Postpartum Anxiety: The “Hidden Disorder” Affecting New Moms

After giving birth, it’s normal to experience the “baby blues” – a collection of negative emotions caused by hormonal fluctuations and new life stressors. If left unaddressed, these symptoms can spiral into full-fledged mental illness. Postpartum depression is heavily researched and openly discussed by parents and doctors alike, but there’s another mood disorder affecting new moms: postpartum anxiety. PPA is often called the “hidden disorder,” because so few mothers recognize its symptoms or seek treatment. Today, we’ll explain how to identify and overcome postpartum anxiety.

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

Unlike postpartum depression, which can cause women to experience deep sadness and disconnection from their newborn, postpartum anxiety manifests in the form of extreme worry. Characterized by racing thoughts and constant fear, PPA causes hypervigilance surrounding the newborn and other aspects of a mother’s life. On an evolutionary level, this makes sense: new moms should be on the lookout for potential threats to their offspring. In instances of PPA, this instinct is taken too far.
Perhaps the most disturbing symptom of postpartum anxiety is a sudden stream of intrusive, frightening thoughts. They are negative, repetitive, and may come in the form of images or mental monologue. Some moms worry about things happening to their child passively – what if he is hurt or falls out of my arms? Others imagine that they will hurt their baby on purpose – what if I just throw him against the wall? What if I drive off the road with him in the car?
Because these thoughts are intrusive and so intensely upsetting, this symptom is often left completely undiscussed, resulting in many mothers who believe they are losing their minds, but avoid seeking help altogether. These moms feel tortured and may begin restricting activities where they could potentially harm the baby; they don’t want to “snap.”
The American Pregnancy Association estimates that while around 15% of new moms will develop postpartum depression, 10% will be diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. Some studies indicate that PPA may even be more common than PPD, but it is generally underreported or brushed off as normal.
Women may experience depression along with their anxiety, or they may just have anxiety unaccompanied by other symptoms. PPA can also include postpartum panic disorder, which means that women will have panic attacks along with their general feelings of worry.

How Long Does Anxiety Last?

Postpartum depression and anxiety are generally defined as issues arising within the first four to six weeks after giving birth, but recent research suggests that this timeframe is unrealistic.

It would be immensely comforting to have an expected end date for PPA – however, each woman’s experience is unique, meaning that the length of an episode is dependent on a number of variables, including:

  • The severity of your PPA
  • Personal history of anxiety/depression
  • Home environment, safety
  • Level of support from spouse, friends, and family
  • How long you waited to reach out for help
  • Amount of time dedicated to treatment and self-care

Generally, with proper treatment, it’s accepted that postpartum anxiety should be resolved by the time your baby turns one. You may still experience some low-grade anxiety over time.

Above all else, it’s vital to recognize the symptoms early and get help as soon as possible.

Signs of Postpartum Anxiety

While only 6% of pregnant women will develop anxiety, that number jumps to 10% for those who have just given birth. Certain factors put some people more at risk than others, including personal or family history with an anxiety disorder, previous postpartum depression or anxiety, or a thyroid imbalance.

General signs of postpartum anxiety include:

  • Constant worrying
  • Fear that something bad is going to happen
  • Changes in eating habits, sleeping habits
  • Uncontrollable, racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble remaining still
  • Physical tension
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Intrusive thoughts
It’s important to note that, just as with any mental health concern, everyone’s experience of PPA will be characterized by different symptoms. You may experience some of the below issues and not others, or you may have additional concerns not listed here. If you suspect that you or a loved one are struggling with postpartum anxiety, the best course of action is to seek immediate treatment.

Proven Treatment for PPA

No matter how short-lived or intense your symptoms are, healing is possible. The first step is to be screened and receive your diagnosis. Once you’ve spoken with a licensed clinician, they can work with you to create a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.
With proper, professional care, anxiety symptoms can be alleviated, and quality of life can improve. Your postpartum anxiety treatment should involve healthy self-care practices, support group meetings, regular physician consultation, the establishment of a solid support system, and private counseling services. Some women see results in just a few weeks, while others benefit from long-term supportive care. Whatever your situation, professional help can be the key to overcoming postpartum anxiety.

Postpartum Mental Health Care

The joy of bringing a new life into the world is one of the most rewarding parts of parenthood, but it can trigger a wide range of intense emotions. If these feelings morph into depression or anxiety, it’s vital that you receive professional help as soon as possible.
The Pine Grove Women’s Clinic specializes in prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum mental health care. We provide support for women experiencing psychiatric disorders at all stages of pregnancy, from medication management to dedicated, individualized therapies. If you or a loved one are struggling with postpartum anxiety, call 1-888-574-4673 today.

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