Inside: Postpartum anxiety disorder affects about 10 percent of new moms. Read on to find more information about new mom anxiety and how to help prevent constant worrying from interfering with your life.
If you feel constantly on edge, experience guilt for not being present enough or have intrusive thoughts that take up more than an hour of your day, then you may be experiencing postpartum anxiety (in other words, new mom anxiety).
My Story of Anxiety
I never knew what anxiety felt like until it hit me one day while I was driving to work in the pouring rain.
Out of nowhere, my heart started racing, and I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling of impending death. It felt like my body was telling me in some subliminal way that getting hit by a semi-truck or hydroplaning off the road were the only two options for how my life would end. I eventually pulled off the road and regained my composure.
I had no idea, but I had just experienced my first panic attack.
My anxiety coincides with learning that I have a rare, neurological disease that’s causing my arms to become paralyzed. I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout searching for a diagnosis, and it not only continued, but amplified, when I became pregnant.
Apart from gruesome heartburn and the sheer discomfort of carrying an extra 25lbs., I now had to contend with the fact I would be parenting with a disability.
After one especially tough night, the anxiety felt unbearable, leaving me desperate to find anything that would calm my nerves. And so it began—my search for options to cope with new mom anxiety.
How to Deal with New Mom Anxiety
What is New Mom Anxiety?
According to the Mayo Clinic, 89 percent of new parents experience thoughts related to anxiety. It’s a natural response from our caveman days that signals to us that we need to protect something. Essentially, it’s our brain’s way of saying:
Woo Hoo!—yeah, you—I know you’ve only had to think about yourself for the past 29 years. And because of that, I’m afraid you might accidentally kill your newborn, so I’m going to remind you every seven seconds that you now have a baby to protect. Don’t mind me. I’ll just be hanging out in your subconscious. Totally normal, just act I’m not here.
All jokes aside, the anxiety that new moms experience after having a baby is natural. You are not alone.
However, when these thoughts accumulate to more than an hour of your day or you have random panic attacks, you may be experiencing a higher than normal response.
According to Sarah Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure, “I think of postpartum anxiety as the loss of the normal sense of balance and calm.” In other words, you start rationalizing your thoughts and believing that it’s normal to fear the worst in every outcome.
What’s Considered Normal Anxiety and What’s Not?
- It’s normal to go out of your way to find pedestrian-friendly paths for walking your baby.
- It’s abnormal to think someone will drive onto the sidewalk and kill your baby, so you don’t go on walks.
- It’s normal to keep a monitor beside your bed and check it every now and then.
- It’s abnormal to watch your baby sleep to make sure they’re still breathing.
- It’s normal to worry about how your baby is doing with a new babysitter.
- It’s abnormal to think your child is going to die anytime they’re with someone other than you.
Basically, if your anxiety is disrupting your life, causing you to lose sleep or you’re having vivid mental images of bad things happening to your child, then it may be time to seek help.
What Causes New Mom Anxiety?
Anxiety can be triggered for a variety of reasons, with 25 to 35 percent of postpartum anxiety cases beginning during pregnancy. “After giving birth,” Elizabeth Fitelson, M.D., director of the Women’s Program at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry explains, “there’s a huge hormonal shift—estrogen and progesterone levels increase 10- to 100-fold during pregnancy, then fall to essentially zero within 24 hours of delivery.”
And while anxiety can happen to any new mom, additional risk factors include a past history of anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder or miscarriage.
How Can I Tell if I Have New Mom Anxiety?
Because postpartum depression is more widely publicized, new moms may not know about postpartum anxiety. It’s important to distinguish the two disorders—postpartum depression is characterized by sadness and despair, while postpartum anxiety generally focuses on irrational fears and worry.
In addition, unlike the “baby blues,” which typically lasts up to two weeks, postpartum anxiety can last indefinitely and may result in a lifelong bout of mental illness if not treated.
Common Signs of New Mom Anxiety:
- Spending more than an hour researching bad things that could happen to your baby
- Trouble sleeping
- Checking on your baby (when not warranted) for more than an hour a day.
- Difficulty in carrying on with daily routine
- Stressed relationships with loved ones
- Feeling constantly on edge
- Frequent panic attacks
- Seeking constant reassurance
- Avoiding going out in public
- Regularly assuming that others are thinking poorly of you
- Not asking for help for fear of seeming in capable
How to Deal with New Mom Anxiety?
It can be hard for new moms to admit their struggling for fear of seeming incapable.
However, anxiety is a normal response in new moms. There are steps you can take to help manage your stress.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, talk to your OBGYN or healthcare provider about treatment options. In addition, the options below can help overcome new mom anxiety and put you on the path to health.
Practicing mindfulness helps us determine where we should spend our time, energy and attention. When experiencing new mom anxiety, every worry has the same threat level, making it impossible to determine which worries are valid. Meditating can help provide a heightened sense of awareness that enables us to discern our emotions and clear space for valuable mental resources.
In other words, meditating provides our mind a relief from the constant stream of intrusive thoughts that anxiety provokes. To calm my mind, I meditate every morning for 10 minutes as part of my morning routine.
Exercise releases endorphins inside of the body that helps decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood and improve sleep, making it possibly one of the best non-medical ways to help with anxiety.
According to John J. Ratey, M.D., “As a psychiatrist who studies the effects of exercise on the brain, I’ve not only seen the science, I’ve witnessed firsthand how physical activity affects my patients.” He goes on to explain that not only can five minutes of aerobic exercise stimulate anti-anxiety effects, but it also helps divert attention. Exercise can help hold our attention and distract us from our thoughts.
Counseling can help you uncover the underlying causes of your worry and teach you the skills to overcome anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a specialized form of therapy that teaches you how to identify negative thought patterns and challenge your perceptions of a situation.
The American Psychological Association suggests that many people improve significantly within 8 to 10 therapy sessions.
Through learning to recognize your triggers and confronting your fears, therapy can help replace negative thoughts with more realistic expectations and develop better coping and problem-solving skills.
Seek out other Moms
I promise you that you’re not alone. There are other moms out there just like you who are dealing with new mom anxiety. Find a network of moms around you and discuss your worries with them. You may just find yourself laughing together at your common triggers, or maybe you’ll realize just how silly some of your fears are when you actually say them out loud.
Finding support from others who are dealing with similar issues is important for your mental health. It’s also a great way to find camaraderie between the nuances of motherhood. For help finding a mom group, check out baby center where you can search for local organizations in your area.
At the height of my anxiety, I was losing hours of sleep at night lying awake in bed. I knew, as a last resort, I could always call my doctor for a prescription to something stronger, but I wanted to give natural supplements a chance first. I tried Melatonin, Holy Basil, Valerian, Chamomile but nothing seemed to help me sleep through the night. That’s when I decided to give CBD a chance.
Finally, after years of losing sleep, I got through a night without waking up with an anxiety attack. CBD doesn’t take away my anxious thoughts—they’re still there—but it does stop my body from going through the physical effects of anxiety. I still wake up with worries, but my body isn’t reacting, and I can fall back asleep.
Final Thoughts on How to Deal with New Mom Anxiety
You don’t have to live with new mom anxiety. There are options out there to help prevent the vicious cycle of negative thoughts and emotions and create a path for you to live a normal, productive life with your baby.
If you’re living with new mom anxiety, commit to one small change this week. It can be as small as:
- 10 minutes of exercise
- 5 minutes meditation
- Reach out to at least 1 mom group
- Give CBD a shot (try Yuyo Botanicals)
- Schedule a consultation with a therapist
If you’ve given all these options a shot and you’re still drowning in new mom anxiety, reach out to your doctor and see if prescription help is right for you.
Allie Schmidt is a rare disease advocate and disabled mom living with motor neuron disease. She founded Disability Dame in 2020 to provide tips to other moms living with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
In her spare time, you can find her traveling with her husband (she's been to 38 states and 16 countries!), watching reruns of Survivor, or tending to her near-constant sunburn from spending too much time outside. You can follow her adventures here.