Postpartum Anxiety

Developing anxiety after having a baby is not uncommon. According to a 2018 study, 1 in 5 women are highly anxious during the postpartum period, which begins after the birth of the newborn. The end of the postpartum period is less well-defined. It is thought to end between 6 weeks and 6 months after the baby is born.1

Anxiety during and after pregnancy

More than 40 percent of women who were anxious during early postpartum were still anxious in late postpartum. But anxiety levels after childbirth were lower than those during pregnancy. Pregnant women may worry about giving birth or about the baby's health. These fears lessen after the baby is born.1

There is an overlap between postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression. In the 2018 study, 3 in 4 women with postpartum anxiety were depressed. The authors of the study suggest women should be screened for both anxiety and depression after giving birth.1

What causes postpartum anxiety?

Your brain chemistry's response to hormones may contribute to postpartum anxiety. You are also exhausted and caring for a baby who is fragile. You must deal with life stressors, too. Your relationship with your partner may change. Worries about money may also come into play.2,3

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Having a miscarriage or stillbirth in the past may increase anxiety. Problems at the start of breastfeeding can cause you to be anxious. So can the hormonal changes that come with the stopping of breastfeeding. A negative birthing experience can lead to postpartum anxiety. Difficulty comforting your baby or a lack of social support are also other possible factors.3

Bonding with baby

Postpartum anxiety can lead to other problems. It can make bonding with your baby harder. You may also be less likely to breastfeed. You may develop depression as well as anxiety. Your baby may have delayed mental and social development.4

Having postpartum anxiety is not your fault. You did not do anything wrong to cause it. But getting treatment means better outcomes for both you and your child.4

What are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety?

A wide range of symptoms related to postpartum anxiety exists. These symptoms can be both physical and emotional.2

Physical symptoms may include:2

  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Stomachaches

Emotional symptoms may include:2

  • Irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Obsession over scary events that are very unlikely to come true
  • Forgetfulness or difficulty focusing
  • Feeling overwhelmed by daily activities

Panic attacks and OCD with postpartum anxiety

Some women develop panic attacks as part of their postpartum anxiety. They may feel like disaster is right around the corner. The extreme anxiety of a panic attack can cause:2,3

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • A racing heart

Severe anxiety may include symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD presents as persistent negative thoughts and compulsions to act on them. These compulsions, or rituals, can include excessive washing or constant checking on the baby.5

New mothers may worry that something bad could happen to their baby at any time. They might even worry about harming the baby themselves. They may try to deal with their anxiety by performing these OCD rituals. But it only worsens their anxiety in the end.3,5

Diagnosis and treatment

No single diagnostic test for postpartum anxiety exists. The best thing to do is to be honest about what you are going through. The stigma of mental illness still runs deep. But having postpartum anxiety does not make you a bad person – or mother. The first step toward healing is finding a professional with whom you are comfortable working. You deserve empathy, not judgment.2

Treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps you replace negative thoughts and actions with healthier thoughts and behavior. You learn more productive ways to respond to stress. CBT usually takes place over several 1-on-1 sessions.2

Medication options

Medicine may help with postpartum anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly used drugs for postpartum anxiety. SSRIs raise the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the brain, or neurotransmitter. It carries messages between brain cells called neurons. SSRIs stop serotonin from being reabsorbed into neurons. More serotonin is then available to improve signals between neurons.2,6

Other anxiety management techniques

Some lifestyle changes can ease anxiety symptoms. Regular exercise, such as relaxation techniques in yoga, is useful. So is maintaining a healthy diet. Getting enough sleep is important when dealing with postpartum anxiety. You can ask for help with childcare or chores.2

There is no exact timeline for postpartum anxiety. It does not last forever, though. Getting treatment will help you manage your symptoms along the way.2

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.