Inside: Symptoms, risk factors, and tips for managing postpartum anxiety.
When I had my first baby, I remember getting sent home from the hospital and thinking, “How in the world are we going to do this?” We had been in the hospital for 4 nights due to an emergency c section and some difficulty I was having with breastfeeding. Honestly, I didn’t want to leave! At the hospital, we had all of the experts helping us with feeding and making sure that our baby was ok. I remember getting into our car and my husband driving no more than 40 miles an hour on the highway, because we were both afraid we were going to break our little bundle of joy.
Then the challenges with feeding continued, and I was constantly second guessing myself as a mom. Despite having a background in children, I felt like I had no idea how to take care of a baby. Not to mention the fact that I’m a girl who likes her 9 hours of sleep so sleep deprivation felt devastating to me. What I didn’t realize was that I was experiencing more anxiety than what was normal for a new mom.
According to Postpartum Support International, about 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. This number is probably not completely accurate because many moms don’t know that what they’re experiencing is postpartum anxiety so like me, they may not seek help. Although this can be a debilitating illness, there is hope. Once a mom who is suffering from postpartum anxiety gets help, there is a great chance she can learn to overcome it with the right tools.
Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety
It can be hard to tell if what you’re feeling as a new mom is a natural response to having a baby. Most moms worry from time to time, especially those who are new at it. From worrying about if your baby is getting enough milk to how will you find time to do housework, there is plenty to worry about.
But when the worry becomes something that interferes with your ability to care for yourself or your baby, that’s when you might need to seek professional help. Other symptoms of postpartum anxiety are:
- Constant worry that you can’t turn off.
- Sleep and appetite disturbance.
- Physical symptoms like nausea, hot flashes, heart pounding, dizziness.
- Racing thoughts.
- Feeling like something bad is going to happen.
There are some things that might make you more likely to experience postpartum anxiety than other moms. Some of those risk factors include:
- Family history of anxiety.
- Previous diagnosis of anxiety or other mood disorders.
- A traumatic birth experience.
- Lack of social or familial support.
- Previous pregnancy loss or death of an infant.
- Thyroid imbalance, diabetes, and other endocrine disorders.
- Abrupt discontinuation of breastfeeding.
- Financial strain.
Getting Help With Postpartum Anxiety
Asking for help can sometimes be the hardest part about recovering from any mental illness. Navigating the challenges of motherhood is hard enough, especially when you have an infant and are only getting a few hours of sleep a night. Not to mention the fact that you have to admit that you need help before you can ask. But as I’m sure you probably already know, you can’t be a good mom to your baby if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Even making small changes in your day can help you overcome anxiety. Here are a few places to start:
Get regular exercise:
This can even mean putting your baby in a stroller and going for a 15 minute walk. Your exercise routine may not look like it did before you had kids, and that’s ok. The point is to get some fresh air and get your body moving.
Mindfulness means staying in the present moment. Anxiety has a way of getting you caught up in regret about things you haven’t done or what might happen in the future. Doing things like taking just a few minutes to take a some deep breaths can help you refocus your thoughts to what’s going on right now.
The 5 senses exercises is another great way to help you focus on the here and now. The 5 senses exercise is thinking about 1 thing you can see, 1 thing you can hear, 1 thing you can feel, 1 thing you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. You can do this from anywhere and it only takes a few minutes. It’s a great way to help you get grounded.
If you have a little more time, like maybe when your baby is napping, yoga can be another great mindfulness tool. Yoga has many benefits for moms including relieving stress, making you stronger, and increasing your balance. You can read more about why I love yoga in my previous post, 5 Reasons Yoga is Crazy Good For Moms.
There are tons of great free yoga videos online that you can do from your own home. One of my favorites is Yoga With Adriene. She has a really soothing voice and offers different types of yoga to help with specific issues you may want to work on. Instagram is another good resource for finding yoga videos that you can do from anywhere.
Sometimes just finding time or remembering to eat can be a real struggle for moms. It’s easy to get so caught up in taking care of everyone else that you forget to feed yourself. But fueling our bodies with adequate nutrition is crucial to being the best version of ourselves. Our bodies need vitamins and minerals in order to function. Did you know that your body creates serotonin from carbohydrates? Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that influences many of your bodily functions, including your mood.
Keep some easy healthy snacks on hand so that you don’t have to think too hard about getting adequate nutrition. Snacks high in protein are the best for fueling your body and giving you a little boost until you can actually sit down for a meal. A few of my favorite go to snacks are: cheese sticks, yogurt, hummus or guacamole and carrot sticks, or a handful of almonds.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
If you’re a new mom, you may be thinking how am I supposed to get enough sleep when my baby doesn’t sleep longer than two hours at a time? This is a valid thought and your sleep is definitely going to be different now that you’re a mom. Even sleeping when the baby sleeps, may feel impossible to you because your sleep cycle is so off now that you’re up all hours of the night. But talk to your friends and family about how you can get some help to make sure you’re at least getting 6 hours a sleep at night, even if that time is broken into smaller chunks throughout the day.
Support from other moms
We’ve all heard the term “it takes a village to raise a child“. But until you become a mom, you probably don’t get what that really means. It means that it’s entirely impossible to do it on your own. Maybe you’re a single mom and you HAVE to do it on your own, but are you really doing ok? If you’re an introvert like me, the idea of meeting a mom at the playground and actually asking her to hang out probably seems like the last thing you want to do.
Luckily, there are groups out there who have made the getting to know you part a little easier. I joined a local moms club when my 2nd was only 6 weeks old, because getting out of the house was a must for us. Looking back now, I honestly don’t know how I would have survived without those moms. Now I consider some of them my best friends. When we moved last year, we even moved into a new home in the same neighborhood so we wouldn’t lose those connections.
If you live in a more rural area, one good thing that has come out of the pandemic is that now many of these groups meet virtually. So there really is something for everyone. PSI has a list of free support groups on their website and meetup.com is another good place to look if you aren’t sure what’s available in your area.
Seek professional help
If you’ve tried these things and still feel like you spend more time worrying than not, it may be time to seek professional help. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been found to be very effective in treating postpartum anxiety as well as postpartum depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, helps you identify problematic thoughts that lead to unhelpful behavior. With a therapist you can learn to reframe those thoughts to positive thoughts and develop healthier habits or behaviors.
Some people need medication to give them the extra boost they need to manage their anxiety. Unfortunately there is a stigma about mental health and even more so about taking medication to manage it. Just because you take medication for anxiety or depression, it doesn’t mean that you are weak and it definitely doesn’t mean you are crazy! It may be something you only need temporarily and it can be like training wheels to help you use the coping skills you learn in therapy. No matter what getting help looks like for you, remember that this too shall pass.
If you’re in the state of Georgia, feel free to reach out to see if counseling with me would be a good fit!