Signs of Postpartum Anxiety
Morgane Leten - Nutrition & Fertility Coach
Having a baby is a rollercoaster of emotion. After a successful delivery, there are huge highs as you meet and admire your new family member. Everything is new and exciting and each day brings new “firsts:” first car ride, first time meeting grandparents, first walk outside. It can be a really magical time for new parents.
But this happiness also comes with a healthy dose of anxiety too. All parents worry about their children. But sometimes, mothers worry excessively to the point that it impacts their day-to-day life. This type of worry has a name. It’s known as postpartum anxiety. It can occur after having a baby and is sometimes accompanied by physical symptoms. You may have heard of the “baby blues.” This is a term that is often used to describe a period of time, usually 3-5 days after birth, where you deal with the craziest mood swings because of fluctuating hormones.. Usually, feelings of low mood are a result of those fluctuating hormones and they pass with time (this should happen within a maximum of 2 weeks). But how do you know if you have a problem? What are the signs of postpartum anxiety or depression and when should you get help?
In this post, we’ll explore this common experience in more detail and help you identify the signs of postpartum anxiety as well as provide you with some tips to find relief so you can get back to feeling all the joys of motherhuud.
What is postpartum anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety is more than simply worrying about your baby. This type of anxiety usually involves irrational fear or exaggerated worry that something is wrong or will go wrong and it persists all day, every day. It may not just be worry about your baby either. Postpartum anxiety involves worrying about many different things. If you’ve experienced anxiety before, you may notice similar feelings, but postpartum anxiety is usually more closely linked with having a baby and becoming a parent.
Midwives and doctors are usually pretty good about providing information to new mums about the so-called “baby blues.” If you’ve had a baby recently, you may have been told to expect some sadness and depression in the weeks after delivery and that this is a common occurrence. But many new mums are not told that feeling extremely anxious or even fearful can also be really common. Some new mums even experience panic attacks.
10-15% of new mums suffer from postpartum anxiety and about half of those who have postpartum depression will also experience postpartum anxiety.
So how do you know if you have postpartum anxiety or just normal, new-parent worries? Read on…
How does it feel?
What are postpartum anxiety symptoms and how are they different from ordinary anxiety?
Not everyone will have the same experience, but here are some common signs of postpartum anxiety. Read through the list and make note of your symptoms:
- Excessive worry (ie: worrying all day, every day about different things)
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns (beyond the ordinary disruptions caused by a baby in the house!)
- Feelings of dread or fear of something bad happening
- Hot flashes
- Lack of concentration
- Racing thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Rapid heartbeat
Postpartum anxiety can happen anytime between birth and your baby’s first birthday. But for some women, anxiety can set in during pregnancy too. Most women who struggle with postpartum anxiety will start to feel symptoms shortly after giving birth. So if you’re many months into your parenting journey, you may think you’re out of the woods. However, a stressful life event or even weaning from breastfeeding can trigger postpartum anxiety months later. Be aware of how you’re feeling.
What causes postpartum anxiety and who is more at risk?
During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels increase 10-100-fold! Then, they fall off a cliff. They drop to essentially zero within 24 hours of delivery. In the days that follow giving birth, you’re also dealing with very interrupted (or no) sleep, new schedules and responsibilities and the general, overwhelming life changes that come with having a newborn to look after. There’s also a cultural expectation that these early days should be “the happiest time of your life,” so it’s no wonder that many parents start to feel a bit… unhinged.
Any new parent can develop postpartum anxiety, but there are some factors that increase your risk of developing the condition. They are:
- A history of anxiety (in yourself or your family)
- A history of PMS symptoms like irritability or low mood
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- A history of depression
- Your personality. Some mums who describe themselves as Type A, overly sensitive or generally a worried person often report more instances of postpartum anxiety.
Also, it is important to note that your own journey to motherhuud could make you more susceptible to postpartum anxiety. If you’ve experienced baby loss, either through miscarriage or stillbirth, you are far more likely to develop postpartum anxiety and depression with a subsequent healthy delivery because that debilitating fear that something might go wrong does not disappear, even with the arrival of a healthy baby. If this is your experience, know that it is normal and that it can help immensely to talk to a therapist or a baby loss support group.
How long does it last?
If you are struggling right now, you are probably wondering how long postpartum anxiety lasts? We wish we could tell you a definitive time that you will find relief. Unfortunately, everyone’s experience will be different. The guud news is that symptoms will go away with time and the condition is not permanent.
If you’re struggling, we recommend getting help right away. Untreated moderate to severe anxiety can last indefinitely.
What is the difference between postpartum anxiety and depression
Postpartum depression and anxiety are different. Postpartum depression usually causes parents to feel extreme sadness or even a lack of interest in their new baby. Postpartum anxiety symptoms are a form of extreme worry. If you have postpartum anxiety, you will feel constantly worried and on edge.
Postpartum depression is the condition that is talked about most so unfortunately, many mothers with postpartum anxiety go untreated and undiagnosed because they aren’t sure what to think when they start experiencing intense worry. Regrettably, postpartum anxiety has not been studied that much even though it is likely more common than postpartum depression.
The two conditions do often occur together, making it even harder for people to know what might be wrong. About half of people who have postpartum depression also have anxiety. One condition can perpetuate the other. For example, if your anxiety is getting in the way of your life, you might start to feel depressed that you’re missing out (or the other way around).
What to do if you have postpartum anxiety
Treating postpartum anxiety is possible and there are a variety of things you can do first before consulting with a healthcare professional. Here are a few simple things you can try to help alleviate your feelings of anxiety.
Have plenty of baby cuddles
We’ll start with an easy one. Cuddle your baby. A lot. Cuddling your baby releases oxytocin which can lower your anxiety levels.
Get as much sleep as you can
Sleep can be elusive in those early days after bringing home your baby but try to work with your partner to allow each of you to get at least one uninterrupted four-hour stretch of sleep per night. Some people may tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” but this is often unrealistic advice. Instead, try sleeping in separate rooms from your partner or take shifts caring for your baby. Also, don’t be afraid to hire help if you can afford it, or ask family members to step in so you can get some rest. A lack of sleep will contribute to your anxiety so it’s important to find ways to sleep so you can manage your emotions and be a better parent to your child.
Spend time with other mothers
Getting out and socialising when you have a newborn can sometimes feel like too much effort, especially when you’re tired. But remember: isolation fuels anxiety. So even if you don’t feel like being an extrovert, connecting with other mums (even online!) can do wonders for your mental health. Talking to like-minded women can feel really validating (cue a lot of “me too!” moments!) and it can also help lower your fears when you realise you’re not alone. Chances are, many women feel the same way you do and feeling seen and heard can really help alleviate your worries.
If you are breastfeeding and decide to wean your baby, do it as gently as possible. Think of weaning as a process, not an event. It is best for you and your baby to wean gradually, over the course of weeks or months. This will help minimise sudden hormonal changes which can contribute to anxiety and it will help make the transition easier for your baby. And let your midwife or lactation professional help or guide you through this.
Try a gentle form of exercising
At Guud Woman, we pretty much always recommend a regular form of physical activity and that’s no different for new mothers. Even though recovering from pregnancy can take time, and breastfeeding uses up lots of energy, we still recommend that you move your body every day. Physical activity is one of the most powerful anti-anxiety strategies. And here’s the thing: it doesn’t need to be a heart-pumping, sweat-inducing workout to provide the benefits. Walking, hiking, or yoga are all particularly effective and easy for anyone - no matter where you are on your postpartum journey.
There’s also lots of exercise groups for new mums that incorporate the baby into the workout. Consider getting involved in one. The combination of social interaction and physical activity can be a game changer for your mental health.
Acknowledge sensory overload or “being touched out”
Many mothers often feel sensory overload as a result of having their body constantly “in use” by their child. Whether it’s breastfeeding or holding a crying or sleeping infant, it can often feel like your body is no longer your own and many women need a break. If you’re feeling triggered by physical touch, this could be a sign that you need some time for restoration. Many moms report feeling a mix of anxiety and claustrophobia but remember, that needing some time away from your baby is normal, natural and human. Recognise these feelings and try not to feel guilty about it. It’s important that if you’re feeling “touched out,” to ask for help… which brings us to our next point.
Ask for help
It’s easy to think you can do everything yourself. And sometimes, it’s really hard to ask for help. It can make you feel vulnerable or worse, like a failure. But here’s the thing, ladies. Asking for help does not make you weak. Asking for help is actually a strength. You know the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, there’s a reason for it. Taking care of babies and children is hard work! It is not a one-person job!
Do you find it hard to ask for help? Here’s an idea to start you off: If you are feeding your baby, ask someone else to help with household chores. Be specific. People often want to help but don’t know what to do. You might feel odd - like you’re barking orders like a mean-spirited boss - but people will appreciate the direction. The more you ask for help, the easier it will get. And the more that people can take off your shoulders, the better you’ll feel. Also, they’ll feel good too! It is scientifically proven that helping others makes people happy!
Get a helping hand with supplements
It can be hard to find time to fuel yourself with a good variety of food when you’re caring for a baby. And if you’re lacking in important vitamins and minerals, it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. Try adding a supplement to your diet to make sure your body has everything it needs. Look for supplements with omega 3 fatty acids like those found in algae oil (instead of fish oil! This is the vegan version)
Omega 3 helps reduce inflammation and has been shown to be effective at preventing and treating depression. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can also get Omega 3 from algae rather than fish (like the type that is found in Guud Inside).
Also, consider taking Vitamin B6. It has also been proven to have a positive effect on reducing postpartum depression and anxiety especially in mums with a higher risk of developing postpartum conditions.
Finally, look for magnesium. Magnesium works to downgrade your body’s reaction to stress. It also boosts happy hormones and supports the parts of the brain that’s responsible for fear and anxiety with new memories which helps to alleviate anxiety.
Are you struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression? Not sure where to turn or who to talk to? Talk to us. We have experts who understand what you’re going through and we’re here to listen. We can offer comfort or solutions… or both. Whatever you need. We’ve got your back. And have you already tried our