Becoming a new parent is hard for anyone. There are so many unknowns and new lessons that come along with having a baby:
- Will they sleep okay?
- Are they eating enough?
- What does that cry mean?
- Is their crib safe enough?
- What do I do when I go back to work?
All of these questions may have crossed your mind at some point. But how can you distinguish new parent nerves from extreme fear, anxiety, and postpartum depression? Not only are you bringing a new life into the world, which can be scary in itself, but you and your partner are also responsible for their wellbeing. Everything from feeding them on time to letting new people come and visit can be nerve-racking. However, there is a fine line between nerves and fatigue and diagnosable anxiety and depression.
It’s important to recognize when you or your partner might be struggling with something a little bit more serious than new parent nerves. The sooner you recognize that there may be a problem and get the help you need, the sooner you can start to feel more at ease.
Fear and Anxiety in New Parents
A lot of new moms don’t realize they have postpartum anxiety because they don’t recognize the signs and symptoms. Normally postpartum anxiety is obsessive worry and fear that is directly linked with having a baby and becoming a new parent. In some cases, new moms even have panic attacks, racing thoughts, persistent jitters, difficulty sleeping, and dread.
Addie Takats, a new mom to her now 11-month-old, didn’t understand what postpartum anxiety was prior to having her son. It took her a while to recognize that she might have a problem and for her to receive an accurate diagnosis. “I got all the information I knew about postpartum anxiety and depression from television and movies,” she explains. “I always saw it portrayed as being unable to connect with your baby and just crying a lot. Before I started treatment, my son was the only person I could connect to, and I wasn’t crying. I was angry… a lot. So, I thought there was no way I had postpartum anxiety. Turns out, the movies are not real life and I was definitely experiencing it.”
New parents do tend to worry—it’s natural. However, worrying about everything to an extreme degree isn’t. For new moms with postpartum anxiety, they may worry about their baby breathing at night. Or about their baby sitting in the car seat for too long. They might worry that their baby is too hot or too cold. This constant fear can be extremely exhausting for parents and take over their lives. Sleep deprivation, stress, relationship changes, hormonal shifts, personality types, and health issues with the baby are all factors that can play into why some new moms get postpartum anxiety; sometimes, though these factors are not easily distinguished.
Postpartum Depression: Are You Feeling Alone?
Postpartum depression is actually more common than you may think. In fact, 1 in 7 women may develop postpartum depression during the first year of their baby’s life. A lot of people don’t always talk about depression or when they might be feeling overwhelmed, but it is important to talk to a friend, family member, or therapist when you think you might be battling something a little more serious than the “baby blues.”
“Trust your friends and family. My loved ones had been, very kindly, inquiring about my postpartum anxiety for months before I was able to finally seek help. I wasn’t able to see it in myself,” says new mom Takats. “But if you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression, chances are you won’t be able to see it either. If your loved ones are suggesting they’re worried about you, visit your doctor. It won’t hurt just to check.”
Postpartum depression is usually accompanied by mood swings, difficulty bonding with your baby, fatigue, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and thoughts of death or suicide. Risk factors include relationship problems, excessive stress, a weak support system, financial issues, or a history of postpartum depression. It’s important to know that when you’re feeling down, help is available. You aren’t alone in this fight and this doesn’t define your ability to be a good mom.
You Are Not Your Mental Illness: How to Move Forward
If you are struggling with postpartum anxiety and/or depression, there are ways to overcome these disorders that don’t add more stress to your day. Here are some tips to help you do so!
- Get active outside: One of the best ways to combat those difficult emotions is by exercising, and if you can do it outside, even better! While we know that everyone says exercise helps, it really does. Your endorphins will start flowing, you’ll be rewarded with a breath of fresh air, and you’ll get your body up and moving. Prioritize getting outside, going for walks, hiking, or whatever feels the best for you.
- Spend quality time with others: Dedicate time to engaging in conversation with friends and family members. A lot of times, depression and anxiety can make you feel isolated and alone. You may not even feel up to talking but putting time aside to do just that will allow you to socialize and start feeling more like yourself again.
- Take on smaller tasks: If you’re home alone with your baby and feel like you need to do something when you get the chance, don’t try to tackle big tasks like cleaning the whole house. Instead, focus on smaller bite-sized things like clearing off the kitchen counter or vacuuming the living room. You’ll feel more accomplished starting and finishing one smaller activity.
- Lean on your partner, a family member, or friend: It can be hard to show ourselves as vulnerable, especially to those closest to us. But asking for help from those around you might be just the thing you need. If you feel yourself getting worked up over something, ask your partner to sit with you and practice a breathing exercise or mindful meditation. If you are feeling like you can’t get out of bed one day, be honest about it and talk about what can be done to help you get moving. Maybe you just need an hour to decompress and practice self-care.
- Seek out the help of a therapist or counselor: This isn’t always an easy decision because it often makes new parents feel defeated. However, seeking out the help of a mental health professional is not admitting defeat. It’s projecting strength. No one is going to think you’re a bad parent or that you don’t love your child. “There is no shame in getting help, starting a medication, and seeing a counselor… Once I got help, I felt like me again! I’m happy, I’m able to enjoy every second with my new family, and my life is slowly but surely getting back to a new normal,” says Takats.
Being a parent is a never-ending journey. As your child grows, so will you. You’ll learn things along the way that help make you the best parent possible for your child. If you’re struggling to manage difficult emotions that come along with parenthood, it’s okay to ask for help. You’re not alone!