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Postpartum Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Postpartum anxiety is when a mother experiences extreme anxiety during the postpartum period, usually followed by fear and stress. In addition, the new responsibility of taking care of the little one can make new mothers anxious (1). Postnatal anxiety is common and can affect your mental and physical health as well as your interaction with your newborn.

Let’s take a closer look at postpartum anxiety, its causes, symptoms, and how you can handle it.

What’s The Difference Between Postpartum Depression And Postpartum Anxiety?

Although the manifestation of both might overlap, certain differences could help distinguish between postnatal depression and anxiety. Women suffering from postpartum depression usually feel a sense of constant loneliness or sadness and lack of confidence and guilt. The symptoms can last for two weeks and gradually decrease over time (2).

Unlike postpartum depression or baby blues, postpartum anxiety symptoms may exceed two or three weeks following childbirth. Besides the emotional signs of fear and distress, women going through postnatal anxiety also experience some physical symptoms, such as panic attacks and postpartum OCD (2) (3).

Women may experience postnatal anxiety as a result of postpartum depression. However, awareness about the disorders is important for appropriate diagnosis and timely treatment.

What Are The Symptoms Of Postpartum Anxiety?

Some commonly experienced postpartum anxiety symptoms include (2) (3):

  • Constant feeling of anxiousness
  • Inability to relax or restlessness
  • Persistent feeling of frustration or irritation
  • Hot flashes from elevated anxiety levels
  • Lose interest in things or activities you usually enjoy
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), triggered by anxiety and worry
  • Panic attacks manifest as increased heart rate, dreadfulness, chest pain, and dizziness
  • Troublesome thoughts about the baby, which can either be of excessive protectiveness or intentional harm to the baby

If you are experiencing severe symptoms of OCD, panic attacks or thoughts about causing harm to your baby, you should consult your doctor.

What Are The Causes And Risk Factors Of Postpartum Anxiety?

Postnatal anxiety is common and can develop from following reasons (4) (3):

  • A sudden decrease in the level of pregnancy hormones, progesterone, and estrogen, following childbirth may cause elevated anxiety levels.
  • A history of miscarriage or stillbirth can trigger anxiety issues in the subsequent pregnancy, spreading through the postpartum period.
  • Stressful life events, including lack of sleep, financial pressure, a feeling of excessive protectiveness towards the baby, and the pressure of maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner, can put you at risk.
  • A complicated pregnancy or birth experience.
  • A history of postpartum anxiety in previous pregnancy or a family history of anxiety or depression.
  • Postnatal depression can cause you to feel anxious or evoke an occasional sense of panic.

How is Postpartum Anxiety Treated?

Treatments for postpartum anxiety are available and can help you in coping with your anxiety and stress.

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): It is one of the most effective therapies for postnatal anxiety and postpartum depression. CBT involves around 12-16 sessions, where your therapist will help you focus on all the negative and stressful thoughts or impulsive behaviors and overcome them. This is done through different activities, including social interaction, exercises, and frequent interaction with people or your partner (5).
  1. Stress-reduction methods: You can try these helpful stress reduction techniques to cope with postnatal anxiety (6):
    • Body movement: Include the doctor-recommended exercises in your daily routine. Spending some time of your day in exercising makes your body release endorphins which can help ease your stress.
    • Sufficient sleep: It may not be easy to get enough sleep amidst taking care of the baby. Try to sleep or take a nap while your baby is sleeping. You can ask a close friend or family member to take care of your baby while you are resting.
    • Breathing exercise: Simple breathing exercises can help calm your nerves and provide a relaxed mind without creating panic.
  1. Aromatherapy: A study shows that the essential oils, used in aromatherapy, induce a sense of relaxation by increasing the activity of the hypothalamus. Aromatherapy massage has been studied to alleviate levels of anxiety and stress. However, you should undergo this therapy after consulting your health care professionals (7).
  1. Anti-anxiety medications: Depending on the symptoms and severity, your healthcare provider may prescribe certain medications. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and benzodiazepines are some prescribed medications (3).

How Is Postpartum Anxiety Prevented?

Some measures that help reduce the elevated anxiety levels after pregnancy are (4):

  • Talk with your healthcare provider during or before pregnancy to find if you have any risk factors of postnatal anxiety or depression and the measures you can take to prevent them.
  • Do things that may help you feel better in addition to seeking treatment.
  • Be prepared for the postpartum period by talking to close friends or family members and seeking their help in taking care of the baby.

Postpartum anxiety and depression are common, and you should not worry about them. There are different therapies and treatments available that can aid you in coping with your anxiety. Talk to your healthcare provider or your loved ones and get the support you require to help prevent adverse complications.

References:

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Aneesha Amonz

Aneesha holds a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from USTM, Meghalaya and Master’s degree in Applied Microbiology from VIT, Vellore. She has worked on different research projects in the field of Food Sciences. In addition, she has an internship experience in Oil India Limited as an R&D project trainee. As a writer at MomJunction, Aneesha ensures her content is engaging and... more