Postpartum Anxiety: What Are The Symptoms And How To Deal With It

Postpartum Anxiety

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With the birth of a baby comes a new level of stress for the mother. It could affect her mental health and lead to postpartum mood disorders.

Postpartum anxiety is one such disorder that disturbs a new mother, making it difficult for her to manage her day-to-day activities. However, this condition will eventually disappear.

But how do you manage it in the meantime?

MomJunction details the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment for postpartum anxiety, along with a few tips to cope with the condition.

What Is Postpartum Anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety is a mood disorder that makes a new mom feel anxious and on edge most of the time during the first year of childbirth.

The condition affects five to 20% of women. It generally starts within the first four to six weeks of delivery. However, there is no set time frame for its onset.

Some women may experience only anxiety, while some may have depression too. Severe postpartum anxiety can lead to a postpartum panic disorder that is associated with panic attacks along with anxious feelings. Also, the longevity of the condition depends on how early or late you start the treatment and the level of support you get from your family (1).

Stress is not the only reason for anxiety. The following section will tell you about the other reasons.

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What Causes Postpartum Anxiety?

Some experts believe that it could be due to hormonal changes or lack of sleep, which can give rise to mood disorders and anxiety.

However, the exact cause of postpartum anxiety is not known. Women with a history of anxiety are at a greater risk of developing this disorder.

Some other causes include (2):

  • Negative thoughts and unrealistic expectations
  • Depletion of vital nutrients
  • Dehydration, especially in those who are breastfeeding.

While postpartum anxiety can hit anybody, some women are more vulnerable than the others due to some risk factors.

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What Are The Risk Factors For Postpartum Anxiety?

Factors that increase the likelihood of postpartum anxiety include (3, 4):

  • A family history of anxiety
  • Personal history of anxiety before or during pregnancy
  • A family or personal history of mental health issues
  • Getting married at a young age
  • Having a sick or colicky baby (crying uncontrollably)
  • Breastfeeding problems
  • Previous mood reaction to hormonal changes (PMS, puberty, PMDD, birth control)
  • History of endocrine dysfunction (diabetes, thyroid imbalance)
  • Early pregnancy loss or infant loss
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Financial crisis
  • Stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of support from family and friends
  • Being a single parent
  • High expectations from yourself

If you have all or a few of these risk factors, then check out for the symptoms of anxiety.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Postpartum anxiety?

Here are some signs that indicate postpartum anxiety (5, 4):

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • A strong feeling that something is not right
  • Lack of interest in bonding with the child
  • Feeling dissatisfied with regular activities
  • Aggressive and angry
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Lack of emotional feelings
  • Crying often
  • Fear of loneliness and lack of support
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Panic attacks
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Constant fears about the baby
  • Feelings of not being a good mom
  • Symptoms such as hot flashes, dizziness, and nausea (2)
  • Stomach cramps (6)
  • Fast heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Tight or painful throat and chest
  • Muscle tension (shoulder and neck pain, grinding teeth, muscle twitching, back pain)
  • Avoiding certain activities, situations, people or places
  • Seeking constant reassurance from others
  • Over-controlling behavior
  • Repeatedly checking things
  • Shaking
  • Being overcautious
  • Forgetfulness
  • Worrying and obsessing
  • Ruminating the past
  • Perfectionism (the belief that you should do everything just right, without any mistakes)
  • Difficulty in focusing and concentrating

If you are having a majority of the symptoms, then you might be having anxiety. But before concluding on it, see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

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How Is Postpartum Anxiety Diagnosed And Treated?

Here is how postpartum anxiety is managed (7):

Diagnosis

The doctor will detect any underlying health issues such as anemia, hypertension or thyroid imbalance that could be a reason for postpartum anxiety or depression.

Screening

The doctor may use screening tools to assess the perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD). One such tool is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), wherein the patient is required to answer questionnaires. This helps the doctor understand how your emotional state is, which further helps them diagnose. These screening tools are used during the pregnancy period and also during the postpartum check-up.

Treatment

The course of treatment for perinatal anxiety disorders includes:

  • A complete medical check-up
  • Self-help techniques
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Participation in a support group
  • Psychological therapies
  • Medication or hospitalization, if necessary

In the case of mild to moderate levels of anxiety, support counseling and psychological therapies will be useful. Counseling also helps patients deal with the challenges they are facing (8).

Psychological treatments are usually one-on-one sessions with a professional. There are two treatment options:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): This treatment aims at targeting the way of thinking and behavior of the patient in such a way that it helps reduce the anxiety and fear in them.
    The cognitive component of this therapy helps you to think reasonably and helps replace the intrusive thoughts in your mind. It further helps you gain control over the fear and anxiety symptoms.

This therapy includes deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to relieve the tension in the body. Moreover, CBT is effective in dealing with situations that you have been avoiding for a long time.

  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): Anxiety could be a result of tensions, personal losses, or relationship changes and conflicts. This therapy encourages the patient to find new ways to approach such anxiety-causing situations in their life.

Sometimes, medication is necessary for managing postpartum mood disorders. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants are found to be effective in breastfeeding mothers but have no adverse effects on the infants.

Drugs such as Carbamazepine, sodium valproate, and short-acting benzodiazepines are also found to be relatively safe for use during breastfeeding. However, more research is needed to affirm the potential risks of these drugs (9).

Other non-pharmacological methods for treating anxiety disorders include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy (10); the essential oils such as lavender oil, and a blend of rose and lavender oil, are effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression in postpartum women
    (11)
  • Yoga (12)
  • Residential treatment (13)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques (14)

While learning about the symptoms and treatment options for postpartum anxiety is important, dispelling the myths surrounding the condition is also necessary.

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Myths About Postpartum Anxiety Demystified

Some of the myths around postpartum anxiety are negated here (15):

  • Postpartum anxiety is associated with baby blues.

It is not. Many women may experience baby blues soon after the baby is born. These blues may develop an anxiety disorder in them, but only temporarily. This anxiety will disappear in a few weeks.

  • Postpartum anxiety makes moms hurt their children.

It won’t. The stories of moms behaving ruthlessly towards children are attributed to postpartum depression or anxiety. However, such behavior is an indicator of a disorder called postpartum psychosis, which is a medical emergency and needs immediate intervention.

  • Scary thoughts of harming your child will make you actually harm the baby.

They won’t. Some women may imagine harming their children. These are just thoughts that horrify them and not ideas they may act on. Most new moms are terrified of these thoughts and want to get rid of them.

  • Postpartum anxiety only affects women with a history of mental disorders.

It is not true. It can happen in any women irrespective of their health background.

  • You cannot get better.

This condition is temporary. Some may come out of it in a few weeks, and some may have to struggle for a longer time. With the support and help from the people around, you will feel better and get back to your normal life eventually.

In the meantime, you should try and cope with the condition. Read on to know how.

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Tips To Cope With Postpartum Anxiety

Here are some tips that can help you overcome the disorder (16):

  • Eat healthy food and sleep well.
  • Spend time with your partner, family or friends and share your problems.
  • Do not hesitate to ask your friends and family for help.
  • Set small goals for your daily activities and engage yourself.
  • Go out of the house for a walk or attend outdoor activities.
  • Connect with people who have gone through the same condition. Share your story and seek tips from them.
  • Make a list of what makes you a good mom.
  • Read good books and listen to music that soothes you.

It is quite common for women to feel like they are losing their mind during the postpartum period. If not addressed at the earliest, anxiety and other mood disorders may worsen in time.

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Seeking familial support and timely professional help makes it easier to manage this mood disorder and get back to your normal life.

Do you have any experiences to share with us? Let us know in the comments section below.

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shreeja pillai

Postgraduate in Chemistry and content writer. She has worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company and also holds a diploma in pharmaceutical regulatory affairs. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. She is a writer for MomJunction and aims at providing informative articles based on health and wellness. Apart from writing, she takes a great interest in music and traveling. know more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shreeja-pillai/
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