Overcoming Postpartum Anxiety

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.

Risk Factors

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.

Practice mindfulness:

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.

Balanced Diet

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!

Navigating Maternal Mental Health

Did you know that 1 in 7 women experience either postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety after having a baby? The good news is that there is help. Before I started specializing in helping moms, I had no idea how prevalent postpartum depression and anxiety are. I also didn’t realize how many resources are available.

I know that as moms, we often put our own needs on the back burner because we’re busy taking care of our families. Sometimes even if you know something isn’t right, you might not know how to get the help you need. Not only is there a huge stigma attached to mental health and admitting that you need help, but it can also be overwhelming making it hard to know where to start.

Fighting The Stigma

In fact, I’m pretty sure that I had undiagnosed postpartum depression with my first child. My OBGYN actually prescribed an antidepressant when I went for my check up. I couldn’t stop crying and I had answered a few questions about how I was feeling. But at the time, I was so against taking medicine even as a therapist who was recommending it to her clients! I was just so afraid of how it would make me feel. I worried if it was ok to take while I was breastfeeding. After talking to some friends, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who thought being a mom was hard.

This made me feel better and I never took the prescription that I had filled. But after years of suffering and having multiple professionals recommend antidepressants, I finally agreed to try them. Through lots of trial and error, I’m finally happier than I have ever been. I just wish that I hadn’t waited so long to accept help.

It’s ok to not be ok, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better. Getting help doesn’t make you weak. It actually makes you stronger! If you’re feeling sad or overwhelmed to the point that you think it’s interfering with your ability to take care of yourself or your child, you may need to seek professional help. If you don’t know where to start, here are some websites to guide you through the process.

5 Maternal Mental Health Resources

1. Postpartum Support International

Postpartum Support International is full of resources for moms and their support systems. They have FREE online support groups as well as a helpline that you can call or text and someone will call you back to answer your questions or connect you with resources. They also have an online directory of qualified perinatal mental health providers so that you can easily find someone to help in your area.

2. Mother To Baby

Mother To Baby is an organization that is full of information about the safety of medications and other exposures during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It can be scary to think about whether or not it’s worth the risk to take medication for depression or anxiety while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. But sometimes the risk far outweighs the cost of not getting help. Mother To Baby can answer your questions with expert, confidential, and no cost information via phone, text, email, or chat.

3. National Postpartum Depression Warmline- 1-800-PPD-MOMS

This is the toll free number that you can all to reach a volunteer at Postpartum Support International who will help connect you with resources for postpartum depression or anxiety in your area.

4. Psychology Today

Psychology Today is a free database of therapists, psychiatrists, and other mental health providers. You can simply enter your zip code and search for professionals by name, zip code, or city. You can also read a brief description of the services each person offers and request an appointment from there.

5. Call Your Insurance Company or Healthcare Provider

Most doctors have some training in mental health and can complete an assessment to see if you might need specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders. Your OBGYN should be able to provide you with some referrals to psychiatrists or therapists in your area. You can also call the phone number on the back of your insurance card to request a list of referrals.

Other Resources For Moms

2020 Mom

2020 Mom is an organization that works to close the gaps in maternal mental health. They offer trainings for professionals and resources to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health.

Our aim was to shine a light on the problem, change the narrative from calling the range of disorders “postpartum depression” to “Maternal Mental Health Disorders” and identify the barriers and solutions.”

2020 Mom

You can become can become an ambassador for maternal mental health by doing good deeds to help raise awareness. Share your postpartum story to help other moms see that they aren’t alone and 2020 Mom may post it on their website.

Push Thru Podcast

The Push Thru Podcast is written by fellow maternal mental health therapist, Keisha Reaves. She talks about postpartum depression, her own postpartum story, and other challenges of motherhood. Keisha also has a private practice in Atlanta, Georgia where she specializes in treating moms. She has made it her mission to normalize therapy and assists women who are trying to conceive, have infertility issues, currently pregnant, adjusting to motherhood, dealing with postpartum depression or have experienced infant loss.

Running In Triangles

Running In Triangles is a blog written by two moms who are also sisters. Their goal is to help spread the message that motherhood isn’t a competition and there isn’t one perfect way to do it. They have lots of good resources on their website about motherhood from maternal mental health, to breastfeeding, and even gift guides.

The Blue Dot Project

The Blue Dot Project was created by Peggy O’Neil Nosti, a mom who suffered from postpartum anxiety with her third child who wanted to find a way to let other moms know they were not alone. Peggy created a subtle image of a blue dot and a silver lining to illustrate hope. 

The symbol was selected by the former National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health after one of its member organizations, Postpartum Support International hosted a contest to seek symbol ideas. The symbol is now being used in multiple ways to promote awareness and solidarity. 

You can help the Blue Dot Project by participating in their annual Blue Dot Run and join together in solidarity with other women to lift the stigma and shame surrounding maternal mental health.

Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts

Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts is a book written by Karen Kleiman, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center. It’s filled with stigma busting cartoons that help moms validate their feelings, share their fears, and start feeling better. It’s a great resource for busy moms, their partners, and families.

Pickles & Ice Cream

Pickles & Ice Cream is a web platform dedicated to providing all the prenatal and postpartum information you need. It’s a place you can connect with other moms through message boards, gain valuable information about motherhood, and join their online groups or classes tailored to specific topics.

I hope these resources help you navigate the challenges of maternal mental health. If you want to talk to a licensed professional contact us to schedule a free consultation to see how we can help. Remember, you are not alone!