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Postpartum Anxiety: How It Works and What to Do

It is normal to have some anxiety after a baby is born. There is so much that is new and much activity surrounding the tiny bundle of joy. Many mothers feel some anxiety about their new child, and some women may experience symptoms related to postpartum depression. In fact, many women, including some famous celebrities, have struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety.

Postpartum anxiety is a cousin to postpartum depression. Postpartum anxiety affects an estimated 10% of new mothers, as noted by the American Pregnancy Association on Parents.com. The most obvious signs of postpartum anxiety are racing thoughts, excessive worry, and a feeling of dread. 

Many new moms may notice they are having continued thoughts of worry, such as:

  • What if my baby suffocates in its sleep?
  • What happens if I let the baby slip in the bath?
  • What if someone holding my baby accidentally drops him/her?
  • Is my baby eating enough?

Those are all thoughts many moms may have. What separates those from the symptoms of postpartum anxiety is if the thoughts become irrational or you can’t get them out of your mind at all.

Keep reading to learn more about postpartum anxiety.

What Is Postpartum Anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety (PPA), sometimes called postpartum anxiety disorder, has few noticeable psychological and physical signs of symptoms.

Psychological Signs or Symptoms

  • Near constant or constant worry that is difficult to ease
  • Feeling dread of fearful about things that could happen
  • Waking up or having trouble sleeping when your baby is peacefully asleep
  • Continual racing thoughts

Physical Signs of Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or vomiting

Healthline reports that the symptoms of a postpartum anxiety attack are:

  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath, feeling like you can’t breathe or are choking
  • Intense fear of death for you, the baby, or yourself

Other possible effects from PPA might include:

Postpartum anxiety affects about 10% of women, which is just as many as postpartum depression (PPD), according to Postpartum Support International.

PPA may also lead to postpartum panic disorder, which is a form of anxiety when the person feels very nervous and has recurring panic attacks. The waves of panic come and go in waves and will pass.

 Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder may also arise. Repetitive, intrusive images and thoughts that are very frightening and may feel like they come “out of nowhere” characterize this disorder. Very few new parents (3% to 5%) are affected by this, and very fewer than that ever act on the feelings.

 If you are feeling any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms of postpartum anxiety, please consult with your health care provider for guidance.

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What Causes Postpartum Anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety can be caused by factors. The most common ones are hormonal changes in your body. In the Parents article, it is noted that “estrogen and progesterone levels increase 10- to 100-fold during pregnancy, then fall to essentially zero within 24 hours of delivery,” explains Elizabeth Fitelson, M.D., director of the Women’s Program at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry.” Thyroid imbalances can also contribute to PPA.

There are other reasons also:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • A new daily schedule and new responsibilities
  • Feeling like the world expects you to be the perfect mom

 Also, if you have a history of depression or anxiety, or it runs in the family, feeling agitated or weepy, eating disorders, or have some symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These may also contribute to developing postpartum anxiety.

Breastfeeding and Anxiety

Woman experiencing post-partum anxiety

Breastfeeding may also cause symptoms of postpartum anxiety. As indicated in an article from The Conversation, dysphoric milk ejection reflex (DMER) may contribute to postpartum anxiety. This can occur because as a woman breastfeeds, dopamine (the hormone associated with reward) levels decrease so that prolactin (milk-producing hormones) can rise. 

For some women, dopamine can drop excessively, and they can develop various symptoms, including self-loathing, anger, dread, and anxiety.

There is no need to stress if you feel that you may have postpartum anxiety, as there are some beneficial actions you can take to alleviate it.

What Can You Do If You Have Postpartum Anxiety?

It is essential for you to consult with your health care provider if you feel postpartum anxiety is affecting you and how you are caring for your baby. The most common treatments for moms with this disorder are:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is talk therapy that helps the patient become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so the person can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT works to improve the client’s interpersonal relationships and social functioning to reduce their distress.

Meditation, relaxation exercises, mindfulness exercises

Taking Care of You

While it may seem like your only job right now is to attend to every need of your new baby, it is just as vital to take care of yourself. Women who have just delivered an infant need to rest to heal and become strong again. Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable, cause soreness and exhaustion. Pumping milk from the breasts can be time-consuming and also be uncomfortable. Infections may arise from childbirth, which needs tending. Sleep deprivation and the lack of adult companionship can also factor in developing postpartum anxiety.

Here are ideas about how to handle postpartum anxiety. Some or all may be helpful for you.

  • Carve out time when the baby is sleeping to get sleep yourself. Take a warm, relaxing shower beforehand, and settle down someplace comfortable.
  • Resist the urge to read everything possible on postpartum possibilities.
  • Ask family, friends, or your spouse to help get household tasks done, grocery shop, or babysit.
  • Connect with other new mothers online, via Zoom, or through your health care provider. You may find new ways to cope with all that is new in your life.
  • Reach out to your health care provider if you feel that postpartum anxiety seems to be overtaking your thoughts and life. There are safe medications available that won’t be harmful to the baby that is breastfeeding.

Your mental health after childbirth is just as valuable as your new baby.

Sources

The Insider. (2020, April 17) 23 celebrity moms who opened up about having postpartum depression after their kids were born. Manes, Y. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/celebrities-who-had-postpartum-depression-ppd-2017-12

Parents. (2020, February 10) Postpartum Anxiety: The Other Baby Blues We Need to Talk About. Colino, S., Fabian-Weber, N. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/moms/healthy-mom/the-other-postpartum-problem-anxiety/

Healthline. (2019, August 29) What You Need to Know About Postpartum Anxiety. Jondle, J. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/postpartum-anxiety

The Conversation. (2018, October 9) Dysphoric milk ejection: the real reason you might feel sad when breastfeeding. Middleton, C. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/dysphoric-milk-ejection-the-real-reason-you-might-feel-sad-when-breastfeeding-103896

Psycom. Why Aren’t We Talking About Postpartum Anxiety? Know Your Treatment Options. Black, R. Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/postpartum-anxiety-postpartum-ocd#howtotreat

Mayo Clinic. (2019, March 16) Cognitive behavior therapy. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/about/pac-20384610

Psychology Today. Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/interpersonal-psychotherapy

Postpartum Support International. Anxiety During Pregnancy & Postpartum. Retrieved from https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/anxiety-during-pregnancy-postpartum/

Postpartum Support International. Pregnancy or Postpartum Obsessive Symptoms. Retrieved from https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/pregnancy-or-postpartum-obsessive-symptoms/

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