Postpartum Anxiety: When Worry Becomes Fixation

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Mom and baby lying on bed with white sheets.Most people have heard about postpartum depression, but postpartum anxiety is something that is now being talked about more. Anxiety is often dismissed as a natural adjustment to becoming a new parent, but the intensity of postpartum anxiety is more than that. The worry, stress, and overwhelm can interfere with daily living by taking over. While there may be moments of joy, these moments may not last long before the anxiety thoughts creep back in. The worry then spirals and is hard to control. This can last for months or even years if left untreated.

There are many uncontrollable variables when a baby arrives. Many parents read books on what to expect or might follow social media influencers who are parenting experts so the answers are right at their fingertips. However, what many parents don’t anticipate is that all babies are different. Some may become more predictable than others after a few months and some may not.

What can contribute postpartum anxiety?

There are many factors that can contribute to postpartum anxiety. In my work, I often see postpartum anxiety show up in parents who have a history of perfectionism. Some other risk factors may include:

  • A history of anxiety.
  • A family history of anxiety.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Anxiety during pregnancy.
  • Lack of support.
  • Traumatic or difficult birth.
  • History of miscarriage or early infant death.

Some common areas where anxiety shows up.

The first is baby’s sleep. At first, as baby needs to be fed every 2-3 hours it feels like you might never get a good night’s sleep again. As they start to get older and melatonin begins to increase around 6 weeks, parents may start to think that babies should be on a schedule, taking long naps throughout the day and waking at night every 2-3 hours or 3-4 hour as they get older to be fed.

However, for some parents of baby’s whose naps are short this can be distressing. The mind shifts to thoughts such as baby being overly tired and never sleeping again, to something must be wrong with my baby, or I must be doing something wrong. Then the search for the answers sets in.  However, there might not be an answer. As hard as it is to tolerate, this might just be where baby is right now. Some babies sleep better at night than during the day. The same can also be true in reverse. As long as they seem happy and are getting the average amount of sleep (some may sleep a little less) in a 24-hour time frame for their age range, it’s okay.

The second driver of anxiety I find for many parents is how much baby eats. For birthing parents that choose to breastfeed, I often see anxiety about how much their baby is actually consuming. For bottle fed babies whose parents use formula or pumped milk, anxiety can occur if baby isn’t eating the amount of ounces they’ve read as normal for baby’s age.

Sometimes babies may be sensitive to certain foods that pass through breastmilk or the specific components in certain types of formula. In these cases, there may need to be some trial and error and consultations with your pediatrician and/or lactation consultant depending on the root of the anxiety.

The third source of anxiety that I see is intense fear of SIDS. It is natural to have worry about this. However, for some parents this fear may be all consuming. It can lead to behaviors such as constantly checking breathing while baby is asleep or searching the internet incessantly. The truth is, the American Academy of Pediatrics has clearly stated what you can do to decrease the risks of SIDS. Following these guidelines is one of the most important things that parents can do to reduce this risk. Self-talk that reminds you that you are doing everything you can is important.

What can help?

Maybe you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum anxiety and you want to know what you can do to decrease the intensity of what you are feeling. The two treatments that are most effective are a combination of mental health therapy and medication. Postpartum support groups can also be helpful.

Therapy can help challenge the thoughts that are contributing to anxiety. Often times, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is used, though there are many different types of therapy that can be helpful. Medication can help dampen the noise of the thoughts contributing to anxiety. While it may not go away completely, medication can help things feel more manageable. Some people choose to try therapy first before adding medication to see if therapy will work on its own. While this is fine, it’s important to know that medication is safe, even for breastfeeding mothers. Medication can be another source of anxiety for some parents. Remember that babies can feel what we are feeling, so learning how to ground and relax is crucial.

Parenting is hard enough without excessive worry taking over. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to suffer. There is evidence-based treatment to help. If you received messages in that your life that created a story around toughing it out or trying to push through, it’s time to create a new narrative. Don’t lose hope!

If you are looking for support and live in California or Texas, please contact me for a free 15 minute chat to see if we would be a good fit in working together.

Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional. In this article, I recommend several resources. I am not an affiliate and do not receive any compensation for my recommendations. I just like them and hope they can support you in your journey.