Feeling a little nervous when your new baby arrives is a completely normal part of the parenthood journey. Between adjusting to your new schedule (goodbye, full night’s sleep), and learning how to care for your new baby, there’s a lot of ground to cover quite quickly. But if those jitters, or “baby blues” and they’re often called, affect most or every aspect of your life, it may be time to talk to your doctor about postpartum anxiety. With the right tools, you can parent confidently while also caring for your mental health needs.
What is postpartum anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety (PPA) is a condition when feelings of worry surrounding parenthood become overpowering. Many new parents deal with this condition—while it remains underdiagnosed, over 20% of birthing parents experience anxiety. Furthermore, 43% of Nanit parents report that they’ve noticed symptoms of depression or anxiety since becoming a parent. It’s important to remember you’re not alone and there are many ways to get the support you need.
What causes postpartum anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety can be caused by a number of variables. Many experts think there’s a connection to this condition and postpartum hormonal fluctuations. The lack of sleep for new parents could also play a role. Parents with a history of general anxiety, or who have experienced this condition with previous pregnancies, may also be more likely to develop postpartum anxiety.
What are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety?
Postpartum anxiety can manifest in a few ways. Keep in mind that there are a few variations of this condition, including postpartum panic or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), so the below list may not cover all possible symptoms for all possible diagnoses under this umbrella. But generally, parents with postpartum anxiety may experience these symptoms:
- Challenges sleeping
- Appetite changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Struggling to control racing thoughts
- Prolonged feelings of worry, particularly around caring for your baby
- Physical symptoms like nausea and dizziness
If you, or someone you know, is feeling intensely sad, anxious, hopeless, irritable, or guilty, and/or is experiencing difficulties sleeping, eating, thinking or concentrating, don’t face these alone. Seek help from a psychologist, doctor, or other mental health provider.
The postpartum anxiety-sleep connection
Sleep problems are among the most common symptoms of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), an umbrella term that includes postpartum anxiety. According to research conducted by Nanit Lab, 15% of parents diagnosed with a PMAD experienced sleep disruptions, and 14% of parents said finding time to sleep was their biggest source of anxiety during the newborn stage. Just slightly over half of parents reported trying to sleep more as a way to resolve their anxieties.
Sleep is essential for physical and mental well-being, but it’s a fact that those first few months of parenthood interfere with a full night’s rest. And that’s why we’re here to help parents get more sleep. Nanit parents get an extra 36 nights of sleep per year, and 71% of Nanit families report feeling less anxious.
Postpartum anxiety vs. postpartum depression
Postpartum anxiety is marked by worry and fear, while postpartum depression exhibits more classic depression symptoms, such as frequent crying and feelings of sadness. Both conditions fall under the perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) umbrella. It’s also possible to be impacted by both postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression at the same time. The best way to determine if you are experiencing a PMAD is to work with a mental health professional.
Signs that it is time to seek professional help for postpartum anxiety
All parents deserve support from family, loved ones, and community during this new phase in their lives. It’s OK (and encouraged!) to reach out for support, whether from a support group or a medical professional. You deserve any extra help you feel you need.
If you’re not sure which anxious feelings might need to be addressed with professional assistance, there are a few areas to be mindful about.
One such sign is how postpartum anxiety affects your everyday life. These two examples can help illustrate the line between typical parenthood worries and postpartum anxiety.
Insomnia: Lack of sleep is a universal new parenthood experience, but insomnia related to concern for your baby’s safety may be a postpartum anxiety symptom.
- Panic: If you’re experiencing an onset or increase in panic attacks, your body’s natural fight or flight response may be kicking in and exacerbating feelings of worry.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can ask your primary care provider if they can recommend any mental health professionals that specialize in postpartum anxiety. You can also ask them about additional testing to check your hormones and vitamin levels, as imbalances can cause symptoms of anxiety as well.
What are the treatments for postpartum anxiety?
Therapy can help provide new parents with space to talk about their anxieties and work with a professional on coping strategies. If you and your doctor decide medication is the right choice, there are options that are safe for breastfeeding parents.
“Taking medication is a really personal choice and one that you have to make for yourself,” clinical psychologist Dr. Alice Pickering shared with Nanit.
“But one thing I can say I've heard from mothers time and time again, for therapy and/or medication treatment, is that they wished they didn't wait as long as they did to start feeling better or getting help."
It’s important that your healing path feels right for you, and you can decide along with your doctor which option is best to help postpartum anxiety. There’s one universal truth, however: Don’t put off the call!
Supporting a loved one with postpartum anxiety
Caregiver support is essential to postpartum recovery, but taking the next steps to help can be easier said than done.
In a Nanit survey of partners who noticed postpartum anxiety symptoms in their birthing partner, 43.5%said they didn’t know where to seek treatment. If your partner has recently given birth, it can help to know the potential signs and symptoms we’ve mentioned here. You can also check for postpartum support organizations, such as Postpartum Support International, that can guide you to mental health resources.
It is also important to note that postpartum anxiety can affect non-birthing parents as well. A study examining perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) symptoms in new parents revealed that mothers are more likely than fathers to recognize these symptoms post childbirth. Despite this, a significant number of fathers also experience PMAD symptoms, with sleep issues being the most commonly reported by both parents. However, 65% of fathers were unaware that their symptoms were related to PMADs. The findings underline the need for routine screening and support for new fathers to promote early detection and treatment of PMADs.
If you think your partner is showing signs of postpartum anxiety, let them know it’s not their fault. You can make space for them to talk about their feelings freely and without judgment. If they feel overwhelmed about seeking professional support, you can provide emotional and logistical support until they’re ready to take that step. It can be that much easier to take the first step if you help them with researching providers. You can also make a big difference by taking over parenting duties or household tasks so they can take time to themselves to rest and recharge.
Self-care while coping with postpartum anxiety
Just like your postpartum physical recovery timeline, healing from postpartum anxiety can look different for everyone. Be as gentle with yourself as possible and take all the time you need. A Nanit Lab survey found that many parents try to cope with anxiety through daily practices such as exercising and maintaining hygiene when possible. Spending time with friends and family also makes a positive impact on postpartum maternal mental health.
Of course, this can be challenging if you’re working ‘round the clock to care for your new baby. Sometimes it can help to have additional daily support with tools like Nanit’s Pro Baby Camera monitor, which can help support your peace of mind as it monitors health indicators like baby’s motion and breathing. Around 71% of Nanit parents reported less anxiety and 87% say they’re more easily able to manage their baby's sleep. If your baby can sleep better, so can everyone else in the family.
Ways to reach out for help with postpartum anxiety
You’re not alone if you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety. But it can be challenging to know exactly where to turn when you need support. You can start by asking your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing to see if they can offer any guidance on mental healthcare providers.
Support groups such as MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers, though they now welcome parents with children of any age) can also help. These groups can point you toward professional resources, and also introduce you to a community of parents going through the same struggles. Organizations such as Postpartum Support International (PSI) also offer free online support groups, so parents can work into their busy schedules.
Find your postpartum anxiety support network
Just like its well-known cousin, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety can affect many new parents through absolutely no fault of their own. Whether you’re the one who gave birth or you’re caring for a postpartum partner, it’s important to know the signs of postpartum anxiety so you can find help. It may be finding helpful parenting tools or support groups to cope with daily parenting life, talking to a therapist, or getting help with medication. Whatever method works best for you, you deserve relief. All you need to do is take the first step and ask for help.
Many parents of young children experience anxiety, stress, sadness, fatigue, and loneliness, among other intense negative feelings. We’re here to remind you that many parents experience this, and for some, these feelings may be diagnosed as postpartum anxiety. PPA is not your fault, and it can be treated.
If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, take action now:
Put the baby in a safe place (e.g., the crib). Call a family member or friend for help if you need to.
National Hopeline Network