. I had all the classic symptoms of depression but I felt the anxiety took more of a toll on me. I was constantly in a state of worry, overthinking & catastrophizing every situation & suffered from panic attacks. As a result, I was chronically tired, suffered from headaches, jaw grinding, irritability, & felt overwhelmed most of the time. I felt that I was never good enough & was doing a really bad job. I can’t say there was an exact pivotal turning point in my recovery. It was more of a process that played out over time. I continued seeing my psychiatrist & taking antidepressants. As the babies started sleeping better I was able to sleep properly & that made a huge difference. I also adjusted to motherhood & slowly learnt to adjust my super high expectations & not be so rigid.” Here is more information on Michelle’s story.
Caitlin – Salty Willows
“Anger and impatience were the worst. Everything bugged me, even tiny things like his tone of voice or leaving his socks on the floor. Dumb things! And I was so bothered that my husband didn’t see or understand all the little things that bothered me. I expected him to read my mind and then blamed him when he couldn’t, poor guy. It was very irrational behavior but I couldn’t see that. And I didn’t have it right away after my son was born. It was a couple or three months probably before it started and it came on very gradually, which is what made it seem like it was my new normal. I think the turning point for me was definitely to open up about my feelings and then listen to the loved ones that were around me that could see that there was a problem. It was clearer to my husband than it was to me and when I finally listened to him and accepted help, everything went better from then on! Sometimes we need to accept help and that isn’t a sign of weakness like we think it is, since it can be really hard to ask for help. Especially as moms when we feel like we have to lean on others when we need it. And there isn’t anything wrong with that.” Here is more information about Caitlin’s story.
What you’re feeling is normal
Experiencing some anxiety in the postpartum period is an uncomfortable, but normal experience for most new mothers. I thought I was prepared for the mood changes I experienced, but I was not. The simple questionnaires that doctors go over during your postpartum appointments did not fully capture my experience.
During that time, I was not educated enough about my symptoms to ask for help. Luckily my symptoms improved as I became more comfortable with being a new mom. For many women, this is not the case.
Knowledge is power
It is important to educate yourself about postpartum mood disorders like Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum Depression. If the need arises, having the knowledge will allow you to be in a better position to advocate for yourself.
Let’s have the knowledge to support each other and stop suffering in silence. Sign up for your weekly self-care tips today!
Like this? Pin It!