After 40 weeks of doctor visits, planning the nursery, and waiting, your baby has finally arrived. In your estimation, she is flawless, healthy, and adorable. In the following weeks, though, your initial elation is replaced by a consuming concern: Is she eating enough? Why does she weep so frequently? Is she experiencing medical difficulties? These concerns continue throughout the day and keep you up at night. You're tight and irritated; your heart is racing; and you're experiencing panic. Your family members exhibit care not only for the newborn but also for you. You question whether or not your anxiety is normal.
The baby blues, postpartum depression, or postpartum anxiety?
You have probably heard of "baby blues" or "postpartum depression." You may have even filled out questionnaires on your mood at your postpartum doctor's visit. Baby blues are a common response to decreased hormone levels after childbirth, and they can cause you to feel depressed, tearful, and overwhelmed. Nevertheless, these effects are modest and only last a few weeks. When the symptoms last for a long time and make you feel bad, there could be something else going on.
Postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression share many symptoms (such as poor sleep, trouble relaxing, and irritability). While anxiety is a typical symptom of postpartum depression, not all sad mothers experience anxiety. It's important to get the right diagnosis because women with postpartum anxiety may not respond as well to some treatments for depression, like interpersonal psychotherapy or medicines like bupropion (Wellbutrin).
Like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety can be caused by changes in hormones that happen after giving birth. It may also get worse because of real stresses, like worrying about the baby's health or money or figuring out your new role in a relationship. A history of miscarriage or stillbirth also makes you more likely to have anxiety after giving birth. If you had anxiety before you got pregnant or while you were pregnant, you may also have anxiety after you give birth. Changes in hormones can also cause anxiety and sadness after stopping breastfeeding.
After giving birth, some women have panic attacks or symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Panic attacks are distinct bouts of intense anxiety that come with physical symptoms like a racing heart, a feeling of impending doom, shortness of breath, and a feeling like you can't get enough air. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts that may be accompanied by compulsions, which are actions done on purpose to ease stress. A new mother may find these signs scary, especially if they make her think about hurting the baby. When obsessions are caused by an anxiety disorder, it is very unlikely that mothers will hurt their babies.
How do you treat anxiety after giving birth?
Postpartum anxiety has been studied less than its related condition, postpartum depression, but at least one in five women is thought to have it. We do know that therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are great ways to treat OCD and other anxiety disorders. Some women can benefit from medications, and when they are used with therapy, they work even better. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually the first-line (and best-studied) drugs for anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, are fast-acting anti-anxiety drugs that are often used while waiting for an SSRI to work.
Should a breastfeeding mother take medication?
Breastfeeding is good for the baby in many ways. It gives the baby the best nutrition, helps build his or her immune system, may help prevent obesity in adulthood, and gives the baby comfort and security. Breastfeeding is also good for the mother. It makes the "love and cuddle" hormones (prolactin and oxytocin) come out, which helps the mother bond with her baby and feel calm. When deciding whether or not to take a medication, it's important to know that all psychiatric drugs pass through breast milk. Your doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits of medications based on the severity of your illness, your preference for medications, and how you've reacted to them in the past, as well as things that are specific to your baby, like a medical condition or being born prematurely.
How can you deal with postpartum anxiety without taking medication?
- Cuddle your baby (a lot). This makes oxytocin, which can make you feel less anxious.
- Sleep as much as you can. Even if the baby wakes you up to eat every three hours (or 45 minutes), your partner shouldn't. During the first few months, you may need to sleep in different rooms or take turns taking care of the baby. Try to get at least one four-hour stretch of sleep without waking up, and watch how much caffeine you drink.
- Get together with other moms. Even if you don't think you have the time, connecting with other moms (even online) can help you feel less scared and validate your feelings. Most likely, you're not the only one who worries a lot.
- Do more physical activities. Even though being pregnant, giving birth, and making milk are hard on your body, physical activity is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety. Yoga and other activities that teach you how to breathe may be especially helpful.
- Reduce the amount gradually. If you are breastfeeding and decide to stop, try to do it as slowly as possible so that your hormones don't change too quickly.
- Ask for help. Taking care of a baby usually takes a village. If you're feeding the baby, ask someone else to help you with other things around the house. "Sleep when the baby sleeps" is an old phrase. You could also say, "Do the laundry when the baby does the laundry."
And finally, be easy on yourself. You just had a baby, after all. Anxiety after giving birth is common, and in most cases, it will go away on its own over time.