Recognizing Postpartum Anxiety in New Mothers

New mothers go through an emotional upheaval and lose their mothering experience in a slew of worries and concerns about the newborn. It is normal for a woman to feel on edge after having a baby, but those suffering from anxiety typically face prolonged anxiety-related symptoms, such as irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, etc., which can impair their ability to take a good care of the new baby.

Andrea is a new mother, with a two-month-old baby. She’s been spending sleepless nights attending to him ever since she was discharged from the hospital. Despite the sudden life changes post the delivery, she believes that all these changes are worth the happiness of motherhood. However, she continues to experience dizziness, jittery feelings, constant tightness in the throat and chest, and a pounding heart, which gradually took a heavy toll on her physical and mental well-being.

What if I go out and he starts crying uncontrollably and I’m unable to calm him” and “what if someone snatched him away from my arms” are some of the many anxious thoughts which continue to haunt her mind. As an outcome, she often ends up asking for repeated reassurances and unnecessary advice from her mother, friends and care providers, surfing the internet for answers to the innumerable questions arising in her mind, avoiding stepping out of the house and obsessively reading books and magazines on parenting.

Thus, when new mothers start to worry about trivial matters and are unable to stop, it could be a sign of postpartum anxiety disorder. Anxiety in new mothers can be highly debilitating as it can reduce the mother-infant bond and can also result in impaired cognitive development later in the child’s life.

Tips to deal with postpartum anxiety

Studies have shown that when women are not treated for postpartum anxiety or depression, they are less likely to provide proper care for a dependent infant, which can have a long-term impact on the child’s physical and mental development. Such women are highly vulnerable to self-medication with alcohol or drugs which may result in alcohol or drug addiction, along with lifelong chronic anxiety. However, it is important to identify symptoms of postpartum anxiety in new mothers and seek assistance at the earliest. Here are some tips to mitigate anxiety-related symptoms:

Antidepressant medications: Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which include fluoxetine and sertraline, are the class of medications prescribed to combat postpartum anxiety and depression. Venlafaxine, which is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), is also used to counter such conditions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy centers around dealing with negative thoughts in a constructive and positive way through problem-solving skills, relaxation, social skills and other related activities. CBT is known to be highly effective in treating postpartum depression and anxiety.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This 12-session therapy helps patients to improve relationships with their spouse and is effective in preventing or lowering anxiety-related symptoms.

Some self-help tips to manage postpartum anxiety at home are:

  • giving priority to oneself
  • having a healthy diet
  • doing regular exercise
  • spending time with family and friends
  • keeping oneself busy with hobbies and other fun activities
  • focusing on the present instead of worrying about the future
  • getting sufficient sleep

Leading an anxiety-free life

Being anxious once in a while is normal. However, anxiety disorder is a serious mental disorder. The symptoms of the disorder range from general fear of the unknown to excessive paranoia which can hamper day-to-day activities.