Baby Steps: Taking on Postpartum Anxiety

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When it comes to a serious issue like postpartum anxiety, remember: It’s OK to not feel OK.

The journey through parenthood is filled with so many joys and special moments—but there is a dark side that is oftentimes masked by carefully curated photos on social media. The pressure to strive for perfection is amplified by the internet and not enough people are talking about the struggle that roughly 20% of moms experience. I’m talking about postpartum anxiety and depression: phrases that I want every mother to feel comfortable saying, be it to themselves, a spouse, a friend or a doctor. Let’s start a conversation about the basics.

What is Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are forms of depression and anxiety that occur after having a baby, and they’re more extreme than “baby blues.” It’s natural for many new moms to experience baby blues after birth (a few days to one to two weeks is common), but when things like thinking of self-harm, having constant worry and struggling with emotions interfering with daily life, it’s most likely postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. 

Each mom’s postpartum journey is unique, including how often symptoms occur and for how long. However, according to the National Institute on Mental Health, postpartum depression is defined as a mood disorder that affects women after childbirth, marked by feelings of “extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others.” 

Some common signs of postpartum depression are:

  • Excessive crying, or crying more intensely and more often than usual

  • Withdrawing from loved ones and the baby

  • Severe mood swings and feelings of depression

  • Feelings of anger

  • Worrying you’ll hurt the baby

  • Major changes in appetite; loss of appetite or excessive eating

  • Doubting your ability to care for the baby, and feeling guilty about not being a good parent

  • Feeling disconnected and from your baby; having difficulty bonding

Postpartum anxiety comes with an elevated level of anxiety, so much so that it may cause panic or anxiety attacks. According to the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health, postpartum anxiety is a form of generalized anxiety that occurs post-birth, defined by “persistent and excessive worries, feelings of tension, and inability to relax” that often “are focused on the baby, his or her health and safety.”

Many times, women experiencing postpartum anxiety share also symptoms that are also seen in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), such as intrusive and unwanted thoughts that are out of line with her normal personality. For example, a woman may become consumed with the irrational worry that she may accidentally smother her baby, and perhaps she develops non-constructive habits to cope with her unstoppable anxiety and fears.

If you’re going through either of these issues, know that you can lean on your village—there are people there to love and support you as you feel more comfortable opening up. 

“What Can I Do?”

To even ask yourself this question means you’re taking a first step toward healing—it’s a hugely brave and courageous move! Don’t be afraid to ask for help; chances are there is someone in your life who feels the same and who can empathize. When it comes to a serious issue like postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: It’s 100 percent OK to not feel OK! Trust your intuition—if something feels off, it probably is. 

To make a serious issue like postpartum anxiety easier to address, consider making an action plan––a list of small things to do that lead up to a larger event or task––to empower yourself to take small steps toward your goal. For example, an action plan could include having a heart-to-heart talk with your partner, followed later by meeting with a doctor—all with the ultimate goal of setting an appointment and talking to someone about what you’re experiencing. 

You can also seek out support groups online, or locally in-person, to chat with other moms who are, or have been, in your shoes. Keeping a diary or journal is another cathartic option where you can share your honest thoughts and feelings in a safe space, until you’re ready to take the next steps. Some moms also recommend adding movement to your routine as a way to physically work out some of the stress and anxiety, which can be as simple as a walk or as involved as a workout—talk to your doctor about a routine that is reasonable and attainable for you.

Whatever you do, go easy on yourself, and remember that you aren’t––and never are––alone.