What To Do When You Have Postpartum Anxiety

Updated December 13, 2018

Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT

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Postpartum anxiety hasn't been in the public eye as much as postpartum depression. So, people are often surprised to learn that postpartum anxiety is the more prevalent condition. If you suspect you have postpartum anxiety, it's important to learn more about this disorder and get the help you need to overcome it.

  • What Is Postpartum Anxiety?

So, what is postpartum anxiety, anyway? It's a condition that happens after the birth of a child that is marked by worry and other anxiety symptoms. It can first show up after the birth of any child, whether that child is a first child or not. It often happens along with postpartum depression, but it can come on its own, too. Also, it's important to note that postpartum anxiety can happen to both mothers and fathers.

Symptoms

It's normal and natural to be a little more concerned after the birth of a child. You're suddenly responsible for a being who can't fend for herself. She's totally dependent on you. She's also more vulnerable than older children and adults because she hasn't yet gained control of her own body and is so small about other people, pets, and household hazards.

The usual postpartum anxiety symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sore stomach
  • Tight chest and throat
  • Muscle tension and twitching
  • Shallow breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Racing thoughts about the future
  • Imagining worst-case scenarios
  • Ruminating
  • Excessive worry
  • Obsessing
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Avoiding everyday situations because you fear for your baby
  • Being over-controlling
  • Needing constant reassurance
  • Checking things repeatedly
  • Hypervigilance
  • Panic attacks

Postpartum anxiety may also be associated with the more frequent use of health care and stop breastfeeding earlier.

In postpartum anxiety, the worry and anxiety symptoms become intense and don't go away even with strong effort. If you see a doctor about this condition, they'll assess your condition based on your symptoms and the following measures of intensity.

  • Intensity of anxiety
  • Duration of anxiety
  • Impact on daily functioning
  • Impact on relationships
  • Is the anxiety keeping you from enjoying and bonding with your baby?

Duration

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Postpartum anxiety symptoms usually start within the first four to six weeks after the child is born. However, in some cases, it can start even before the child is born or up to a year afterward. There is a common but erroneous assumption that postpartum mood disorders should be over by the baby's first birthday. The truth is that there is no set amount of time it lasts. It can continue as the child gets older.

How long does postpartum anxiety last, then? It would be nice to have a date you could look forward to when all your anxiety would be gone. That just isn't possible, unfortunately. If you have moderate to severe anxiety and don't get the help you need, it could last indefinitely. It could also get better for a time and then get worse again. You can shorten the duration by taking these steps:

  • Recognize the postpartum anxiety symptoms.
  • Take care of your own basic needs.
  • Go to a support group.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications.
  • Build your support system of family and friends.
  • Talk to a counselor for cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Possible Causes Of Postpartum Anxiety

Although there's no one definitive cause of postpartum anxiety, there are several common factors that can contribute to its development. These include:

  • For the mother, rapid changes in estrogen and progesterone.
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Relationship changes
  • New responsibilities
  • Societal expectations that you should be a perfect parent, or it should be the happiest time of your life
  • Personal or family history of anxiety
  • Personal history of depression
  • Personal history of PMS symptoms like feeling weepy or agitated
  • Past miscarriage or stillbirth
  • History of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • History of eating disorder
  • Treatment And Self-Help For Postpartum Anxiety

There are several things you can do to manage your anxiety on your own. These methods are helpful, but unless your anxiety is very mild, they're best used along with therapy and possibly medication. Postpartum anxiety treatment from a licensed counselor can help you turn the corner more quickly and get back to enjoying your life as a new parent.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The most effective treatment for postpartum depression is typically cognitive behavioral therapy. You may also need other treatments, including possible medication, but engaging in therapy is the best way to get into a more realistic mindset. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a specific type of counseling that works to change your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors systematically.

In CBT, your counselor helps you identify thoughts that are causing or perpetuating your anxiety. Then, you evaluate the thoughts to determine if they're helpful to you or your baby. If you decide that those thoughts are harmful, your therapist can help you revise the thought. Once you've replaced the unhelpful thought with a more helpful one, you can work on changing your behavior. As your thoughts and behaviors change, your emotions can become less intense and less negative.

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Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness can help you let go of worry and feel calmer. You can learn and practice any of a variety of meditation techniques. The focus of meditation is usually to allow the mind to relax, noticing thoughts and sensations without trying to hold onto them.

Mindfulness is a similar practice, but its focus is dwelling in the here and now. You can sit still and simply pay close attention to what is happening around you in the present moment. You notice sensations inside your body or those coming from your environment. You can also do a mindfulness exercise by doing a simple activity like walking or eating very slowly, paying attention to the experience as it's unfolding. Because worrying about the future is a hallmark of postpartum anxiety, staying mindful in the here-and-now is extremely beneficial.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that can help relieve the tension in your body. One technique starts with you lying still on your back. You relax as you can. Then, you tense the muscles of your toes as tight as you can and hold the tension for several seconds. Next, you release the tension and let your toes hang loose. Continue these steps with each muscle group of your body, working your way slowly up to the top of your head.

Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential if you have any mental condition, especially anxiety. This can be extremely difficult for a new parent with postpartum anxiety. The baby may still need to be taken care of during the night. Worry can also keep you awake. You can help yourself sleep better by following these tips:

  • Go to bed and get up as close to the same times as possible.
  • Try to sleep when you're sleepy rather than lying awake in bed for hours.
  • If you try to sleep but can't, after 20 minutes have passed, get up and do something boring.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Don't do anything in your bed besides sleeping.
  • Do deep breathing before you settle down for the night.
  • Take a hot bath an hour before sleep.
  • Keep your room cool but have enough blankets to stay warm.

Get Some Relief from Parenting Duties

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If you're suffering from any of the signs of postpartum anxiety, it can be helpful to get some help with your parenting duties. Don't give up your role as a parent, of course. Simply ask a close friend or relative to babysit, so you can go out for an evening each week or go to an aerobics class several times a week.

Medications

Not every parent with postpartum anxiety needs to be on medications. If you have moderate to severe anxiety, or if the anxiety lasts a long time, you may need postpartum anxiety medication to recover your mental health. Another situation that might call for medication is if you've had depression or anxiety before.

The medications used for postpartum anxiety are antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Usually, these medications are given for a limited period while you work on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in therapy.

All these help are available for people with postpartum depression. You can start doing the self-help techniques right away and on your own. However, if you need more help, it's essential to talk to a doctor or therapist.

You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com to start on your journey towards better mental health. Once on the site, you'll be matched with a counselor who is best suited to help you with your problems. Then, if you choose to move forward, you can begin convenient online therapy that happens on your schedule.

Postpartum anxiety can rob you of some of the most joyous moments of parenthood. With the right help, you can feel calm, comfortable, and more self-assured in your role as mother or father as well as in every part of your life.


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