Known as the other postpartum problem, postpartum anxiety can leave new mums feeling frazzled and frustrated.
WORDS ANNA FERNANDEZ
Alongside the immense excitement and love a baby brings, there’s also the paralysing realisation that you might not be able to control everything they experience after birth. And when you factor in the hormonal ups and downs, and the extreme exhaustion those first few weeks bring, it’s no wonder many new mothers report experiencing baby blues. But there’s another postpartum mental health condition that should be on your radar: It’s called postpartum anxiety. While it’s not as well known, it is more common than you think.
What is Postpartum Anxiety?
There are two types of postpartum anxiety: one encapsulates the fear of “contaminating” your baby (worrying that she’s going to eat something she shouldn’t, for example), and the other centres upon hurting them (like if you were to accidentally drop her).
Postpartum anxiety disorders can take many forms, namely,
generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder,
and even a combination of these disorders.
How is it Different from Postpartum Depression?
Part of what new mothers experience is normal and part of it may not be. Those with anxiety often feel like something bad might happen. On the other hand, those with depression often assume a fixed negative outcome and don’t think there's anything worth preventing. You could sometimes be experiencing symptoms of both simultaneously. Unfortunately, because of this, postpartum anxiety is often misdiagnosed as postpartum depression, or attributed to the sudden and major changes you’re experiencing.
What is it Caused By?
Experts have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of postpartum anxiety. However, the marked change in your hormone levels may have something to do with it. Your body’s level of estrogen and progesterone spikes during pregnancy then decreases tremendously within 24 hours of delivery. In the days that follow, you're adjusting to an expanded array of responsibilities while dealing with sleep deprivation and the round-the-clock care of a newborn. So it's really not surprising how so many mothers start to unravel.
While any new mother can go through postpartum anxiety, those especially vulnerable include women who have a history of eating disorders, anxiety, depression or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, post-birth expectations also play a big role in the onset of postpartum anxiety. This is an arduous transition period during which you may think you’ve overcome the difficult part, but then you are bombarded with so many physically and emotionally draining demands, which often trigger the onslaught of postpartum anxiety.