While you might be familiar with the term postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is not as commonly discussed or understood. In this article, we’ll be unpacking what this condition is, management strategies, and when to get help.
What causes postpartum anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety occurs after the birth of a child. It can happen to both mothers and fathers, and is a condition marked by an abnormally high amount of stress, worry, and anxiety. It can occur in first-time parents, as well as those who have had children previously.
Postpartum anxiety is not caused by any one thing, but is usually a combination of factors. Experiencing postpartum anxiety can be distressing and you should definitely seek help from your doctor if you think you may be having this experience.
While any parent can develop postpartum anxiety, some factors that can increase the likelihood of postpartum anxiety:
- Personal or family history of anxiety
- Previous experience with depression
- Hormonal imbalances
- Trauma associated with the pregnancy or birth (previous miscarrage, still birth or traumatic birth)
Signs of postpartum anxiety?
It’s perfectly normal to experience some worry after the birth of your child. You’re now responsible for this defenceless person, who relies on you for their every need. That’s a lot for parents to be responsible for!
But when these normal worries start to shift into consuming your every thought, or are irrational in nature, it can be a sign that something is amiss.
Some other signs of postpartum anxiety may be:
- Feelings of dread
- Stomach feeling unsettled
- Increased heartrate
- Difficulty unwinding or being unable to relax
- Memory problems
- Avoiding everyday situations due to fear (eg. refusing to leave home with the baby)
- Fixating on worst-case scenarios
- Needing excessive amounts of reassurance
- Getting stuck in patterns of ‘checking’ things.
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Shallow breathing
Sounds familiar? These are just some of the many symptoms of postpartum anxiety. If you, or a loved one, have noticed these changes, it’s worth having a conversation with a health professional. Often postpartum anxiety goes undetected, with many of the above symptoms being dismissed by parents as ‘baby blues’ or ‘normal’.
You don’t have to struggle alone, nor do you have to feel guilty for having postpartum anxiety.
It doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job or don’t love your baby. In fact, one of the best things you can do to look after your baby, is to ensure you look after yourself and get the help you need.
Postpartum anxiety can be treated in a number of ways, the following are the most common. If you think you might be experiencing postpartum anxiety, you should discuss this with your doctor or OBGYN who will be able to help you determine the treatment best for you.
Support & Therapy – Having a brief break from baby and finding someone to talk to and unpack your experience with can be a great relief to many parents. Ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist with experience in mood disorders, and postpartum conditions. It may feel difficult, but it can also be worth asking a friend or family member to take the baby for a few hours while you invest in some self-care.
Relaxation strategies – An expert can help you to learn some relaxation or meditation strategies. This, when used in combination with other treatment options can help you to learn some strategies to help you unwind and manage your anxiety.
Medication – In more severe cases, your doctor might ask you to consider using medication. Even if you’re breastfeeding. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor if you have concerns. In some cases however, your mental health and bond with your baby may need to take precedence. Rest assured that your doctor will discuss any potential risks, and aims to support both you, and your baby’s health.
Am I a bad parent?
No. Having postpartum anxiety does not make you a bad parent. Like any health condition, it is however important to prioritize your treatment and recovery, so that you can have a positive experience and continue to build your bond with your baby.
If you think you might have postpartum anxiety, be sure to speak with your doctor or OBGYN.