Today, new moms understand that they may experience “the baby blues” and maybe even postpartum depression. These are two very real possibilities that they prepare for. But there’s another common condition that new moms develop after having a baby that is less talked about: postpartum anxiety.
While it’s normal to have anxiety and fears that revolve around a new baby, it is important to recognize when these fears and anxiety surpass “normal” and need to be addressed with a professional.
Is Anxiety Normal After Having a Baby?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, postpartum anxiety affects about 10% of new moms. Symptoms include excessive worrying and racing thoughts, as you see in other anxiety disorders, only these worries and thoughts are centered around the baby’s wellbeing:
- What if they stop breathing in the middle of the night and die?
- What if they manage to swallow a toy and suffocate?
- What if someone kidnaps them from daycare?
New moms are fraught with these fears about their newborn dying or getting hurt, which again, is normal. Consider the following scenarios:
Your newborn son won’t stop crying. He barely made a peep the first week, but now the tears won’t stop. You and your husband try everything you can think of to soothe him: you offer him a bottle, but he refuses; you attempt a game of peek-a-book but he’s uninterested; you lay him down for a nap, but he continues bawling. After a couple hours of this, you’re sure something is wrong and rush to the doctor’s office.
It’s the first night home from the hospital, and your baby is fast asleep in your arms. You’re exhausted yourself and looking forward to sleeping in your own bed—but you’re hesitant to lay your newborn down in her crib. You can’t imagine putting her down and walking away to the other room. “What if the baby monitor doesn’t work properly? What if something happens to her and I’m not there to help her?” You decide to sleep in the chair next to her crib instead of your bed in the next room over.
These are normal scenarios that you might just find yourself in (or maybe you’ve already been there a time or two). However, if your fears or worries become excessive and unmanageable, making day to day functioning difficult, they need to be addressed with the help of a professional.
Signs of Postpartum Anxiety: Are You Paralyzed with Fear? Are You Hovering?
As we’ve established, postpartum anxiety is characterized by out-of-control worry and anxiety surrounding your newborn. Here are some additional symptoms to look out for:
- Feelings of dread
- Lack of focus
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Dizziness and hot flashes
- Quickened heartbeat
If you think that you might have postpartum anxiety, consider your fears and your responses to these fears, as this is the biggest determining factor: Are you able to control your fears? Or, are you paralyzed with fear that won’t go away and responding accordingly?
Addie Takats, a new mom to a now 11-month-old, developed postpartum anxiety and refused to leave her son’s side. “I had trouble allowing others to help me with my baby. I never truly got rest because even if my spouse or family were helping, I was hovering. I couldn’t trust anyone to take care of him the way I could. I felt tied to his existence and felt like I couldn’t leave his side for a second because he might fail to exist without me,” she explains. “Even when my son slept, I found I had trouble sleeping. It was not a happy time for me.”
Fortunately, with the help of her loved ones, Takats realized that she had a problem and sought the right help to address it. “Thankfully, my friends and family very kindly let me know I didn’t seem like myself. I was in complete denial at first, but I was a new mom. It was hard for me to discern if this was postpartum anxiety or if I was just really tired because I had a new baby. Honestly, it took me three months before I got help, but once I did, it changed my life for the better.”
Help for Postpartum Anxiety: How Can I Get Back to Normal?
If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety, you probably feel exhausted. And you might be feeling pretty hopeless, too, as you attempt to grapple with these new fears and worries. Is this what parenthood is like? This was a fear of Takats’. Fortunately, though, she sought the help that she needed and learned that parenthood doesn’t have to be so anxiety-ridden—and you can, too.
There is help available for those who are struggling with postpartum anxiety. And Takats is a testament to that: “I went to my OB and told her how I was feeling. The whole drive to the doctor’s office I kept telling myself I was being dramatic, and I didn’t actually have postpartum anxiety. The second I started to talk to her, it was like a floodgate opened. I talked and cried to her for about an hour. She justified my feelings and let me know I was most certainly experiencing postpartum anxiety.”
As Takats’ doctor explained to her, there isn’t anything wrong with new moms who are feeling this way. Their hormones are going through major changes, and sometimes this fuels postpartum anxiety, which occurs much more frequently than we realize. With the help of counseling, anti-anxiety medication, and self-care, Takats started to feel like herself again:
- Counseling: Counseling for postpartum anxiety allows you to get all of those overwhelming thoughts and feelings out into the open, which can provide relief in itself. Additionally, a counselor can offer perspective: Is this a legitimate fear that I should be worried about or is it my postpartum anxiety taking over? Takats says she is still speaking to her counselor once every few weeks. “We cut back on sessions because I don’t need the weekly check-in like I did before,” she says.
- Anti-anxiety medication: Anti-anxiety medications are often a good fit for those dealing with severe anxiety. These help to mitigate many of the harmful symptoms that come with anxiety, like feeling on edge 24/7. “I was worried about the effects, but all it truly did was level me out. It made me feel like me again,” Takats explains. “To this day, I’m still proudly taking my medicine.”
- Self-care: In addition, Takats attributes much of her progress to self-care practices like exercising and going back to work. “Once I started exercising again, I immediately felt better and I slowly started to look like me again. Exercising also gave me some alone time I wasn’t seeking before,” she explains. “Going back to work really helped, too. I feel rewarded using my skills and education in the workplace and then coming home to snuggle my son.” She adds that some parents feel rewarded in staying home with their kids and that’s okay, too. “Everyone’s different!”
You might find that counseling, anti-anxiety medication, and self-care are the right recipe for your healing, too. Or, you might find that a combination of counseling and self-care does the trick or vice versa. As Takats explained, everyone’s different. And it’s important that you find the right fit for you, which starts with opening up about how you’re feeling to a medical professional.
Embarking on the World of Parenthood
The truth is that you’ll likely experience new worries and fears for the rest of your life—welcome to being a parent! Parenthood is a journey that never ends, and a beautiful one at that. However, you must learn how to respond to fears, anxiety, and other difficult emotions that often come with parenting.
If you’re struggling in any way to manage anxiety or other difficult feelings as a new parent or later, please reach out for help. “My life completely changed for the better when I got help,” says Takats. “I’m happy. I’m able to enjoy my days with my new family. I’m a better mom, a better spouse, and a better friend.”
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