What To Do When You Have Postpartum Anxiety

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 29, 2022

If You Suspect You Have Postpartum Anxiety, Learn More About Managing It

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 a postpartum anxiety disorder, anyway? It is a type of anxiety disorder that happens after the birth of a child that is marked by worry, stress, physical symptoms, and other anxiety disorder symptoms.

A postpartum anxiety disorder can first show up after the birth of any child, whether that child is the parent’s first or not. It often happens along with postpartum depression, but it can come on its own. In addition, it's important to note that postpartum anxiety and other anxiety disorders can happen to both mothers and fathers.

Postpartum issues can also present as a generalized anxiety disorder, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, postpartum panic disorder, postpartum PTSD, eating disorders, or other symptoms. During the postpartum period, the excessive anxiety shows up like the typical disorder. So, for example, postpartum OCD would present the typical symptoms of OCD, with the main difference being the postpartum period timeframe. While this article focuses on postpartum anxiety, it is important to note that the general anxiety can be accompanied by other issues.

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. Your baby is totally dependent on you. They are also more vulnerable than older children and adults because they have not yet gained control of their own body.

The common signs of postpartum anxiety symptoms include:

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

Postpartum anxiety may also be associated with the more frequent use of health care and can cause your child to 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

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 and last 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 or 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.
  • 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
  • Past depression
  • Previous prenatal loss or previous miscarriage
  • New responsibilities
  • Societal expectations, like the idea that you should be a perfect parent
  • 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
  • Other health conditions

Treatment And Self-Help 

There are several things you can do to manage your anxiety post pregnancy on your own with your baby blues from your new baby and family members. These methods are helpful, but unless your anxiety is very mild, they're best used along with therapy. 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 with your new baby and family members.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Postpartum Anxiety

The most effective treatment for postpartum depression is typically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) according to systematic reviews of peer reviewed studies that include longitudinal general population cohorts. Engaging in therapy is the best way to get into a more realistic mindset before or after you gave birth. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a specific type of counseling that works to change your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors systematically. Reach out to a health care provider if you are experiencing symptoms like anxious thoughts due to pre or post pregnancy. From severe to mild cases, symptoms can be alleviated.

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 not helpful, 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. It sounds simple because it is, but it has been proven to help with everything from household chores to your relationships to your work.

If You Suspect You Have Postpartum Anxiety, Learn More About Managing It

Meditation and Mindfulness

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 not helpful, 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. It sounds simple because it is, but it has been proven to help with everything from household chores to your relationships to your work.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that can help relieve the tension in your body at any time, including post pregnancy. One technique starts with you lying still on your back. 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 in post pregnancy. 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

If you're experiencing 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 or to an aerobics class each week.

Potential Treatment Options

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety treated with postpartum anxiety medication such as general anti anxiety medication can be effective at reducing excessive anxiety. Postpartum anxiety is often treated with comorbid depression, such as with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Treating postpartum anxiety along with perinatal or postpartum depression is common. There are risk factors involved when one can seek treatment with medication for mental illness, and a medical doctor needs to be consulted through a healthcare provider.

There are many ways to treat postpartum anxiety. All these treatments 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 your healthcare provider for suggestions.

For another option, you can talk to wellness professionals and licensed counselors at BetterHelp 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.

If you are taking care of a newborn at home and believe you are experiencing postpartum anxiety, online therapy can be the perfect option. Specialists increasingly see online counseling as the ideal method for parents to use when seeking treatment for postpartum mental illness. Experts believe that most people can treat their symptoms with between six and twenty sessions of CBT delivered remotely.

BetterHelp makes seeking counseling for postpartum anxiety that much easier. Licensed mental health professionals are available to connect with you from the comfort of your own home. Someone will be able to get in touch whenever is convenient for you. Read what other parents have to say about their experience with BetterHelp below.

“I have not been in counseling since I was a young child, and I took the leap to do this since it better fits my schedule, and I am so glad I was matched with Debra. She helped me through what I considered the biggest challenge I've faced in motherhood so far, and she guided me through with reason and support. I don't know where I'd be if I had not signed up for this service. I love counseling from Debra and how supportive and helpful she is!”

“Michele is wonderful she has been helping me with anxiety and stress about life and being a new mother. She is very caring, warm and also very practical. She has given me lots of strategies to help manage my anxiety.”

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.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

How long does anxiety last after having a baby?
Can you have postpartum anxiety?
Why do I have anxiety after having a baby?
Can postpartum hormones cause panic attacks?
How long are you considered postpartum?
How long until your hormones are normal after pregnancy?
How much anxiety is normal for a new mom?
Can breastfeeding hormones cause anxiety?
What is post partum psychosis?
What are the warning signs of anxiety?

 

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