As a mother, few topics fire me up more than postpartum anxiety and other perinatal or postnatal mood disorders. Since becoming a mother, I’ve had many conversations with other mothers who say, “No one warned me how I would feel after my baby was born.” And it’s true—the baby books and your maternity nurses warn you that you may experience some “baby blues,” but no one prepares you for postpartum depression or anxiety. When I recall my own experience, two things stand out to me:
- My anxiety began during my pregnancy, not after, which I didn’t know was possible.
- I had no idea that the thoughts and feelings I experienced during the postpartum period were symptoms of a very common and treatable mood disorder. I thought I had just lost my mind!
I don’t want another new mom ever to feel the way I did, and that’s why I’m going to share some strategies for coping with postpartum anxiety. You’re not alone, and it will get better.
What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety?
Most new parents experience some degree of anxiety—after all, you’ve just taken on an enormous new responsibility, and you might feel scared and overwhelmed. That much is normal, and it’s why we have family, friends, pediatricians, and books about parenting to help us adjust. Postpartum anxiety becomes a problem when it becomes severe, consumes your every thought, and affects your behavior.
If you’re afraid to sleep at night because you think your baby will stop breathing in their sleep, you may have postpartum anxiety. The same is true if you’re terrified to leave your house with your baby. You may experience physical symptoms like a racing heart, poor sleep, an upset tummy, and tense muscles. You may also be feeling wound up and irritable, with intrusive thoughts about bad things happening to your baby. All of this is extremely common in the postpartum period, and it doesn’t mean you’ve “lost your mind.” Extreme hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and the responsibility of caring for a helpless little person can trigger anxiety, even if you have no history of mood disorders.
Please be careful to note that postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression are not the same, although it’s very possible to experience symptoms of each. With my first baby, I experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and OCD while I was pregnant and in the postpartum period. Although most literature frames these disorders as postpartum issues, it’s certainly not uncommon for them to hit during the perinatal (before birth) stage.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should speak to your OB/GYN, midwife, or general practitioner right away. And if you’re thinking about hurting yourself or someone else, drop what you’re doing and call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988) right away. You don’t need to feel self-conscious or ashamed. Reaching out and asking for help means you’re brave and strong and that you care about your baby.
How Do I Get Help for My Postpartum Anxiety?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety, you should know that it’s not your fault and that you’re not evil, crazy, or a bad mother. Back before I realized what was happening to me, I would have constant intrusive thoughts about bad things happening to my baby—or even about me doing bad things to my baby. They were very disturbing, and I thought they meant that I must be a terrible person who didn’t deserve to be a parent. When I found an entire book about unwanted thoughts in early motherhood, I actually burst out laughing with relief. I wasn’t some lunatic on the fringe of society—I was just a very hormonal new mom. From there, I was able to take steps to get better.
Postpartum Anxiety | Self Care for Moms | Solid Starts
You absolutely shouldn’t try to treat any mood disorder yourself, and postpartum mood disorders are no exception. Your OB/GYN can refer you to an expert who specializes in how to deal with postpartum anxiety, like a psychiatrist, therapist, or other counselor. Treatment may include talking with a professional and joining a local support group for new parents. Some mothers may need to take medication to cope with their postpartum anxiety, while others respond to therapy and lifestyle adjustments. The most common postpartum anxiety medication is the SSRI, which is commonly used to treat generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression. Some SSRIs are safe for breastfeeding, while others are not recommended. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re nursing or pumping.
Taking medication doesn’t mean you’re weak or unable to cope on your own. It means your body needs some help returning to its happy place. You may only need to use it for a short period of time. If your doctor prescribes medication for your anxiety, be sure to bring up any concerns you may have.
How Long Does Postpartum Anxiety Last?
One of the most stressful parts of my postpartum experience was that I thought I was going to feel this way for the rest of my life. Thankfully, I got the help I needed, and I went on to have two more babies with very few of the same symptoms in the perinatal and postpartum periods. With help from several professionals, I felt much more like my old self four or five weeks after my baby was born. I was able to return to a part-time job I enjoyed and engage in light postpartum exercise, like going for walks. It was February, and the weather wasn’t great, but the fresh air and brisk movement were good for me. I also started to engage in better self-care practices for anxiety, like venting to friends and consciously disavowing any unwanted thoughts. (I would sometimes yell “Shut up!” at those thoughts in my head or even say it out loud. Feel free to use this if it helps!)
I promise there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. Your OB/GYN, midwife, or family doctor has seen postpartum anxiety before, and they will know how to help you. And, if you bring up your experience to the mothers in your family or your mom friends, I can guarantee you’ll find someone who knows just how you feel. You’re not alone, and this isn’t forever. Take good care of yourself, ask for help when you need it, and get ready to feel like YOU again. Always remember that you deserve to feel happy and healthy so that you can enjoy the amazing journey of motherhood. Hang in there—I’m cheering for you!