Mom2Mom: Is it new-mom worry, or is it postpartum anxiety?

Posted by Erin Towle-Silva and Elizabeth Van Horn on June 10, 2014 

Becoming a mom can bring on many different feelings, from pure joy to complete fear and feelings of being overwhelmed. This is a time of huge transition and can provoke feelings of loss, fear, worry and even sadness. All of these feelings are perfectly natural. It doesn’t make you a bad mom or a bad person. It makes you human.

Becoming a mom is a life-changing event after which we are often greeted by others with excitement and happiness over the new baby. While this can be great, it can also leave you feeling as if “something is wrong with me” and alone in your feelings of intense fear and worry.

Feeling intense fear, worry, and anxiety can also be postpartum anxiety. While many are learning about and aware of postpartum depression these days, postpartum anxiety is a disorder that is gaining awareness. Some of the symptoms and signs of postpartum anxiety:

• Constant worries (may be about the baby’s health and development, being a good parent, balancing work and parenting) and feeling like you can’t stop or turn off the thoughts and worries

• Feelings of restless and moodiness

• Difficulty concentrating

• Trouble sleeping

• Difficulty eating

• Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, dizziness, feeling hot and/or sweaty

Experiencing some worry and anxiety is normal and adaptive. It is a natural response to caring for and protecting your baby. However, anxiety can become a problem when you feel like you can’t manage it, when it interferes with your ability to function in your daily life, if you find yourself dreading everyday situations (for example, bathing the baby), or if you feel as though the panic comes out of nowhere.

In rare cases, a new mom can experience postpartum PTSD. This is more likely to occur after a traumatic birth such as an unexpected C-section or an unwanted medical intervention. In addition to the symptoms already noted, a woman might feel detached from her body, have the sensations of re-experiencing the birth trauma or have nightmares and flashbacks.

If a new mom’s anxiety is tipping toward being overwhelming and unmanageable, it is important that she receives help and support. Some women think their symptoms will go away. However, if postpartum anxiety is left untreated, it can get worse, and it can interfere with a woman’s ability to bond with her new baby. Below are some suggestions and strategies for those suffering with postpartum anxiety:

• Take care of yourself! Ask for breaks and help from friends and family members. Taking care of yourself is what is best for your baby.

• Reach out to a mental health professional to get professional support and strategies to address worry, anxiety and any other overwhelming feelings you are having.

• Use relaxation methods, such as meditation, diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

• Consult with a medical doctor to determine whether medication can help reduce the symptoms.

Got a question about your child’s health or happiness (or your own)? Send an email to our experts via mom2mom@newsobserver.com.

Erin Towle-Silva and Elizabeth Van Horn, PsyD, are licensed psychologists at Change for Living Counseling PLLC (919-807-1454), serving Wake County and surrounding communities.

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