Hashtags like #MakingOverMotherhood are making conversations about the real, raw struggles of motherhood more common. But we still have a long way to go. There’s little discussion about many important topics, especially those related to postpartum care for mama—like postpartum anxiety, a condition that researchers say is more prevalent than postpartum depression.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about postpartum anxiety, so you can spot the signs and—if necessary—get the treatment you need.
What is Postpartum Anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety is a mood disorder that’s characterized by intense worry related to your baby.
While it’s normal to worry about your baby (there are many scary baby-related topics like SIDS), postpartum anxiety is more intense.
For example, it’s normal to worry about your baby getting sick during cold and flu season, but taking steps like boosting the immune system may ease your worries. If you have postpartum anxiety, however, the intense worry about your baby getting sick may prevent you from ever going out in public or having family members visit.
Postpartum anxiety can even cause a new mom to worry about problems that may not even exist yet—like worrying about your newborn baby getting hit by a car, falling off a railing or being bullied in Kindergarten.
How Common is Postpartum Anxiety?
Despite the lack of conversation surrounding postpartum anxiety, it is actually more common that postpartum depression. (source)
In fact, in one study, 6 percent of women were diagnosed with postpartum depression and 11 percent were diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. But researchers surmise this is a very underreported statistic, particularly because some mamas have both depression and anxiety, but get one lump diagnoses—typically postpartum depression.
What Causes Postpartum Anxiety?
Like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is often blamed on the shifting hormone levels that occur after a baby is born. Shifting hormones isn’t the only risk factor for anxiety though.
Risk factors for this condition include:
- Personal history of anxiety disorders
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Previous history with postpartum anxiety
- Thyroid imbalance
- Nutritional depletion (particularly magnesium)
- Sleep deprivation (source)
Keep in mind there’s a spectrum to mood disorders and some struggle with more extreme symptoms than others.
Signs of Postpartum Anxiety
Postpartum anxiety can manifest in many ways—through your thoughts, through your physical body, and through your actions.
Common symptoms include:
- Constant worry
- Feeling of impending doom/danger or that something bad is going to happen to your baby
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to sleep, insomnia
- Inability to sit still, fidgety, pacing
- Physical symptoms like racing heart, dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea
- Lack of appetite
From changing routines to worrying thoughts, postpartum anxiety manifests in many ways. Here’s how some mamas say postpartum anxiety has affected them:
- “I never want to go anywhere. I worry about [my daughter] getting hurt, or about her getting sick, or that I might forget her in the grocery cart. It’s so bad, I just order everything online now.” — Margaret
- “I used to be adventurous. I used to love playing outside and going for walks and runs. Now since I had [my son], I just can’t do that stuff anymore.” — Jennifer
- “I worry that I’m a good enough mother. How can I be better? Will I be good enough? These are things I tell my therapist. We’re working on it.” — Patricia
- “I’m a labor and delivery nurse. I didn’t think postpartum anxiety would happen to me, but then I saw the signs. I’m so glad I knew what to look for, and I was able to talk to my OBGYN right away. I’ve had three babies, and I got postpartum depression and anxiety each time. Mamas, take care of yourself!” — Rachel
How to Take Care of Yourself if You’re Experiencing Postpartum Anxiety
If you spot the signs of postpartum anxiety, it’s vital to take care of yourself.
When you have a newborn, setting aside time for yourself may seem selfish (it’s not, we promise!), but not getting the care you need can be dangerous. It takes a lot of energy (both mental and physical) to raise a baby, and a healthy mama is the best kind of mama—even if it means putting yourself first until you get better. Here are some natural ways to do just that.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety can create sleeping problems like insomnia. Add worry-induced insomnia with a tired newborn, and you’ll quickly run out of energy. Make sure you’re getting as much quality sleep as you can. Keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid using blue lights before bed since they can affect your circadian rhythm and make sleep problems worse
- Try natural remedies for getting better sleep
- Trying to go to bed at a reasonable time; even with a newborn, you can try to get to bed at a reasonable time to catch a few hours before your next nursing session
- Take a nap during the day–even if it means putting your to-do list on the back-burner or getting help with baby
A newborn requires around the clock care, and when you’re on solo duty, it can be exhausting. Even just an uninterrupted hot shower can do wonders for your mental health. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking for help.
- Friends, grandparents, and other family members can be so valuable during this time.
- You can also consider hiring a postpartum doula to help you and baby.
- And consider getting help around the house to alleviate some of the pressure with running a house. Some mamas find that a hiring a housekeeper, at least for a few weeks, releases the burden of trying to tidy up the house.
- If leaving the house is difficult, consider having meals or groceries delivered. Some grocery delivery services like Shipt will also deliver from Target, which is great if you need baby care items like wipes delivered ASAP.
There’s no denying the link between what you eat and your mental health. Make sure to eat nourishing postpartum meals. In particular, omega 3 fatty acids are well known for promoting brain health, but studies show that a deficiency can increase the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety.
The same study also focused on omega 3 supplementation (including DHA and EPA supplements) as a way to improve mental health in the perinatal period. You can find omega 3s in wild caught salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, and hemp or flax seeds. You can find vitamin B in salmon, organ meat, dark leafy greens, and milk. Bee pollen is also high in all B vitamins, except B12.
There are also studies that suggest folate can help with mood disorders. Staying on your prenatal can help ensure you get this and all of the other nutrients you need.
You might not feel like major exercise right after having a baby, but exercise is a powerful tool against postpartum anxiety. Regular exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can reduce stress, improve your mood, and help you feel like yourself. Once your midwife or OBGYN clears you for exercise, try to fit at least 30 minutes of gentle exercise each day.
- Go for a walk around the block; load up your stroller or try out your baby carrier
- Try a perinatal yoga video; there are several free videos like this one on YouTube
- It’s easy to spend the day on the couch nursing, but set a timer and stand up and stretch every few hours
Perhaps you’ve heard that Seasonal Affective Disorder is most prevalent in areas that receive less sunlight? That’s because without as much sunlight, your body makes less vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can impact your mood, but studies show that vitamin D supplementation can help alleviate these low feelings.
Boost your vitamin D levels with:
- Forest bathing
- In the summer, getting healthy sun exposure on skin
- Eating vitamin D-rich foods like sardines, grass-fed butter, egg yolks, and cod
- Taking a vitamin D/K2 supplement (hyperlink to k2), especially in the winter or if you live north of the Mason Dixie line.
If you live in a climate where you don’t have a lot of sunlight in the colder months, you might not have a great chance to forest bath. Light therapy can be a good way to boost your vitamin D levels when the sun isn’t out as much. You don’t need a fancy machine to receive the benefits of light therapy. You can find the so-called “happy lights” easily on Amazon.
Acupuncture has been used for millennia, and it’s often used to treat generalized anxiety disorder. As a bonus, a 2019 study reveals that acupuncture can even help you sleep better at night!
If you aren’t thrilled about the idea of tiny needles, no biggie. You can try acupressure, which is a similar concept as acupuncture, except pressure is used on your pressure points instead of needles. A 2016 study found that mamas who received auricular acupressure (i.e., on your ear) after C-sections had significantly lower stress levels, anxiety levels, and fatigue.
Natural herbal support, like Bach Flower Rescue Remedy, can help you feel better. The Rescue Remedy comes in a convenient dropper, and each batch continues simple, natural ingredients including Helianthemum nummularium HPUS, Clematic vitalba HPUS, and Impatients glandulifera HPUS.
Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is an umbrella term for therapies that help manage conditions like depression and anxiety. During a talk therapy session, you’ll sit with a licensed therapist and discuss your concerns and symptoms. Your therapist can help you develop healthy habits and tools for managing your condition.
Speak with your practitioner
If you’ve tried the above tips for managing anxiety, but still feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider or your therapist. In extreme cases, your practitioner may suggest other medication that can help.
Take Your Feelings Seriously
Your feelings are your feelings. We can’t always control what we feel, but we can control whether or not we get the help we need. It’s important to listen to your body, and if you have any concerning feelings or signs of anxiety, take the time to address any issues so you can take care of yourself and your baby. You got this, mama!