Postpartum Anxiety vs. Postpartum Depression

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and with more moms than ever discussing their experiences with postpartum depression, those suffering won’t feel quite as alone. Most women are familiar with postpartum depression, the overwhelming sadness that can hit after having a baby. And although you’re bound to be physically and emotionally exhausted after becoming a new mom, what’s considered a normal state after having a baby? Do you feel like yourself? Here’s the bad news: you could be suffering from the baby blues, postpartum depression (PPD) OR postpartum anxiety (PPA), a close relative of PPD. The upside? There’s treatment for all three of them, you just have to know what you’re dealing with. This guide goes over postpartum anxiety vs. postpartum depression, and what you can do to weather the storm and thrive as a new mom.


What is Postpartum Anxiety?

Are you a new mom who feels a little off since giving birth? Do you find yourself worrying constantly and unable to focus on much of anything? Are you restless, having trouble sleeping and feeling irritable all the time? If you’re already aware of postpartum depression and your symptoms don’t seem to fit that, you may be suffering from postpartum anxiety. Postpartum anxiety disorder affects about 10 percent of new moms, according to the American Pregnancy Association. It’s considered a cousin of postpartum depression and unfortunately, it can go undiagnosed because it’s lacking the standard symptoms that raise the depression red flag. Unlike PPD, which causes mothers overwhelming sadness and a loss of interest in their own newborn, postpartum anxiety manifests mainly in the form of chronic worry. Moms have described it as feeling constantly worried and on edge. You lose your normal sense of balance and calm with postpartum anxiety.


Baby Blues, Postpartum Anxiety or Postpartum Depression, Which Is It?

The baby blues is usually marked as a short-term sadness after having a baby and lasts typically no more than two weeks. Postpartum depression results in full-blown depression-like symptoms, which can include sadness, a lack of interest in your baby or your everyday life activities, excessive sleep, etc. Postpartum anxiety, then, causes chronic worry, changes in eating and sleeping, dizziness, hot flashes, rapid heartbeat and nausea. You may also find yourself tired all the time, unable to sit still or focus on a particular task. Because postpartum depression is talked about more and is the most recognizable of the three conditions, postpartum anxiety can go unnoticed for a lot of women. And it’s actually more common for women to experience postpartum anxiety. Researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany tracked 1,024 women during the first three months after giving birth and found that more than 11 percent experienced postpartum anxiety disorders, while 6 percent developed postpartum depression symptoms. They also found that about half of the women who had PPD also had anxiety.

How You Can Develop Postpartum Anxiety

Usually these types of disorders happen after you’ve given birth but 25 to 35 percent of postpartum anxiety cases begin during pregnancy. And while symptoms usually show up shortly after giving birth, you can also have a stressful event trigger PPA months later. What makes postpartum anxiety particularly difficult is that anxiety is a natural response to a big event such as bringing a baby into the world. What if the baby suffocates? What if she goes under water during a bath? What if someone kidnaps her? These mind-racing thoughts are all normal and part of the experience that is motherhood. For most moms, they are easily dismissable.  

On the other hand, if you find your worries are irrational, like you need to hold your baby 24/7 or if everyday situations such as driving somewhere with your baby lead to panic attacks or an inability to function, you may be dealing with postpartum anxiety. What causes postpartum anxiety? A few things. For starters, your body has experienced a huge hormonal shift―estrogen and progesterone levels increase 10 to 100 percent during pregnancy and then fall to zero within 24 hours of delivery. You’re also dealing with sleep deprivation, changes to your relationship and round-the-clock care of a newborn. On top of that, society tells you that it’s the happiest time of your life and you should just “instinctively know” what to do. All of those pressures and changes can cause a lot of women to come unglued. Any new mom can develop postpartum anxiety but those with a personal or family history of anxiety or depression as well as moms who’ve experienced a miscarriage are all somewhat more susceptible.


How Do You Treat Postpartum Anxiety?

There’s one very important thing to note when it comes to postpartum anxiety: it doesn’t always go away on its own. If left untreated, it can stick with you indefinitely. It’s crucial to seek help if your sleep is disrupted or you’re constantly worrying. In mild cases, just having someone to talk to or help with taking care of your baby can make a big difference. If the overwhelm never seems to let up, it may be time to talk with your ob-gyn for a therapy referral. Look for therapists who are experts with perinatal mood disorders or that specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps change the thought and behavior patterns associated with anxiety. They may also suggest you try breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness techniques, which help you remain in the present moment rather than letting your mind drift into future “worst case” scenarios with your baby. Exercise and getting fresh air can also do wonders for women who are suffering from postpartum anxiety.   

Whatever the course of treatment, it’s important to remember that you are normal. This isn’t about your ability to be a good mom to your baby. Postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression can be overcome with time and the right treatment. When you’re doing the best that you can as a mom, there’s no reason to think this is just a short blip in an otherwise happy and exciting time in your life.  

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