While having a newborn baby can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience, it also can pose challenges for both parents, specifically the one who gave birth! Adjusting to life postpartum can feel quite vulnerable, lonely, and overwhelming. At least 1 in 5 women develop Postpartum/Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) throughout their pregnancy and/or during the first year after childbirth.
Unfortunately, due to the existing stigma, not many seek help and end up suffering in silence. The good news is that PMADs, including Perinatal /Postpartum Anxiety, are temporary and treatable! If you or someone you love struggles with postpartum anxiety, keep reading for some helpful tips.
What is Perinatal/Postpartum Anxiety?
The word “Perinatal” means “about childbirth,” which includes pregnancy and post-childbirth. The perinatal/postpartum period is defined in diverse ways. Depending on the definition, it starts from the 20th to the 28th week of pregnancy to up to one year postpartum. Women of every culture, age, income level, and race can develop perinatal depression and anxiety-related issues. The onset of symptoms may be gradual or sudden. Risk factors can be biological, social/environmental, and psychological, including personal or family history of depression and anxiety, thyroid and hormonal changes, fertility treatments, and sleep deprivation.
While some women experience anxiety in addition to depression, others are exclusively impacted by constant worry and panic attacks. Perinatal anxiety conditions can include Postpartum Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Perinatal Generalized Anxiety can take form in many ways and vary from mother to mother, some of the symptoms may manifest as:
- Excessive worry/ racing thoughts about your baby’s safety and well-being
- Feeling overwhelmed with day to day activities
- Difficulty concentrating
Postpartum OCD happens when you continually have intrusive thoughts or mental images that are upsetting or disturbing (obsession), for instance having cyclical thinking that something bad may happen to your baby and/or yourself, and as a result, you need to do things compulsively over and over again to ease your anxiety.
For example, you may repeatedly check to see if the baby is breathing when they’re asleep or engage in excessive hand washing or cleaning.
Moms with Perinatal Panic Disorder tend to feel extremely nervous and have occasional panic attacks with some severe physical symptoms such as pounding heart, trembling, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Postpartum PTSD can often be related to a traumatic birthing experience, where the birthing parent felt that their life or their baby’s life was endangered in some way.
How Postpartum Anxiety Impacts New Moms
Most people experience a wide range of emotions, including sadness, irritability, moodiness, and worry during the first couple weeks after their baby is born. This phenomenon is often referred to as the “Baby Blues.” Baby Blues is not a mood disorder but rather a normal adjustment and adaptation of your body trying to find a new sense of balance. Symptoms usually last no more than 2 weeks and resolve without medical intervention. If it lasts longer than 14 days, it is definitely worth taking a closer look at.
Speaking with a mental health professional can help reduce symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for a wide variety of mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders. Your therapist will assist you in taking an inventory of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and will teach you some tools to challenge some of your unhelpful thoughts and replace them with healthier and more adaptive ones through Cognitive Restructuring.
If your anxiety worsens or is impairing your life’s functioning, medication may be a treatment option. Your perinatal treatment team can help provide the most appropriate medical advice for your specific
How to Support Your Partner through Postpartum Anxiety
Having a newborn baby creates significant changes for all family members, including the partner of the birthing parent. You as the partner have been going through a lot too. PMADs most commonly impact the birthing person, but fathers, partners, and adoptive parents can also experience anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders after the baby comes. Just the mere fact that you’re reading this blog is a testament to how much you want to support your partner and show up for them in ways they need you to during this vulnerable period.
Invite an open and earnest conversation with your partner about finding ways to adjust to life postpartum and inquire about ways you can support the birthing partner through their struggles, including anxiety. It can be easy to be fatigued and consumed by the daily responsibilities and end up sacrificing your relationship with your partner and your own self-care.
Your family dynamic has changed. It’s normal if you and your partner haven’t connected the way you used to for a while. Try to schedule times to connect more deeply with your partner. You might try to work together to get those date nights back in. It’s ok if date nights are few and far in between. Put a couple of dates on the calendar and work on finding a sitter. If you can’t get any help with looking after the baby, do something creative or interactive at home.
As new parents, you’re both going through so much. Find small ways to express gratitude and acknowledgment toward yourself and your partner. That may look like picking up your partner’s favorite coffee drink or green juice on your way home or leaving little notes around the house about what a great job they are doing as a mom and you are working on finding ways to grow together as parents.
Dear New Mom…
You are exhausted, sore in so many places, hormonal, and sleep-deprived; you are far from homeostasis! The first few weeks post-giving birth, your body is adjusting to many changes, including swelling, hemorrhoids, or stitches after C-section or vaginal tear.
You may even be silently or not so silently criticizing your body for not recovering as fast as you were hoping. Wondering if you will ever feel normal again? You WILL feel better and find your new sense of normalcy again!
Reassure yourself that you and the baby are getting to know each other which takes some time and you will have your whole life to bond with one another. Enjoy some fresh air and go for walks, maybe take a yoga class at home or the studio, and don’t forget about the importance of proper nutrition.
If you had a newborn and have been feeling isolated due to your anxiety, you are NOT alone! Join an online or in-person support group for new parents! Talking about your thoughts and emotions in a safe environment with people that are going through similar experiences can be incredibly beneficial and therapeutic. A mental health professional can assist you in identifying and coping with your feelings, changing your thought patterns, and setting realistic behavioral goals to find your way back to your authentic self.