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Having worries and anxious thoughts now and again is natural, especially during the initial few weeks following childbirth. For example, as a new parent, you may worry about something happening to your baby or fear that you will do something wrong in taking care of them. For most people, these feelings tend to reduce as they start getting used to taking care of a newborn, typically around two to three months. Postpartum anxiety is different in that it is persistent and continues to be more distressing with time.

Many new parents struggling with postpartum anxiety may find it hard to talk about their negative feelings as they constantly feel pressured to be happy and think that everyone else in similar situations seems to be doing fine. However, it is essential to acknowledge that postpartum anxiety is common and often requires treatment and emotional support.

Postpartum anxiety usually arises from the worry of adopting new roles as parents. Some may worry about managing their household with a newborn, while others may stress about covering the expenses of an extended family. A few may also feel incompetent in caring for a new baby, ultimately developing postpartum anxiety.

Some postpartum anxiety signs might be challenging to spot as they are similar to what almost every new parent feels. For example, you may have issues with sleeping or concentrating. Some other common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Feeling anxious most of the time and unable to control these feelings
  • Irritability
  • A sense of dread
  • Restlessness
  • A feeling of constantly being on the edge

Postpartum anxiety can also affect your overall behavior. For instance, you may start avoiding certain places, denying certain feelings, or doing certain things because you feel threatened by them. You may also become overly careful or constantly seek reassurance from loved ones or doctors. Some people experiencing postpartum anxiety may even develop panic attacks that occur very quickly and without apparent reason. Most of these attacks last between 5 and 20 minutes and can be frightening. Some common physical and mental symptoms of a panic attack may include the following:

  • a racing heart
  • shortness of breath
  • a feeling of dread/ fear of doom
  • chest pain
  • dizziness

Anyone can develop postpartum anxiety following childbirth. However, those who already suffer from an anxiety disorder or worry a lot are at a significantly higher risk of acquiring this disease following childbirth, as it can be stressful. During the postpartum period, every new parent may struggle to cope with things like:

  • Learning to look after the newborn
  • Financial pressure
  • A lack of sleep
  • Being responsible for their baby’s well-being and health
  • A changing relationship with their partners and other loved ones

Learning to adjust to life as a newly extended family may also be harder for people who do not have good support networks, such as family or friends living nearby. Such people may deal with extra stress when their child falls sick.

You are also more likely to experience postpartum anxiety if you:

  • Are female
  • Had problems in childhood, such as bullying or negative relationships with parents
  • A history of emotional or physical trauma or abuse in the past
  • Suffer from a long-term or painful condition
  • Had a complicated birth or pregnancy
  • Have been under extra stress due to money problems, unemployment, or relationship issues
  • Lost a baby before

If you suspect of suffering from postpartum anxiety, it might be helpful to talk to a family member, partner, or friend about your feelings. They might be able to offer practical and emotional support. For instance, they may come over and take care of the baby, so you can rest and sleep to improve your mental state. It is also helpful to talk to other parents as, for some, this can provide reassurance and help put their feelings in perspective. Engaging with other parents may also get easier to acknowledge the severity of what you are feeling and ascertain if you require more support.

Talking to your primary healthcare provider about how you feel is also important. Some people may find it difficult to talk about this, and if you are one of them, remember that your doctor will not judge you. These healthcare professionals understand anxiety as a mental health condition and will only help you find the proper support and treatment to recover and take care of yourself and the baby as quickly as possible.

If you struggle to discuss your thoughts and feelings, a doctor may also recommend writing them down on paper first or bringing someone with you during the appointment. The important thing is to let someone around you know what you are going through so that you can get help as soon as possible. If you prefer, consider referring yourself for an initial assessment or joining talking therapy services to try taking hold of the situation.

Talking therapies are the primary treatment for severe postpartum anxiety and other mental health difficulties. A mental health expert may pair them with self-help tips and medication to improve the efficacy of the treatment plan. The exact combination of treatment you are offered usually depends on the nature and severity of your symptoms.

Some common interventions for managing postpartum anxiety include the following:

Applied Relaxation

Applied relaxation includes relaxing your muscles in certain situations that may likely trigger anxiety. A trained specialist may work with you to help you learn these skills. These techniques generally involve tightening certain muscle groups in the body and then relaxing them one after the other with a mindful approach to calm the anxious brain.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy refers to psychological therapies that involve discussing your feelings with a trained therapist. This type of therapy may take place in a one-on-one or group setting and can be held virtually over the phone or in the presence of your family members, partners, or another loved one. One of the most common examples of talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps you learn the tools to understand and replace your anxious and negative thoughts with positive behaviors.

Guided Self-Help

To manage their issues, a guided self-help course may be recommended to certain parents struggling with postpartum anxiety. This may include a computer course or a CBT-based workbook that you can complete in your own time with the support of a licensed professional.

Medication

If talk therapy does not seem to improve the postpartum anxiety symptoms, your doctor may offer you certain medications. In general, the first line of medication offered to anyone seeking relief from postpartum anxiety is a type of antidepressant. Most types of antidepressants are safe to use; all breastfeeding mothers can consume them without fearing harming their babies. However, informing your doctor if you are a nursing mother is always best before you commence any medical therapy.

It is easy to forget about yourself when you have a newborn to care for. However, self-care is important as it boosts your mental health and puts you in a better position to take care of your family. For this purpose, try the following tips:

  • Accept what you are experiencing and ask for help from those around you, such as family and friends
  • Consider performing some gentle exercises, such as swimming or walking
  • Rest and sleep whenever possible
  • Talk to someone you can trust, such as a partner, a friend, or a family member, about how you feel.
  • Avoid drinking or smoking, as both can worsen postpartum anxiety
  • Remind yourself that your anxious feelings are not your fault
  • Avoid having too much caffeine, as this may make you more anxious and negatively affect your baby if you are breastfeeding

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