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Posted on: June 4, 2021 | Julie Winn

Becoming a new mom is one of the most joyful times in a woman’s life. But, it can also be extremely stressful and lead to a lot of anxiety — after all, you are now responsible for a tiny, human life. “Why won’t the baby stop crying?” “Can anxiety get worse after having a baby?” “Am I a horrible mom?” “Does my baby hate me?” “Why is this so hard?” — are all common thoughts that race through the minds of new moms daily. Some degree of worrying is totally normal. But, there comes a point where you might be dealing with a more severe case of postpartum anxiety. 

You’ve likely heard of postpartum depression. 

Postpartum anxiety is PPD’s cousin that affects around 10 percent of new mothers.

Keep reading to learn more about the diagnosis and how to help alleviate the symptoms.

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

Every new parent is going to have some degree of worry and anxiety about their newborn baby. But, when those worries escalate to the point of becoming irrational (for example, thinking your baby will die if you don’t hold them immediately), and no matter what you do, the thoughts won’t leave your brain, you might be suffering from postpartum anxiety (PPA). PPA is much more intense than the typical worries that come with being a new parent — it’s also more persistent, and generally not based on any real threat or issue.

The diagnosis can become problematic if it starts to affect everyday life, like driving with the baby, if panic attacks appear out of nowhere, and/or if it starts to interfere with your ability to function.

Postpartum Anxiety vs. Postpartum Depression

Unlike postpartum depression, which causes new moms to feel intense sadness and/or disinterest in their newborn, symptoms of PPA primarily appear as constant worry and dread. Since postpartum depression is talked about a lot more than postpartum anxiety, a lot of new moms experiencing PPA don’t know what to think about what they’re going through.

Like depression, feelings of irritability and sadness characterize postpartum depression. Crying outbursts, appetite changes, and sleep disturbances are also common side effects. But, what researchers are learning over time is that many women with typical PPD symptoms are also experiencing significant anxiety symptoms.

One German study tracked 1,024 new moms during the first three months after giving birth. The researchers found that more than 11 percent experienced postpartum anxiety disorders, while 6 percent developed postpartum depressive disorders.

It’s also important to note that PPD and PPA often go hand in hand. About 50 percent of women with postpartum depression also have anxiety. The symptoms of both PPA and PPD are similar, but postpartum depression produces feelings of overwhelming sadness and possibly thoughts about harming yourself and/or the baby.

Many women with PPD and/or PPA also have OCD-like symptoms, including obsessive, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts. One study found that 57% of women with postpartum depression reported obsessive thoughts.

Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety

Similar to PPD, which makes moms feel tired all the time, PPA can also involve physical symptoms, including:

  • Excessive worry about the baby’s health, development, and/or safety
  • An overwhelming sense of burden, stress, and/or concern about your ability to be a good mother
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feelings of dread or a constant sense of danger
  • Constantly feeling on edge
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in eating/sleeping patterns
  • Hot flashes and sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shakiness/trembling 

These symptoms generally kick in sometime between birth and the baby’s first birthday, but they can also begin during pregnancy. In fact, studies show that 25-35 percent of PPA cases start during pregnancy.

What Causes Postpartum Anxiety?

There is no sole cause of PPA. But, there are a number of factors that increase the chances of developing postpartum anxiety, including:

  • Hormonal shifts post-birth. These hormone level swings can have a greater impact on overall mood and anxiety for some moms than for others.
  • Sleep deprivation
  • The stress of caring for a tiny, new, helpless human
  • Pressure to be the “perfect parent”
  • Personality type. “Type A” moms, or those who worry easily may be more likely to suffer from PPA.

Risk Factors of Postpartum Anxiety

There are a few factors that make someone at a higher risk of developing PPA, including:

  • History of anxiety pre-pregnancy 
  • History of eating disorder
  • Previous pregnancy loss or death of an infant
  • History of intense mood-related symptoms with your monthly cycle

How Long Does Postpartum Anxiety Last?

Although there is no definitive timeframe for PPA, it is not a permanent condition. Depending on how soon you seek treatment, the recovery time will vary. Untreated anxiety can last forever, so seeking treatment is paramount.

Postpartum Anxiety Treatment

The good news is that there are many remedies for moms dealing with PPA.

It’s very important that you call your healthcare provider or a postpartum anxiety treatment center at the first signs of excessive worry after giving birth. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, overly worried, and/or panicked, tell your OBGYN or the baby’s pediatrician immediately. The doctor will screen you for a postpartum mood disorder and then refer you to a mental health care professional.

Partners of women dealing with PPA are integral in their healing. The partner’s support is more important than ever during the mom’s postpartum anxiety. Partners should reinforce their love, support, and trust in the PPA-sufferer’s parenting abilities. It’s also important for the mom to catch up on sleep — exhaustion is an aggravating factor for PPA, by taking the baby periodically throughout the day so mom can rest. If the partner works or has other obligations, they can call on neighbors, family members, and close friends to take a few “shifts.” Even if the breaks for mom are just 30 minutes, it will still do wonders in mitigating her stress levels. Once the mom is recovered from childbirth, exercise — especially outdoors, can also help decrease anxiety. 

Mild to moderate PPA is commonly treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and other meditation, relaxation, and mindfulness techniques. Moderate to severe cases of PPA are commonly treated using therapy and medication.

With the right kind of treatment and support, new moms dealing with PPA will get better in time.

What to do If You Think You Are Suffering from Postpartum Anxiety

Asking for help is the first step to recovery. It’s also the best thing you can do for yourself and your new baby. Each mom struggles with postpartum anxiety in her own unique way. 

Additionally, each woman responds differently to the different PPA treatment options. This is why it’s so important to find a treatment center that puts you at the core of the treatment plan and puts your unique experience at the forefront when developing a treatment plan.

At Highland Springs Clinic, our staff is experienced at helping new moms cope with postpartum anxiety. We offer leading postpartum anxiety treatment for Utah moms. Our team of compassionate therapists uses an integrated approach that includes both medicine and cognitive behavioral therapy. Our patients have a care team that includes prescribers and therapists who work with them to create a plan that meets each mom’s unique needs. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with excessive worry after the birth of a new baby, contact us today to learn more about how we can help. 

Your path to postpartum anxiety treatment and freedom starts with a phone call. Don’t wait any longer, call us now.

Highland Springs Clinic is here for you.

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