Tackling new mom stress: postpartum anxiety

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

Congratulations! Your entire life has changed with the arrival of your new little one! And while that arrival brings baby snuggles and coos over just how tiny their toes are, this period can also present challenges and struggles.

The postpartum period is one of massive hormonal shifts, physical pain and healing, and adjustment to a new schedule revolving around a little being. With this in mind, it is completely natural to not feel like yourself for the first few weeks. This period of time is often referred to as the “baby blues,” and it is characterized by weepiness, worrying, stress, impatience, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, mood changes, and difficulty concentrating. But postpartum anxiety is more than just the “baby blues” and is completely separate from the more-talked-about postpartum depression.

Postpartum anxiety includes constant or near constant worry, feelings of dread and fear, sleep disruption (not related to your newborn’s sleep), racing thoughts, feeling on edge or tense with no relief, and an overwhelming stress and concern about being a parent. Additionally, physical symptoms of postpartum anxiety may include feeling jittery, an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, chest pain, or panic attacks. These symptoms extend past the natural tendency to worry about your child and your parenting and begin to impact daily living and functioning. Symptoms of postpartum anxiety typically develop a few weeks after the birth of your child, but may develop as early as during pregnancy or as late as into the child’s first year of life.

Certain factors put some new moms at a higher risk of developing postpartum anxiety than others. Mothers who have a previous diagnosis of anxiety, who have a family history of anxiety, have a history of disordered eating, or who deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to suffer from this type of anxiety. Additionally, many women who experience postpartum anxiety also experience postpartum depression.

When it comes to addressing postpartum anxiety, the first step is talking with your support people and your Ob-Gyn or primary care physician. Talk with people who are safe and can offer you support and direction during this new and challenging period. Scheduling an appointment with a therapist is also recommended so that you have the opportunity to learn useful skills. Medication may also become an option and there are several medications that are safe to take if you have chosen to breastfeed your little one.

As for skills you can implement immediately – it all comes back to self-care. Part of the postpartum anxiety experience is worrying that you are unable to care for your child, and one of the foundational, yet seemingly contradictory pieces of caring for your child involves caring for yourself. Work with your support system to create time for you to rest and tend to your own health and healing. Connect with others, either virtually or in person, who are in a similar stage of life. Extend yourself some self-compassion and remember that just as your new baby is learning how to be in this world, you too are learning how to be a parent for them.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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