By Tanya Correll-Blaha, LCSW
Maternity case manager, social worker - Providence Beginnings
Providence Maternal Care Clinic
Many women read and hear about “baby blues” or postpartum depression, but not as many women are familiar with postpartum anxiety. However, health care providers and others are becoming more aware of how many women experience symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Postpartum anxiety is not normal, but it is common. In fact, 1 in 7 women experience some type of mood disorder in pregnancy or after birth.
Some level of worry is expected
Most pregnant women and new moms experience some level of worry about their pregnancy, labor experience, birth, feeding plan and parenting. Wondering whether you will be a good mother or how you’ll know what to do are common worries among moms to be.
However, in some cases, fears and worries can become preoccupying and distressing. These symptoms can manifest both during pregnancy and anytime during the first year after birth. Being pregnant and having a new baby often prevent a mother from routinely practicing self-care and stress relief.
Hormones can wreak havoc
In pregnancy and the postpartum period, there is an influential hormonal component to both depression and anxiety. Combined with sleep deprivation, anxiety can take hold and feel very surprising and scary. While we don’t fully understand what takes place for each person, there are some risk factors providers can watch for. The good news is that we do know a lot about what can help you feel better.
There’s help available for partners as well. It’s often good to start with a primary care provider, if the partner has one. If not, ask for advice from any qualified health care provider. Partners of women who are experiencing mood disorders in pregnancy and postpartum are at a 50 percent higher likelihood of also experiencing mood disorders themselves.
Common symptoms of postpartum anxiety (each person is different
- Feeling tired or exhausted but unable to sleep (insomnia)
- Feeling agitated and restless
- Being irritable and feeling “on edge”
- Low tolerance for noise or disorganization
- Need or intense drive to take care of things around the house, despite feeling exhausted, such as feeling compelled to do dishes, fold laundry, organize, clean, etc.
- Not feeling satisfied when you complete a task or having feelings of guilt that you are not doing enough
- Constant worry about the baby, such as hyper-vigilance with baby’s breathing or inability to sleep when baby is sleeping
- Invasive, disturbing thoughts about harmful things that could happen to you, the baby or family members
- Changing your behavior due to worry (not driving, avoiding stairs, constant hand-washing for fear of passing germs to your baby, etc.)
It’s normal to have challenging days. However, if your symptoms remain consistent and persist for more than two weeks OR you don’t feel comfortable with your level of coping, please reach out to a professional for help and support.
You will feel better
It is important to know that you will feel better. Here are some things you can do:
- Let your support people know how you are feeling.
- Reach out to your health care provider (OB, primary care provider) to discuss any symptoms you might be experiencing.
- Incorporate breaks and self-care. Your breaks don’t need to take a lot of time or involve a big outing. Consider walking by yourself around the block one time in the morning and one time in the evening, or asking someone to watch the baby while you have a bath. Knowing that you have even a small break to look forward to can be very helpful.
- Get connected with a therapist or counselor who can help with specific strategies to deal with your anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy interventions (short-term, goal-oriented therapy), relaxation and mindfulness techniques can be very effective.
- Consider medication. Many women are fearful about taking medication during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. But, in some cases, medication can be a helpful tool. Your health care provider will help you weigh the risks and benefits of medication. It should be a collaborative conversation with your provider. There are a handful of medications that are compatible with pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you will feel better. There is no reason to be ashamed or to suffer through your anxiety. Asking for help can be hard, but we all need help from time to time. Learning how to ask for help is one key to being a great parent.
To get help, talk with your primary care provider or OB-GYN, or ask your Providence provider about getting connected with a Providence Beginnings maternity social worker/case manager.
Need a provider? Click here to find one near you.
More support and resources
If you’re in Portland, you can find local (online, phone and in-person) resources for moms and dads at Baby Blues Connection.
If you just want to learn more about anxiety, including causes, symptoms and how it can be treated, visit WomensHealth.gov.