Postpartum Anxiety Disorder – Causes, Signs, and Remedies

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A new mother anxious

When you bring home your newborn baby, of course, it makes you happy, but sometimes, it can be a time of emotional upheaval. It can be a difficult time if the new mother feels overwhelmed with worry and requires medical care. This brings the feeling of anxiety.

What is anxiety? It is defined as a natural, adaptive response one experiences when one is scared. One can perceive many kinds of ‘threats’. Some can be ‘real’ and specific, and some may be vague or imaginative. Anxiety after a baby is delivered is very common. Everyone experiences it differently, and this phase is generally transient. Some new mothers get plagued by fretful thoughts. Apart from the intense love a baby brings, there is also the realisation that she might not be able to save her baby from the bad things. Postpartum anxiety disorder makes women feel constantly ‘on the edge’. Early identification and treatment of this neurobiological disorder is a must. This can have a serious impact on the life of a new mom.

What is Postnatal Anxiety?

Adjusting to motherhood is a huge shift with added pressure, struggles, and joys. Safeguarding the mental health of the mother is extremely important. Women who suffer from postnatal anxiety have a hard time letting go of concerns. It is pretty natural to be worried about the newborn baby, but if it becomes very consuming, to the extent that it starts affecting the life, that’s when it reaches an alarming stage. There are many options for treatment depending upon the severity of the condition. It is also called ‘hidden disorder’ as in most of the cases it goes undiagnosed for quite a period of time.

What Causes Anxiety After Pregnancy?

Childbirth can trigger a host of powerful emotions – from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. Life with a newborn baby can be very stressful. Though there is no specific cause of such anxiety, physical and emotional issues play a drastic role. One of the major causes is a dramatic drop in hormones after childbirth. Another reason is when the mother is sleep deprived, overstressed, and overwhelmed with worries regarding the baby; she struggles with her sense of identity and feels that she has lost control over her life. Emotional fatigue due to stress from pregnancy, financial constraints, health problems in the newborn baby are some of the other factors responsible for it. Women with personal or family history of anxiety or previous experience with depression due to a miscarriage or stillbirth, are more susceptible to this disorder. Women who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also susceptible to it. If it is left untreated, postpartum anxiety can interfere with the mother-child bonding and cause family problems. In such cases, emotional and practical support, together with supportive counselling and psychological treatment gives the patient confidence to face the situation positively.

A new mother managing her baby and work

Postpartum Anxiety Signs and Symptoms

The birth of a child is bound to bring joy and delight, but in some cases, a mother may be in an emotional state which depicts worry, unhappiness, self-doubt, and fatigue, which are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety.

The postpartum period is considered as a time of vulnerability to affective disorders. So, dealing with postpartum anxiety or ‘baby-blues’ is a must and should not be ignored at all. New mothers may get anxious and they all deal with different circumstances but have very similar feelings. The earlier you seek treatment, the sooner you will feel normal again.

Anxiety is a physiological response to a stressful state, and symptoms like shallow breathing, sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, and dizziness are all physical responses to hormonal shifts. Postpartum anxiety has varied signs and symptoms which can be categorized in the following manner:

  • Behavioural: Crying, irritability, restlessness, and worry.
  • Mood: Anger, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, and panic attacks.
  • Whole Body: Fatigue, dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea.
  • Psychological: Nagging fear and going over thoughts repeatedly.
  • Cognitive: Lack of concentration, unwanted thoughts, inability to focus, and sit still.
  • Weight: Weight gain or weight loss.
  • Common: Insomnia, trouble sleeping, and eating.

How is Anxiety After Delivery Treated?

Postpartum anxiety is generally treated under professional medical care. However, a change in lifestyle can help in speedy recovery. The most effective remedies are given below:

  • Therapies.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy(CBT) – A structured treatment which focuses on thinking (cognition) and acting (behaviour) which impacts the way you feel.
  • Psychoeducation and psychotherapy.
  • Interpersonal therapy – Anxiety caused due to tension, conflicts in relationships, or personal losses are dealt effectively by talking.
  • Self-care: It focuses on relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, rhythmic exercise, and activities that reduce the symptom of stress.
  • Primary care provider (PCP) –  Diagnoses is done to prevent and treat diseases.
  • The clinical psychologist – Using the talking therapy to treat the mental disorder.
  • Psychiatrist – Treats the disorders primarily with medicines.
  • OBGYN doctor – Focus on the reproductive health of women and childbirth.
  • Share your feelings and avoid isolation which can help in building confidence. Interacting with peers can make you realize that many new moms share the same feeling.
  • Give time to yourself – Take deep breaths, go for a walk, call a friend, take a break etc.
  • Inculcate healthy lifestyle choices – Eat protein-based snacks such as cheese, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and lean meat. And try to lead a stress-free, happy life.
  • Ask for help and support from professionals who can help to navigate the stress of new parenthood and be supportive and uplifting.
  • Slow down and set realistic expectations – Acknowledge the disorder, understand it and be really kind to yourself.

Moms ought to know that they should not ignore the anxiety disorder, push it away, or pretend it is not there. Moms instead, should learn to acknowledge their anxiety at the lowest level. If left untreated, it can make the mother face a bout of lifelong mental illness. One should create a support system in order to deal with postpartum anxiety. Researchers should conduct research to estimate the prevalence of this disorder and to study the implications of maternal anxiety on the quality of child development and also to determine safe and effective treatment methods for the patients.

Also Read: Precautions After Delivery That You Should Know

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