Postpartum depression has been in the news quite a bit lately, and that's both good and bad. Around 15% of women suffer from postpartum mood disorders each year, and that is more than the number of people who have a stroke each year. The percentage is staggering and shows that problems coping after birth are real. That's the bad news.
The good news is PPD is finally being discussed openly, helping women come forward and talk about their feelings and seek treatment. However, included in that 15% are women who suffer from postpartum anxiety, a mood disorder that may be connected to PPD but doesn't have to be.
In fact, many women who don't have the symptoms of PPD but still don't feel like themselves will often stop searching for help once PPD is ruled out, but researchers now believe postpartum anxiety may be more common that PPD. If moms don't know enough about postpartum anxiety, they just assume what they are going through is normal.
That's part of the reason diagnosing postpartum anxiety is so hard. Women can't always explain how they feel, and many of their complaints sound like typical, parental complaints. Is mom worried about her baby?
Of course. Is she feeling a little off after giving birth? Who doesn't? When do all of these symptoms add up to being something beyond normal? The answer to that question is different for every woman.
There are differences in PPD and postpartum anxiety, and if mom does not feel like herself, she needs to find out if anxiety is the cause by knowing the signs and seeking her doctor for help.
15Mom Is Worried Constantly
Moms will always worry. No matter how prepared we thought we were when we were pregnant, the love that flows from us when our child is placed in our arms is mixed with a heavy dose of fear. This child is now ours to protect and raise with absolutely no instructions to guarantee we do it right.
There's also worry about the big, bad world we've brought our children into. How will we protect them from all of the evil we now see lurking everywhere?
These are normal questions, but moms with postpartum anxiety let the worry paralyze them and take control over every decision they make. Each day is marred by worry that physically and mentally breaks mom down and leaves her unsure of how to let it go. This kind of worry is often a sign of postpartum anxiety, and mom needs to seek help managing it.
14Mom Is Tense
Again, what mom isn't tense when she is sleep deprived and functioning as a food source for a person who can eat 24 hours a day? All of us experience some level of tension settling into life with an infant, but moms with postpartum anxiety experience it at a much higher level, and they never feel like they get a break.
Tension can cause our bodies to feel tight, resulting in back and headaches. We love our children, but their cries and distress can add to our tension since we are wrapped in a blanket of worry and unsure how to untangle ourselves.
The hard part is we may not even understand why we're tense. Mom can say she is trying to loosen up and enjoy the day, but her mind won't let her, and her brain sends signals that keeps her body in knots.
13Mom Can't Relax, Even If She Has An Opportunity To
Most new moms are more than happy to nap when the baby is napping or take an impromptu hour to themselves when a partner or family member offers to watch the baby. Though a mom with postpartum anxiety may recognize what a gem this opportunity is, her anxiety likely won't let her enjoy it.
Women with anxiety often describe the situation as being unable to relax or rest, even if they are so tired they feel near collapse. They can't stop moving or doing, and they often pace just to keep their bodies going. It makes it very hard for mom to survive that first year when she needs to be snatching rest as often as she can.
Mom's brain conspires against her to keep in her a constant state of emotional turmoil until she feels on the edge of a breaking point.
12Mom Checks On The Baby Obsessively
We all have fears about something awful happening to our children, but most of us are able to deal with these thoughts and let them go as much as possible. If mom is suffering from postpartum anxiety, she won't be able to let them go, and this can lead to her checking on her baby obsessively.
Since it's normal for moms to check on their babies, especially since they can succumb to SIDS or other ailments without making a sound, moms with anxiety do it so obsessively that they have a hard time doing anything else. This obsession can lead to them losing sleep or even waking up the baby just to see that he or she is okay.
Obviously this sort of obsessive checking isn't healthy for anyone, and it can drive mom crazy. If she is not checking on her child, she is often thinking about checking on her child, leaving every second of her existence open to distraction and worry.
11Mom Doesn't Want Anyone Else To Care For Her Child
Some parents are able to leave their baby with the grandparents the first two weeks after birth and go on a date night. Other parents don't want to be separated from their child in those early days. Neither way of parenting is wrong, but if mom finds even months down the road that she is scared to leave her baby with anyone else, postpartum anxiety may be the reason.
If mom just doesn't prefer leaving her child with a family member or close friend, that's fine. However, if mom's problem is an actual fear of being away from her child no matter how much she trusts the person who is with him, that's a problem. In cases of postpartum anxiety, moms may even be afraid to leave their child with their partner.
Mom needs breaks, even if they are short, to get through those early, exhausting days of parenting. If postpartum anxiety steals her opportunities for rest, she will have trouble functioning in her day-to-day life.
10Mom's Thoughts Race
There' a meme that says something to the effect of a woman's brain is like having over a thousand browsers on a computer open at one time. We multitask, we're always thinking, and our brains seem to always be working. For some women, this is just business as usual, but for other women it's a sign of postpartum anxiety.
When mom cannot turn her mind off and meditate on one thought or just leave her mind in a resting mode, that's not a good sign. Postpartum anxiety amps up our brains to run in an out-of-fashion way, and the hormone changes that take place after birth may have us wired to never fully mentally shut down.
Just like our bodies show signs of strain if they don't rest and recover, our minds will as well. If we can't rest our thoughts and they play on a continuous loop, they can make us exhausted, extremely stressed, and scared.
9Mom Has Scary Thoughts
Another problem with our thoughts racing is that the thoughts in our head while we experience postpartum anxiety are not always the best kind. While most people believe scary or unnatural thoughts are strictly a sign of postpartum depression, they can also be a sign of postpartum anxiety.
These thoughts can range in topic, but many involve mom having fear fantasies that have her reliving every bad thing that could happen to her child in detail. While parents are usually able to acknowledge legitimate risks and then move on with life, women with postpartum anxiety get stuck there on a loop.
There is also the possibility that mom may think of hurting herself or her child. Though these thoughts are usually related more to postpartum depression than anxiety, the two can overlap. If mom ever has thoughts like this, she needs to seek help immediately without shame. It's not mom's fault, it's her hormones, and people can help her.
8Mom Has OCD Tendencies
Obsessive compulsive disorder is not always the first thing that pops to mind when people think of postpartum anxiety. However, the two are linked, and one of the first tell-tale signs of postpartum anxiety may be OCD tendencies.
Obsessive compulsive behavior looks like checking to make sure the oven is turned off 15 times or having to drive back to the house daily to make sure the door is locked. When mom has OCD tendencies that surround her baby, it can appear as checking on the baby obsessively while he naps to make sure he is breathing.
It can mean driving back home after leaving him with a partner to make sure there are no small blocks on the floor that the baby can choke on, even if he can't crawl to them yet.
OCD makes us second guess and question our every move, leaving us in a state of perpetual doubt about our own actions.
7Mom Has Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are a sign of postpartum anxiety that are hard to ignore. Mom will feel her heart rate increase, she will usually sweat, and she may even find herself feeling nauseous. Headaches and body aches may also occur, and mom will generally pace and be unable to stop moving during an attack.
These attacks can happen often or sporadically, but they are a definite sign of anxiety in almost every case. The problem is a woman may not be in tune enough with her post-birth body to know this reaction to stress isn't normal.
With hormones out of whack, postpartum bleeding still taking place, and sleep deprivation causing a mental fog, mom may accept these attacks as part of the transition she must suffer to recover from birth.
Panic attacks are scary, and many women report feeling like they can't breathe or like they are being held under water. This is not a normal response to recovering from birth. It's likely postpartum anxiety.
6Mom Has No Appetite
If mom is breastfeeding, she should expect to feel hungry all the time. The baby will take from her body as fast as she can put food in, and this leads to a constant state of wanting food to replenish. However, a woman with postpartum anxiety, even if she is nursing, will likely not feel the desire for food.
She may go long stretches of time without eating, which isn't good for her and can delay her recovery from birth.
Since postpartum anxiety can cause mom to feel sick to her stomach, food often doesn't seem like an enticing idea. Plus, all of the mental strain anxiety causes keeps mom's mind on other things. Mealtimes may pass in a blur, and mom will not even realize she is not consuming any calories.
Over a period of time, this will break mom's body down and add to the problems she is already having.
5Mom Doesn't Sleep
Moms don't get much sleep in the early days of parenting because their baby wakes them up at all hours of the night. That is perfectly normal and will work itself out as the child ages. However, when mom isn't sleeping just because her body won't let her, that could be a sign of postpartum anxiety.
Many moms feel they could fall asleep standing up during that first year home with a baby. Moms with postpartum anxiety feel this too, but their racing minds and overactive bodies won't let them. They are mentally and physically exhausted without the ability to shut down, and this can drive them to tears.
Panic attacks can occur any time of the day, but when they start after the sun sets, mom's chances for sleep are low. The feelings coursing through her veins will keep her up all night and leave her sleep deprived the next day, adding to the already overwhelmed feeling she's sinking in.
4Mom Believes The Worst Is Yet To Come
New parents often look forward to all the milestones in a child's life. The first word and the first step are dreamt about by parents months before they occur. The whole future looks bright with their child, and they aren't afraid to imagine what it will be like. This isn't the case for many women with postpartum anxiety.
Due to all the worrying and racing thoughts, moms often imagine something horrible is just around the corner and that a major bad event is just days away from them. Since postpartum anxiety often centers around the baby, mom's usually fear that the future for her child will be some sort of horrific accident or death that she can't prevent.
Instead of happily skipping into the future, mom is panicked about what the next day will bring.
This is a natural consequence of the chronically wound up feeling people with anxiety suffer. There's no way to look forward to the future when the mind is feeding us fear and worry all day and night.
3Mom Doesn't Feel Like Herself
One reason moms sometime have a hard time being accurately diagnosed with postpartum anxiety is because they don't know how to explain what it feels like and that it is different from usual. When a woman becomes a mom, it's normal for her to feel different and for her emotions to be off, so she may have a hard time explaining that these feelings are something more without having those around her tell her what she is feeling is normal for any mom.
It's important for mom to persist in receiving a diagnosis, no matter what anyone else says. We know our minds and bodies better than anyone, and we know when something is wrong. Because anxiety can feel like a low-level sense of panic that never fully lets up, we can recognize this as distinctly different from run-of-the-mill stress. It feels more like trauma we can't articulate, but we know we want it to stop.
2Mom Is Afraid To Be Judged
Though postpartum depression and mood disorders are no longer behind the scenes issues that can't be discussed in public, women still struggle with shame when coming forward about them. Since postpartum anxiety is just now making its way into the public eye, it may be even harder for a mom to say she has anxiety without feeling like those around her are judging her.
However, the truth is that mom may find allies in unexpected places since more women suffer from postpartum anxiety than was previously known. Mom does not have to be diagnosed with PPD to feel like she can talk about her experience. Postpartum anxiety can be debilitating and difficult to live with, and it's not mom's fault that it is occurring.
Seeking treatment from a doctor and then support from a group of like-minded moms is a great way to heal.
1Mom Passes The PPD Assessment But Knows Something Is Wrong
Most OBs give mom a written quiz when she comes to her first appointment weeks after birth for a check up. The questions center around PPD, and they try to assess whether or not mom has signs of the disorder. OBs also usually ask mom questions that help her figure out if mom is depressed or having dark thoughts since becoming a mother.
These assessments are helpful when diagnosing PPD, but they are often not comprehensive enough to diagnose postpartum anxiety. While PPD and PPA symptoms can overlap, they don't always, and a mom who is only suffering from anxiety-specific symptoms will be told she is fine and sent home after taking this assessment unless she speaks up.
If mom feels like she is not herself, even if she doesn't fully understand why, she needs to talk to her doctor or midwife about what she is experiencing.
Sources: Womensmentalhealth.org, Postpartumprogress.com, Babymed.com, Parents.com
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