You’ve had your gorgeous baby, life was completely upended for a while but even though things have started to settle down into some sort of new normal, you haven't been able to. If you’re plagued with worries, find it hard to sleep and need constant reassurance, you may be experiencing Postpartum or Postnatal Anxiety. New research is finding this surprisingly common, so if this sounds like you, don't panic, you're not alone! Knowing the factors that can increase risk for anxiety and the signs to look for, new families can get help sooner.
A study from Monash University in Australia found that around 33% of new mothers (yes, you read that right) and 17% of new dads reported symptoms of anxiety in the first six months after baby. The symptoms include:
- Not sleeping well even though you’re exhausted
- Feeling lethargic or unmotivated but at the same time also restless and like you should be "doing something"
- Loss of appetite and sometimes weight loss
- Constant worry, feeling on edge, a sense of dread or imagining the worst
- Panic attacks
- Needing to have everything perfect or "under control"
- Racing thoughts, can’t switch off, feeling like you’re “going crazy” or “losing it”
- Physical complaints like an upset stomach, feeling light headed, short of breath or hot flushes
If this sounds like you (or you’ve noticed these symptoms in your partner), call and make an appointment with your doctor.
Postpartum Anxiety is common,
temporary and very treatable.
To learn more about the different types of anxiety disorders, see the COPE website.
Sometimes it’s enough to realise that anxiety is an underlying issue and make lifestyle changes to cope with it. Here are some simple "tools" to put in your toolbox that may help:
1. Regular exercise - Exercise is both a natural anti-anxiety and anti-depressant, so build it into your week!
2. Eat - Low blood sugar levels can increase agitation; so make sure you’re eating small meals regularly, especially if you’re breastfeeding!
3. Learn to Relax – It’s not "easy" to press pause when you're feeling anxious, but it is very worthwhile. Try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, conscious muscle relaxation, yoga (especially yoga nidra), massage or listen to guided meditations. Most find meditation difficult in the beginning - and you may need to experiment with different techniques, but the benefits make it worth persevering.
4. Maintain connections and/or expand your circle - Feeling disconnected (from partner, family, friends, life or self!) increases anxiousness, so work on maintaining connections or fostering new ones. Connection with others gives us a sense of well-being, balance, acceptance and love.
5. Add YOU to your care plan - schedule in time with people and on activities that add to your life. This time might mean creating time for artwork, reading, watching re-runs of your favourite show, or whatever your personal “you-ness” involves. Even 15 minutes of YOU-time a day can help.
6. Communicate - Partners can often unknowingly make anxiety worse, so it’s important they understand what’s going on for you and know how to respond in an emotionally supportive way. Make an appointment with a Relationship Counsellor or LMFT if you need someone to facilitate this.
Your baby hasn’t arrived just yet?
If you’re expecting now, there are things you can do to minimise your risk for Postpartum Anxiety. Seek out antenatal classes or a helping professional who can provide “after the baby comes” and “relationship preparation” information. Research shows that having more realistic ideas of life with baby, knowing what the challenges are and how to prepare for them as a couple, can reduce emotional distress (including anxiety and depression) afterwards. To help, I have created a free 8 Stages of Parenthood guide, you can find it here.