A Deeper Look at Postpartum Anxiety

An in depth look at how postpartum anxiety presents in new mothers, why it's becoming more common, and how it's being missed by caregivers & family members

     If you’ve recently read through some of my other blog posts you probably noticed that I mention anxiety. This is done on purpose, it’s insanely deliberate. After my journey (more like battle) with postpartum anxiety, I have come to love talking about it. You may be thinking, why on earth would this chick love talking about such a personal topic? I’ll tell you why, because I didn’t know what postpartum anxiety was. Had absolutely no clue I had it, and yet it was slowly but surely robbing me of enjoying motherhood. Day by day it was tearing small holes into my marriage. Postpartum anxiety is a master at creating distance between you and your support system. It is becoming more common than postpartum depression and much less noticed. I’m hoping I can help change that.  Read more here for information, including statistics on the rise of postpartum anxiety.

Why is this still such a controversial topic? Why are we still so ashamed when we utter the words anxiety, or depression. I could have recognized mine much earlier on if other people would have just opened up about theirs. But no, motherhood (and pregnancy, for that matter) is suppose to be all sunshine, rainbows and magic dewdrops. Both of these times for women are very commercialized and not every woman’s journey is so idilic. Adding even more confusion for new mom’s when they struggle postpartum.

Why is postpartum anxiety being missed?

Lets be honest, at your infants required pediatrician appointments in the months following birthing your child, they ask you to fill out a bunch of forms. At such type appointments you’re usually sleep deprived, tired from actually getting ready (showering, moving around with possible stitches, putting on real clothes and make up, etc) and might have a screaming infant with you (along with older children). As you fill out said forms as quickly as possible, you skim over the form asking about the state of your mental health.

First, how completely sterile, un-connected and cold. You’re staring at this form, wondering who will be looking at it and what they’ll think of your answers. Second, you have this wonderful blessing, this bundle of joy that has ten fingers and ten toes and you’re so innately grateful for them. How can you possibly be anything but happy? Cue the guilt.  What, also, could happen if you mark anything out of the ordinary down on this form? No it’s better to just be that mom that’s handling becoming a parent fine, like all the other moms. Hell, some moms have 4 kids… you just have one.

As you look at this form you realize you must be ok. You’re not sad all day everyday. You enjoy taking care of your little one – feedings, bath time, new outfits and snuggle time are the highlights of your day. You’re not depressed to the point of constant sadness and feeling no joy. And the things you are feeling aren’t on the form.

How many more women would be helped if doctors and family members were more in tune with new mothers? If just one person (one-on-one) would have talked candidly with me about different symptoms (like ruminating thoughts, unease, constant worry, lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed, etc) it would have helped me identify postpartum anxiety more quickly. Allowing me to get help when I needed it.

For the first few months after having a baby it would be a wonderful idea if just one or two visits were required with your OB or PCP. A check in appointment for the new mother with her doctor (ideally an appointment where she gets to talk with her doctor without any kids present, so all of the focus is on her). Currently, the first time most new mothers have a check up is 6 weeks postpartum. At all of the required infant pediatricians visits forms are given to check a mothers mental health, but that’s not really her doctor and some moms may feel uncomfortable or rushed trying discussing their problems with their child’s doctor/staff.

Reasons why postpartum anxiety may be on the rise.

In many cultures a new mother is encouraged for 3-6 weeks to do little other than rest and bond with her baby. Family and friends spend a lot of time helping with getting groceries, cooking meals, household chores, running errands, and handling older children. New mothers spend their days being brought nutritious food, being pampered and helped with bathing/dressing and practicing skin on skin with their little while learning how to breastfeed.

How different from our culture where many mom’s resume household chores and errand running within a week of being home. Returning to work can occur within as little as 3-4 weeks after giving birth. New mothers are also under constant pressure to hit up the gym and loose that baby weight. They constantly see countless pictures/stories of celebrities looking great post baby. Not to mention over exposure to social media putting ideas into our minds how to be a perfect “Pinterest” mom. Along with highlight reels on Facebook of nothing but happy mom moments.

Add this to the overwhelming journey of breastfeeding. While breastfeeding in itself is extremely natural, there is nothing natural about learning to breastfeed. Many babies have trouble latching, or present with tongue/lip ties, cluster feed, or comfort nurse a lot. Mom’s can struggle with nursing positions (especially after a c-section), pumping and properly learning to store milk. Sore or bleeding nipples are common and it takes time to learn how to nurse in a way that makes you comfortable in front of others. No wonder more and more new mom’s are battling postpartum anxiety.

Some ways that postpartum anxiety can present in mothers.

Postpartum anxiety can present in many ways, but I’d like to share my journey with it. Looking back, I can pick out 10 key ways it presented for me. Hopefully by sharing these, it may help other new moms who are struggling.

1.) I felt a huge sense of overwhelm. It seemed everything I did was a huge task, zapping all of my energy. Simple tasks like getting a shower, making a sandwich or giving the baby a bath would leave me ready for a nap.

2.) I needed everything done a certain way. I wouldn’t even let anyone else change my sons diapers for the first few weeks. Always trying to do everything perfectly was exhausting.

3.) Leaving the house made me start to shake, so I stayed home most of the time. The thought of showering and looking presentable, having the baby dressed, packing up all the bags, trying to coordinate it around breastfeeding schedules,  just seemed too big of a task. This also left me feeling more isolated and like I was “failing” when other friends were asking me to meet up for baby playdates or lunch.

4.) I wanted to been seen as a good mom, who had everything under control, so I rarely asked for help. It would have made a world of a difference if I had let my mom or husband pitch in so I could practice some self-care.

5.) When my anxiety would flare up I would end up being short, snappy, loud and angry with people around me. I didn’t realize at the time that the anxiousness needed a physical outlet, and that getting into an argument was the route mine was taking. Anxiety plus a struggling marriage equals a vicious cycle. I’d be anxious so I’d be more snappy and short, which would make our arguments worse and the constant discontent would leave me more anxious.

6.) I had no motivation or excitement. It took all of my energy to simply get through each day.

7.) I worried about everything. These worries caused ruminating thoughts constantly. I couldn’t turn the negative or scared thoughts off. Its like my brain was running in hyper drive at all times.

8.) Overusing the internet (and social media). While I feel extremely blessed that any questions have available answers on google or in parenting groups, the wealth of information was also a curse. Trying to learn about vaccines, parenting styles, baby led weaning, more natural baby products, alternative medicine etc made my already busy brain work even harder.

9.) I didn’t love my job. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my career, so spending 30+ hours a week away from my son at work was causing a lot of guilt and frustration.

10.) I changed many of the ways I thought I would parent. This caused increased feelings of self doubt and worry. I never would have thought three years ago, that I’d now be a believer in full term nursing, bed sharing, alternative medicine, eating grain/dairy/sugar/soy/corn free and practicing a mix of attachment/gentle/visible parenting. In my community most of these things are rare, so finding my voice and letting go of the embarrassment to parent this way was extremely challenging for me. I felt that I was constantly on the defense, having to explain to friends and family why we were choosing to parent this way. This increased my already present anxiety when I thought of going out anywhere.

If you are feeling anything similar to any of these, the good news is once I was able to clearly identify my postpartum anxiety (how it was presenting and what was triggering it) I was also able to manage it. For me, this involved diet and lifestyle changes, marital counseling and journaling (along with a few other solutions).

Coming up Next!

Keep an eye out for the next blog post!  I’ll go into more detail on the solutions that help me work through my postpartum anxiety! And remember, if you’re also suffering from postpartum anxiety, or depression, there is help available. You are normal and still a wonderful parent! Also remember, by sharing your story with others you could be helping another new mom feel better sooner!