Like so many things linked to childbirth, women’s emotions both during and after pregnancy can be incredibly hard to predict.
And while society has gradually become better at helping new mothers identify postpartum feelings of depression, sadness and withdrawal, other symptoms associated with giving birth haven’t been as widely explored.
I’m speaking today about postpartum anxiety.
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM ANXIETY?
Together with its more well-known counterpart, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety affects approximately 23% of Canadian mothers, according to Statistics Canada. It is characterized by excessive nervousness, nonstop worry and an inability to relax in the aftermath of childbirth that impacts a mother’s ability to care for herself and her newborn child.
Unfortunately, these signs often go undiagnosed by medical professionals or get lumped in with “new mom jitters” that so many women experience in the frenzied days and months following delivery.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP?
A reasonable amount of worry is to be expected after having a baby, especially as a first-time parent. It’s when those feelings of fear or panic become overwhelming (for example: you avoid leaving the house with your baby out of fear they’ll get sick or hurt or you can’t sleep for worry of leaving them unattended) that it’s time to seek additional support.
If you’re feeling overcome with anxiety after giving birth, speak to your pediatrician or OBGYN about getting help, including asking for a referral to a therapist with perinatal experience. Speaking to an expert can be beneficial in and of itself but they can also provide evidence-based solutions, like grounding exercises and controlled breathing techniques, aimed at promoting relaxation.
Medication that is safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding may also be recommended in the case of extreme postpartum anxiety.
Though often harder to recognize and more seldom discussed than postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is a real condition affecting a significant percentage of new moms. Thankfully, it is also highly treatable and does not have to define your experience of motherhood.
Do not hesitate to seek help if you or someone you love is showing signs of postpartum anxiety. It’s never too late and support is always available.
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.