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What is Postpartum Anxiety and How to Treat It

Parenthood opens you up to a whole new world of responsibilities, emotions, and a sense of worry unmatched by anything before. Whether you’ve just delivered a new baby or you’ve recently adopted, adjusting to life with a newborn is stressful all the same. The majority of the worries and fears you experience in the beginning dissipate as you learn to trust yourself, get to know your baby, and fall into a routine –but sometimes those feelings don't go away. If your feelings of anxiousness are excessive, or you’re constantly fearful or nervous, you might be experiencing postpartum anxiety (PPA). To understand more about postpartum anxiety we need to take a closer look at the causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

It’s natural to worry about your newborn –caring for another human is a big responsibility that you shouldn’t take lightly. However, when these worries begin to occupy every waking moment and even keep you up at night, it may indicate a more serious anxiety disorder known as postpartum anxiety. Postpartum anxiety is only experienced within the first year of delivery or adoption. Pregnant women can also experience prenatal anxiety (anxiety while pregnant) and perinatal anxiety, or anxiety experienced from the start of pregnancy through a year after delivery. These anxious thoughts generally consist of extreme “what if” scenarios where you imagine causing harm to your baby or yourself. They’re also generally “catastrophic” meaning they tend to involve the worst-case scenario. There is no designated screening for postpartum anxiety, but it can often be identified during an assessment for postpartum depression completed by your healthcare provider. Several websites host postpartum anxiety quiz options that, once completed, can provide a starting point when discussing your concerns with a medical provider. 

What Causes Postpartum Anxiety

There are many causes of PPA, and healthcare providers believe several factors can contribute to one developing PPA symptoms.

  • Changing hormones: Postpartum hormonal changes can be abrupt, leading to overreactions to stress and mood swings
  • Lack of sleep: Sleep deprivation has negative impacts on your mental health
  • Feelings of responsibility: The overwhelming feeling of wanting to protect your baby and the fear that you’re unable to
  • Stressful events: Events in your baby's life could trigger anxiety. For example, when they begin crawling, eating solid foods, or if you experienced issues with breastfeeding, or had a difficult pregnancy or delivery
  • History of anxiety disorders: A previous diagnosis of anxiety or depression increases your chances of experiencing PPA
  • Previous trauma: If you’ve lost a pregnancy or child before, if you have a child or children with health conditions, or if you’ve been previously diagnosed with PTSD, all contribute to the potential for PPA 

Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum anxiety symptoms can manifest physically, behaviorally, or emotionally. Many new parents describe the feeling of “going crazy,” or experiencing both rational and irrational racing thoughts. Signs and symptoms of postpartum anxiety include but are not limited to:

Physical symptoms:

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tense muscles
  • Trouble settling or sitting still
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Increased heart rate or heart palpitations 

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding certain activities, people, or places
  • Being overly cautious about situations that aren't dangerous
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors like checking things over and over again
  • Refusing to give up control, or accept help

Emotional symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • An overwhelming sense of dread or doom
  • Fearfulness
  • Excessive worry
  • Inability to relax
  • Forgetfulness, feeling distracted, or failure to focus
  • Obsessive thoughts about things that could go wrong but aren’t likely

Treatments for Postpartum Anxiety

Thankfully, there are many treatment options for people suffering from postpartum anxiety. Each treatment plan depends on the severity of your condition.

Mild PPA: Talking to a fellow new parent, or an understanding friend or family member might be enough to help alleviate the feelings of worry or dread you’re experiencing with mild PPA. Vitamin and nutrient supplements like our Postpartum Mood Support contain vital ingredients to support balanced postpartum emotions, cortisol levels, and mood stability. Practicing mindfulness –a type of meditation in which you focus on being aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, can help reduce anxiety.

Moderate PPA: Talk or cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful for those experiencing moderate PPA symptoms. A licensed mental health professional can provide you with tools and tips to help you regulate your anxiety levels –cognitive restructuring or reframing is a helpful strategy as it focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and how to reframe them into more positive and productive thoughts. As with mild cases of PPA, limiting and reducing stress is beneficial, along with supplementation of essential mood-stabilizing nutrients like ashwagandha for stress and anxiety relief, and B6 for improved mood and energy levels.

Severe PPA: If your symptoms are severe your healthcare provider could prescribe medication in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the class of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs typically prescribed to those experiencing severe postpartum anxiety. They work by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain and are generally considered safe to use while pregnant and breastfeeding.

If you’re experiencing overwhelming thoughts of dread or worry, or if you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed to the point that you’re fearful of your ability to care for yourself or your child, seek the help of a medical professional. To learn more about how to navigate postpartum life we recommend:

What is Postpartum and How Long Does it Last? 

6 Unexpected Things That Happen to Your Body After Giving Birth

Understanding Your Fourth Trimester: Just the Facts