Mental Health Month: What is postpartum anxiety?
Most moms are aware of the risks and warning signs of postpartum depression, but what about its lesser-known, related disorder, postpartum anxiety?
Find out what to look out for and how you can get help and support.
While postpartum depression is more commonly known, research has shown that postpartum anxiety may be more common. Learn how to identify postpartum anxiety and find out how to get the help you need.
What is postpartum anxiety?
On the day following her daughter's birth, Stacey Glaesmann felt the onset of severe anxiety. She paced the hospital room. "When we got back home, everything looked different to me," Glaesmann says, "like I was looking through a camera filter."
"I was unable to sleep, even after taking Ambien. I was also unable to eat for the most part. The anxiety was unrelenting. I hid it well, believe it or not. After two months of this and getting to the point where I was planning my suicide, I reached out to my husband and my parents and 'came clean.'"
"I got in to see a therapist and a psychiatrist within the week, though back then no one 'specialized' in postpartum mood disorders. My recovery took a good year to get to the point where I felt I was functioning as well as I was before."
“Postpartum anxiety is basically a clinically diagnosable level of anxiety within a year of giving birth,” says Stacey Glaesmann, LPC. Anxiety disorders can include generalized anxiety as well as panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “If a woman has a panic attack in the grocery store, she may start avoiding it and then it can snowball from there,” says Glaesmann, who cautions that panic disorders can make new moms feel isolated and as if they can’t go anywhere or do anything. A new mom who experiences postpartum OCD may experience it as unwanted thoughts that cause feelings of horror, such as thoughts of her baby being harmed or thoughts of harming her baby.
Who gets postpartum anxiety?
According to Postpartum Support International, around 6 percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of postpartum women develop anxiety. As many as 3-5 percent of women experience postpartum OCD. Risk factors include a personal history of anxiety or a family history of anxiety. It’s important to recognize that any new mom can develop a postpartum anxiety disorder, even if she has no prior history or risk factors. Signs of postpartum anxiety include worrying all the time, a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, restlessness and racing thoughts, and sleep and appetite problems. Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as nausea, hot flashes, stomach issues and dizziness.
Learn the symptoms of postpartum depression >>
How is postpartum anxiety treated?
You can work on habits at home that can relieve your anxiety. Marva Caldwell, MA, LMHC, NCC, recommends that moms eat well, sleep as much as they can and ask for help from their partners, friends and family. “Look after yourself,” Caldwell says. “It is OK to ask for help and you need to let others help you.” In addition to lifestyle changes, talk therapy and medication can help moms overcome the symptoms of postpartum anxiety. Many women with anxiety respond well to a combination of medication for anxiety and therapy to work through issues such as intrusive thoughts, panic attacks and overwhelming worries.
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How do moms get help with postpartum anxiety?
“Seek professional care from your doctor, doula, midwife or a counselor,” says Caldwell. “You will need more support.” If you’re not sure who to call, begin with the practice that assisted you with pregnancy and delivery. They can recommend health care professionals who have experience with new moms. Get extra help with breastfeeding if you’re struggling and difficulties are heightening your anxiety. Ask your local hospital for support groups for new moms and visit support websites like Postpartum Progress and Postpartum Support International to connect with other moms who have been in your shoes. You do not have to suffer alone and you shouldn't be embarrassed to feel the way you do.