Postpartum Anxiety Symptoms and 5 Self-Care Tips to Manage Them

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 26 October 2018
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist
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    It is normal for a woman who has given birth to experience some anxiety. However, excessive anxiety can have long-term effects on both mother and her infant.

    What are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety?

    A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders shows that postpartum anxiety is more common than depression among postpartum and pregnant women. 

    Unfortunately, you may not know that you are suffering postpartum anxiety. However, there are symptoms associated with the disorder that are easily recognizable. These symptoms are varying and are based on the type of postpartum anxiety disorder you may be suffering from. 

    Here are the four main postpartum anxiety disorders and their symptoms:

    • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by chronic worry and is accompanied by muscle tension, poor concentration, fatigue, poor sleep, and restlessness. 
    • Postpartum panic disorder (PD). Women with postpartum PD often experience sudden and recurring panic attacks accompanied by heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fear of dying, chest pain, and dizziness.
    • Perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Usually, women who suffer from OCD after childbirth tend to have thoughts of unintentionally or intentionally harming their baby. 
    • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that is triggered by a traumatic event causing nightmares, uncontrollable thoughts, intense fear, severe anxiety, and flashbacks. 

    Generally, mothers with postpartum anxiety symptoms may be suffering from one or more of the above postpartum anxiety disorders.

    Postpartum depression and anxiety: what's the difference?

    Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety both have some similar symptoms. But how do you know you have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety?

    With postpartum depression, you’ll experience feelings of sadness, irritability, anxiety, and low energy. Other symptoms of postpartum depression you may experience include tearfulness or crying episodes, and changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns. 

    With postpartum anxiety, you are going to experience symptoms like excessive worrying, restlessness, and tension. 

    What causes postpartum anxiety?

    The causes of postpartum anxiety are not known. Doctors cannot tell why some mothers experience postpartum anxiety and others do not. 

    Like postpartum depression in general, there is no one established cause of postpartum anxiety. Causes can stem from drastic hormonal changes to sleep deprivation to overwhelm with life-altering responsibilities that come with having a new baby.

    It has also been seen that women who have a history of anxiety are more likely to develop postpartum anxiety.  

    Risk factors for anxiety disorders

    Studies show that there are certain risk factors that may cause anxiety disorders in women who have given birth. These risk factors include: 

    • A family history of anxiety disorders
    • Personal history of anxiety
    • Low socioeconomic status
    • Other pre-existing medical conditions
    • Unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
    • Stress related to caring or raising of the newborn
    • Feelings of guilt.

    Anxiety self-diagnosis

    Given that there are different anxiety disorders, how do you know which one you are experiencing?

    Anxiety self-diagnosis is not easy. You may feel that something is not right with you, but it may be hard to pinpoint the exact problem.

    So here is how you can diagnose what type of anxiety disorder you have based on the symptoms you are experiencing.

    Diagnostic criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

    • You have chronic anxiety and worry that has lasted about 6 months or more and these conditions occur regularly. 
    • You have symptoms associated with GAD like restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, poor concentration, fatigue, and sleep disturbance with some of them being present for 6 months. 

    Diagnostic criteria for Panic Disorder (PD)

    • You have sudden and recurrent panic attacks.
    • You experience certain symptoms during panic attacks such as:
    • Heart palpitations or pounding heart
    • Sweating
    • Shaking and trembling
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain or discomfort
    • Nausea
    • Stomach pains
    • Chills
    • Numbness
    • Feelings of “going crazy”
    • Fear of dying.

    Diagnostic criteria for Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

    • You have obsessions and compulsions.
    • Obsessions include unwanted recurring and persistent thoughts, images and urges. These can be thoughts of physical or sexual harm. 
    • Compulsions include repetitive behaviors such as constantly checking on your sleeping infant, excessive washing and cleaning. 

    Diagnostic criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) associated with postpartum anxiety

    Women who experience a traumatic childbirth are at a higher risk of developing PTSD than those who don’t. Symptoms that are a sure sign of postpartum PTSD include: 

    • Re-experiencing the event in several ways: distressing dreams, flashbacks, and intrusive recollections. 
    • Avoiding feelings, thoughts, and conversations associated directly or indirectly with the traumatic event. 
    • Avoiding activities, persons, and situations associated with the traumatic event. 
    • Lacking interest in anything
    • Amnesia
    • Isolating or alienating oneself from others
    • Irritability and outbursts of anger
    • Poor concentration 
    • Insomnia
    • Hypervigilance.

    Steps to dealing with anxiety

    The good news is that postpartum anxiety is treatable. With professional care, symptoms associated with postpartum anxiety can alleviate and your quality of life can improve. However, the success of the treatment depends on the severity of your postpartum anxiety. 

    Some people may start showing signs of recovery a few weeks after undergoing treatment, others may take longer. Mothers who have more than one anxiety disorder may take longer to recover. Therefore, you need to consult a doctor who can do a thorough assessment and advice on the best treatment option based on the type and severity of your condition. 

    Treatment options for postpartum anxiety

    There are many ways you can treat anxiety, but some treatment methods are not as effective as others. Treatment options that have proven to be effective include:

    • Psychotherapy is a form of therapy also referred to as talk therapy, which involves counseling an individual to help improve their mental health.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most commonly used form of psychotherapy for treating anxiety disorders. It involves teaching people with mental health issues how to identify and change thoughts and behaviors that may trigger anxiety.
    • Medication: your doctor may also prescribe you medicines called antidepressants.

    5 Self-care tips to help you manage postpartum anxiety symptoms

    There are other ways you can alleviate your postpartum anxiety symptoms. And here is how you can do it.  

    1. Eat right and avoid foods and drinks such as energy drinks, coffee and anything else that contains caffeine. Having a good diet plan after delivery to help manage your anxiety can help deter postpartum anxiety disorders. 
    2. Stay fit by exercising regularly. Exercising can also improve your mood because it releases endorphins that help relieve stress and reduce anxiety. 
    3. Sleep disturbance is a major symptom of postpartum anxiety. You can get your sleep pattern back to normal by following a bedtime routine. Also, learn to take naps and avoid taking coffee any time during the day. 
    4. Be kind to yourself. Love yourself and do not criticize everything you do. Being a mother is not an easy job. Also, don’t feel pressured to have sex after giving birth. Most women experience low libido postpartum after childbirth and it’s totally normal. 
    5. Learn to relax. Try relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga to help improve your mood and reduce stress. 

    Final thoughts

    You’ll be surprised to know that there are many postpartum mothers who are living with depression and anxiety. The problem with this is that postpartum depression and anxiety can have long-term effects on both the mother and the newborn baby emotionally, mentally, and physically.

    Although dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety is a challenge, it is not a life sentence. With the help of your doctor, a mental health specialist and the support of your family and friends, you can beat postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression. 

    Admitting that you need help is the first step to your recovery. 

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist

    Published (26 October 2018)

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