Postpartum anxiety: what you need to know

I feel crazy. Lying in the dark, I often wonder if my mind gets a break even while I sleep; is there ever a time when these debilitating thoughts are not occupying space in my head. I know what I worry about doesn't make sense. It's irrational, illogical, emotional, and crazy. Those words so clearly describe the thoughts in my head, but they certainly don't define me.

According to Postpartum Support International, approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. Most often, postpartum anxiety (also known in the UK as postpartum pyschosis) is experienced alone, but many women will also experience postpartum depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

What's even more frightening is that (in the United States, at least) very few obstetricians screen for anxiety during pregnancy or ask about it after birth. While any new mum can develop postpartum anxiety, those who are especially vulnerable include women with a personal or family history of anxiety or previous experience with depression , eating disorders, or OCD.

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety look very similar to those of other anxiety disorders; constant worry, a feeling that something bad is going to happen to your baby, disturbances in sleep and appetite, racing thoughts and physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, headaches, and nausea are common.

If you have experienced one or more of the following symptoms within 12 months after giving birth, you may be dealing with postpartum anxiety:

  • Racing thoughts and difficulty quieting your mind
  • Constant fear about something bad happening to your baby even though there is no imminent danger
  • Needing constant reassurance by family and medical professionals
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Inability to sleep even though you feel exhausted
  • Many of your thoughts begin with "what if"
  • Excessive worry about your new role as a mum.

Postpartum anxiety has been referred to as the "hidden disorder" because so few mums recognise it and get help. Too many women suffer in silence because they feel their thoughts are crazy and out of control. Many of them hide this debilitating disorder for fear of being found out and judged by those who don't understand it, while others truly have no idea that what they are dealing with is felt by others.

You do not have to suffer alone; help is available. Many modalities such as yoga, meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises, and physical exercise seem to alleviate some of the anxiety felt by new mums. However, many other women may need to seek professional help and actively engage in therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication in order to feel relief.

Sara Lindburg has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counselling. A 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counsellor, she combines 20-plus years' experience in the fitness and counselling fields and she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves on her Facebook page, FitMom. Her inspiration for writing comes from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna. Follow Sara on twitter.


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