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The Nervous New Mom: Postpartum Anxiety

by Susannah Wollman

 

Congratulations! You’ve had a baby and life will never be the same.

You look at that tiny miracle in your arms and know you could never love anyone in quite the same way you do this wonderful, incredible new person. And you made her! This child is a product of the love between you and your husband, and you look at him with tear-filled eyes as you both exclaim over the perfect fingers and toes.

 

When you take that new infant home, your whole world does a massive paradigm shift, and you weren’t issued a “how-to manual” when you left the hospital. So how do you know what to do?

You set out to learn all you can.

Of course, from the moment you learned you were pregnant, you’ve been reading books and looking at websites about the birth process and what milestones to expect. You’re a woman of the twenty-first century, after all, and information about new babies is easy to access. And you do.

 

But wait! What is SIDS?

And how long should your baby sleep at night? How many times should she poop? What if all she does is scream? Is something wrong? Is she sick? Do you have enough milk? Will she die in her crib while you’re (finally) sleeping? Worrying about how to keep your baby safe, healthy and happy is perfectly normal.

 

Postpartum anxiety isn’t normal.

If you find yourself counting each breath your baby takes while she’s sleeping, foregoing sleep yourself to stand guard over this precious new bundle, terrified that she’ll die in her sleep without cause, locked into constant worry that overwhelms you, you may have developed an anxiety disorder called postpartum anxiety disorder (PPA). Some worry is okay, but worry that interferes with normal life is a warning to you—not that something’s wrong with your infant, but that you, yourself, may need help.

Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum differs from postpartum depression (PPD). PPA is an anxiety issue, and PPD is a depression issue. While they may occur together, about 18% of new moms[1] have PPA without PPD. Here’s what they look like.

 

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety

While it’s perfectly normal for most moms to have some worry, these symptoms mean you should see a professional for help managing PPA.

Mental symptoms

  • worrying constantly without relief
  • feelings of dread that something bad will happen
  • sleep disruption when your baby is sleeping peacefully
  • an inability to quiet your mind.

Physical symptoms

  • fatigue
  • heart palpitations or racing heart
  • feeling of not being able to breathe
  • sweating
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • shakiness and trembling.

Two other variations of PPA

  1. Postpartum panic disorder has some recognizable symptoms, including shortness of breath, feeling like you’re choking or are unable to breathe, intensive fear of dying or of your baby dying, chest pain, dizziness, or a racing heart.
  2. Postpartum obsessive/compulsive disorder symptoms may include obsessive, recurring thoughts about harm or death befalling your new baby.

Risk factors for PPA

Some common risk factors for PPA are:

  • history of an eating disorder
  • previous miscarriage or death of a child[2]
  • history of mood-related symptoms during your period.

How to cope

We’ve cited a study that revealed that about 18% of women have postpartum anxiety with the birth of their baby. It actually may be much higher because not all women get diagnosed and may not say anything about what they’re suffering. So be sure you go to  your postpartum check-up with your doctor and tell him about any worrisome symptoms. This should happen at about 6 week postpartum. After that visit, anytime symptoms crop up, tell your doctor right away. Don’t put it off, because untreated PPA only gets worse.

Postpartum anxiety can affect your ability to bond with your baby. Before that happens, get help.

Your doctor may suggest medication, supplements, complementary treatments like  acupuncture, or referral to a mental health specialist. Follow up on your doctor’s recommendations. Some activities may help you feel more in control, too. Try:

  • exercise
  • mindfulness
  • relaxation techniques

The good news

Postpartum anxiety is treatable and the prognosis for a return to normal is good. The most critical thing you can do is watch for symptoms and seek help from your practitioner if you have troubling, worrisome thoughts that seem out of control.

 

Of course, reality is that things do go wrong sometimes, and when that happens, America’s ER is there for you, 24/7. It can be scary when your infant or child is in need of medical help and you’re not sure where to turn for trusted pediatric care, especially after hours. Our experienced and compassionate ER doctors and nurses are specifically trained and equipped to handle pediatric emergencies. With a dedicated pediatric suite featuring a soothing underwater theme and 23-hour observation capabilities, we go to great lengths to ensure the comfort of both patient and parent. Even if it’s not an emergency, we can care for you and your new baby. And that’s great news!

 

 

  • [1] Farr, S. L., Dietz, P. M., O’Hara, M. W., Burley, K., & Ko, J. Y. (2014, February). Postpartum anxiety and comorbid depression in a population-based sample of women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24160774
  • [2] Giannandrea, S. A. M., Cerulli, C., Anson, E., Chaudron, L. H., Veterans’ Administration Puget Sound Health Care System, School of Medicine and Dentistry, & School of Nursing. (2013, September 5). Increased Risk for Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders Among Women with Past Pregnancy Loss. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jwh.2012.4011