Worrying About Your Baby: A Guide to Understanding Postpartum Anxiety

December 5, 2023   •  Posted in: 

The first year of your baby’s life is supposed to be pure bliss – right? Although this may be the case for some parents, it may not be the case for all. New parents deal with many stressful things like lack of sleep, financial struggles, loss of identity, etc.

Almost all parents worry about their babies to an extent, but if these worries take over your life, something deeper may be happening. Postpartum anxiety is a mental health condition that affects up to 1 in 5[1] new mothers. Anyone can get postpartum anxiety, so it’s essential to keep your eyes open for the signs.

The good news is that postpartum anxiety is highly treatable – and our experienced clinical team can help you heal. Here are some things you should know about postpartum anxiety and how you can get help if you need it.

Signs of postpartum anxiety

It’s normal to have some feelings of worry or anxiety after having a baby. Especially if you’re a first-time parent, you might wonder if certain baby behaviors are expected. You might sometimes have doubts about your ability to parent.

But if your worries become persistent or get in the way of your daily functioning, then you could have postpartum anxiety.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of postpartum anxiety include[2]:

  • Constant and excessive worry or fear about your baby’s health and well-being
  • Worries and fears consume you; you can’t put these thoughts to the side
  • Racing thoughts about worst-case scenarios
  • Difficulty sleeping, like insomnia or nightmares
  • Loss of appetite
  • Having physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoiding certain people, places, or things that trigger anxious thoughts
  • Being overly cautious when it comes to your baby
  • Feeling like you can never relax (not because of caretaking duties)
  • Having intrusive thoughts about something horrible happening to the baby
  • Being unable to leave the baby with someone else, even for a short time

These signs can occur during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth or adopting.

Causes of postpartum anxiety

There is no singular cause of postpartum anxiety or any postpartum mental health condition. Experts say many different factors can contribute, including:

Hormonal changes

It’s well-known that the body goes through hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and childbirth. If you are the parent who has given birth, then the hormonal changes your body is going through could affect your mood or stress levels.

Lack of sleep

It’s no secret that new parents tend to be sleep-deprived. Babies need 24/7 care, and that includes during the night. But sleep deprivation can increase your risk of several different mental health concerns, including anxiety. It can also make already existing anxiety worse.

Parenting road bumps

If you face any stressful events while adjusting to a baby – for example, if breastfeeding is a struggle – then this could also be a source of anxiety and stress (on top of childbirth and baby-rearing).

Traumatic childbirth

Some people may experience anxiety, which is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is common for parents who have had a traumatic childbirth experience, like an emergency C-section.

Extra responsibility

Being responsible for another life can also cause anxiety. It might be the first time you’ve had to care for another human being, which can be undeniably stressful.

Lack of social support

New parents who don’t have a solid social network may be at higher risk for postpartum mental health conditions, including anxiety.

History of anxiety or other mental health conditions

If you’ve had an anxiety disorder (or another mental health condition like depression) before, then that could raise your risk of developing anxiety as a new parent.

How is postpartum anxiety diagnosed?

Postpartum anxiety isn’t an official diagnosis in itself. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety during the perinatal period (during pregnancy or after giving birth), then a mental health professional would look at your symptoms and health history and make the appropriate diagnosis.

Some examples of anxiety disorders that you could be diagnosed with include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Unlike postpartum depression, there is no diagnostic measure that indicates the anxiety disorder has come on during the perinatal period. But it’s important to let your mental health provider know you’ve recently become a parent – this is an essential factor that can affect your treatment.

Postpartum anxiety vs. postpartum depression

You’ve probably heard of postpartum depression, a common perinatal mental health condition that affects up to 20% of new mothers[3]. So, how are postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression connected? Are they the same thing?

Postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety are distinct conditions, but they are deeply linked. Research shows that around 2 out of 3 people with postpartum depression also experience an anxiety disorder[4]. These conditions can seriously impact both the parent’s and the baby’s well-being.

These two conditions also share some similarities. For example, both can cause fatigue, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping.

However, some symptoms of PPD differ from postpartum anxiety symptoms. Parents with PPD experience overwhelming feelings of guilt and worthlessness. They may feel hopeless or helpless about parenting or life itself. They may have thoughts about death or suicide (although people with postpartum anxiety can also experience suicidal ideation).

It’s also essential to note postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression aren’t the only two mental health conditions that can affect new parents, even though they’re two of the most common.

Some other mental health conditions that can affect new parents include:

  • Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Causes intrusive, disturbing, and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images (obsessions) and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors to try to get rid of the obsessions (compulsions)
  • Postpartum psychosis: A relatively rare condition in which a person can experience delusions (beliefs that aren’t based on reality) and hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or smelling things that aren’t present)
  • Postpartum bipolar: Depression can sometimes be a feature of bipolar disorder, which causes people to swing between a low mood (depression) and an ecstatic, impulsive, or restless mood (mania or hypomania).

How is postpartum anxiety treated?

If you believe you might be experiencing postpartum anxiety, the most important thing is to talk to your OB-GYN or a mental health provider. Postpartum anxiety is highly treatable, but to receive treatment, you need first to let someone know that something isn’t right.

There are several different treatment options for anxiety disorders, including postpartum anxiety disorder.

One factor you may want to consider when weighing your treatment options is whether you are breastfeeding. Although many psychiatric medications are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, others may not be. Some people may choose not to take medication because of their side effects.

However, in some cases, medication can be beneficial and necessary. It’s okay to take medication if you need it. You should talk to your doctor about the medication options and their possible effects.

Fortunately, medication isn’t your only treatment option when it comes to postpartum anxiety. Some of the most effective treatment options are behavioral and psychological therapies.

Talk therapies, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be very effective for a wide range of anxiety disorders. CBT can help you identify thoughts that lead to anxiety and change or replace these thoughts when necessary. A CBT therapist can also help you change your behavior – such as getting more sleep or exercise.

Some other strategies to manage symptoms of postpartum anxiety include:

  • Trying to get more sleep may be a challenge when raising a newborn, but the more sleep-deprived you are, the more likely you are to experience anxiety.
  • Connect to your social network; having people you can trust and count on can be incredibly helpful during the postpartum period.
  • Join a support group: There may be support groups for new parents in your area. Especially if you don’t have a solid social support system, it may be a good idea to join a support group to connect with others who know what you’re going through.
  • Try to exercise more if you can. Physical activity has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress. You may receive even more mental health benefits if you exercise outside in green areas.
  • Use relaxation techniques like mindfulness or deep breathing. These techniques have been proven to reduce anxiety and calm your body’s stress response.

Postpartum anxiety treatment at The Center • A Place of HOPE

The Center offers various mental health programs that use our unique and proven Whole Person Care approach. We address every aspect of your health and well-being, including physical, mental, spiritual, and more. Our anxiety treatment program uses holistic methods to help you heal all facets of anxiety, including postpartum anxiety.

This time in your life should be joyful, not plagued with anxiety and other mental health concerns. By investing the time now, you can ensure you’re present for your children in the future.

For more information about our programming and admissions, contact us today.

1 – https://europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC6839961&blobtype=pdf
2 – https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22693-postpartum-anxiety
3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519070/
4 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6400346/

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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