What Is Postpartum Anxiety?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 27, 2022
4 min read

It’s common for new parents to feel stress or anxiety after the arrival of their newborn. Usually, these feelings subside as you get to know your baby and get into a care routine. For some new parents, this anxiety doesn’t go away and makes it hard to care for their baby. Here’s what you need to know about postpartum anxiety.

Perinatal anxiety is anxiety that happens at any time from when you become pregnant until about a year after you give birth. Within this, new parents may experience prenatal anxiety (during pregnancy) or postpartum anxiety (after birth). Postpartum anxiety is also called postnatal anxiety.

Anxiety usually isn’t focused on one cause or event. The feelings of stress and anxiousness that go with anxiety are hard to control and can come without reason, but they don’t go away on their own. It’s estimated that 1 in 7 new moms and 1 in 10 new dads experience postpartum anxiety, so it’s actually quite common.

Many people are familiar with postpartum depression. In fact, some symptoms of postpartum depression are the same as or similar to those of postpartum anxiety. These changes in mood become more intense as time goes by. Some new parents find it difficult to talk about their feelings because they’re worried about being judged. Having a new baby is supposed to be a happy time, and it can be hard to admit to others that you’re feeling overly stressed and anxious. However, postpartum anxiety doesn’t go away on its own and needs to be properly addressed and treated.

It’s common for new parents to experience both postpartum anxiety and depression at the same time. This is the case in almost 50% of new parents who are diagnosed with these conditions. Many new parents with either postpartum anxiety or depression will also show symptoms or behaviors that are consistent with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s not yet fully understood how all of these conditions relate to each other as research is ongoing.

Anxiety can have both physical and emotional symptoms. It’s your body’s response to perceived danger and threats, such as wondering about the health and safety of your baby or if you are taking care of them correctly. Many new parents describe the feeling of postpartum anxiety as “going crazy” or not being able to control their racing thoughts, whether they’re rational or not.

Physical symptoms of postpartum anxiety include:

  • Poor sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sitting still
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Heart palpitations or increased heart rate
  • Feeling short of breath or like you can’t breathe
  • Tense muscles

Emotionally, you may feel:

  • Irritable
  • Unable to relax
  • A sense of dread or doom
  • Forgetful, distracted, or like you can’t focus
  • Fearful or worried
  • Obsessive about things that probably aren’t going to happen

There are several postpartum anxiety causes, not just a single cause or event. Doctors think that one of the main factors is the hormonal changes that your body goes through after giving birth. After delivery, your hormones decrease really quickly. This can have an effect on your mood or cause you to overreact to stressful situations.

Sleep is important, and while you’re taking care of a newborn, you’re probably not getting enough of it. The lack of sleep can also make you more sensitive to stressful situations. Some of these situations could be important parts of new parenthood, like breastfeeding, a difficult pregnancy or delivery, or milestones in your baby’s growth and development.

Risk factors. Some people are more likely than others to develop postpartum anxiety. You have a higher risk of developing it if you:

  • Have a history of anxiety in your family
  • Have personal experience with anxiety or depression
  • Had a difficult pregnancy or birth
  • Previously lost a child or had a miscarriage
  • Are caring for multiple children
  • Have a history of emotional trauma or abuse, including problems during childhood
  • Are a female

If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety, it’s important that you talk to your doctor or midwife about how you’re feeling. They will ask you about how you’re feeling and might have you answer a questionnaire about your symptoms.

It’s important to be as honest as you can when talking to your doctor. Postpartum anxiety can be tricky since there isn’t a specific diagnostic test or tool that doctors have to diagnose this condition. Having an honest conversation about your symptoms and feelings is the best way that your doctor can diagnose you and decide the best course of treatment. While you may feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it, there’s no need to feel this way. Postpartum anxiety is more common than you think.

Postpartum anxiety, just like postpartum depression, is treatable. There are several options available, so you and your doctor can talk together to find out which is the right one for you. 

For milder cases of postpartum anxiety, your doctor will suggest some ways that can help you relax at home. One thing is to try and get more sleep and support. If you have family members or a partner to whom you can hand your baby off for a short period, taking that time to get some rest is really important. You could also join a new parent group for support and to help with the isolation that sometimes comes with new parenthood.

For more serious cases of postpartum anxiety your doctor might recommend talk therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has shown to be really effective when it comes to treating anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Some new parents may also need medication to treat their anxiety, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are the most common medications used to treating anxiety disorders. Many new parents report that these medications are most effective when combined with therapy to treat their postpartum anxiety and depression.