My Experience with Postpartum Anxiety
I was familiar with postpartum depression (PPD) and knew all the signs to look out for. But what I felt after my son was born was different. Like many moms, I felt an immediate, overwhelming sense of love for my baby, but for me, it was coupled with an overwhelming sense of fear for all the terrible things that could happen to him.
New mom worries are common, but this turned out to be more than what is typical. For example, shortly after my son was born, there was a tragic local story on the news about a mother and baby hit by a car in a crosswalk. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and became unable to cross the street without intrusive and vivid mental images of the same thing happening to us. So, I started avoiding crossing the street with my son. Similar scenarios made me avoid more and more situations, and before I knew it, my world became really small. Many moms worry about SIDS, but I was barely sleeping because I was up all-night checking that he was still breathing. Later came the panic attacks, and it became more and more difficult just to leave the house. Even at home, I was restless and unable to sit still.
I assumed that I was experiencing some type of postpartum hormonal imbalance, and I kept telling myself that surely, it would get better soon. But it just kept getting worse and by the time my son was about 9 months old, I was having panic attacks all day long and really struggling to function at both work and home. I was miserable and terrified that I was losing my mind.
My anxiety became so bad that I decided to take some time off work to focus on getting better. I met with a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with Postpartum Anxiety & Panic Disorder (Postpartum Panic Disorder is a specific type of Postpartum Anxiety Disorder. Not everyone with a Postpartum Anxiety Disorder will experience panic attacks). I began taking medication and started going to counseling. In my case, it took a few medication trials to find one that worked for me, but once we did, the improvement was drastic. Counseling taught me coping skills that helped tremendously as well.
Thankfully, within 6 weeks, I was able to go back to work, but it took 2 more years for me to feel like myself again. My son is 3 years old now and while I doubt I’ll ever be anxiety-free (what mom is?), anxiety no longer interferes with my ability to function and enjoy life. My therapist and I recently agreed that I was ready to stop our weekly counseling sessions. I am also starting to wean off the medication. I’m sharing my experience because I think there needs to be more awareness about postpartum anxiety (PPA). I hope other moms will be able to recognize the signs and get help early so that they can get back to enjoying their new baby. Looking back, I wish I had gotten help sooner because I feel like I suffered unnecessarily and missed out on times that are impossible to get back.
Here are 5 fast facts about Postpartum Anxiety to be aware of:
- Postpartum anxiety affects approximately 10% of moms.
- Anxiety may also begin while you are still pregnant. This occurs in approximately 6% of pregnant women.
- Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety may include:
- Changes in eating and sleeping
- Racing thoughts that are difficult to control
- Constant worry
- Looming fear that something bad is going to happen
- Difficulty sitting still
- Physical symptoms, for example, dizziness, hot flashes, nausea, or upset stomach
- Panic attacks
- Risk factors for Postpartum Anxiety may include:
- A personal or family history of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Previous miscarriage or stillbirth
- Thyroid imbalance
- A traumatic childbirth experience
- Postpartum Anxiety is treatable. Treatment often includes psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and medications. Meditation, exercise, and cutting out caffeine may also be helpful.
How to get help:
If you think you may be experiencing Postpartum Anxiety, ask your OB or primary care physician for a referral to a psychiatrist and/or therapist. You can also find a therapist near you here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists.
For more information, check out these articles: