According to Postpartum Support International about “6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety.” However, I think those numbers are substantially under reported.
During and after pregnancy people would frequently talk about Postpartum Depression (PPD). I also read up on it just so I would be aware of what to look out for in myself. My doctor and the nurses at the hospital all gave me t pamphlets on PPD so I would know what to look out for and who to call. After I gave birth people called to check in on me to make sure I was doing okay. I appreciate all of that. I didn’t have postpartum depression. With the help of my hubby and other family members, I was doing pretty good.
However I did have anxiety. A lot of anxiety. Since sometimes I like to go into my self diagnosis mode, I would diagnose myself with postpartum anxiety, mild, without panic attacks. Wait, that’s not even a thing. The DSM-5, the handbook of psychiatric disorders that is used by Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Counselors, in the United States, does not recognize Postpartum anxiety as mental health diagnosis. Why is that?
Postpartum depression is recognized widely by the mental health world, and has a diagnosis code. There are even special treatment groups that focus solely on PPD. Yet, postpartum anxiety falls under the umbrella of just another anxiety disorder, it just gets thrown in the with likes of Adjustment disorder with anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or Obessive Compulsive Disorder. However, according to the published article Postpartum anxiety: More common than you think, by Dr’s Jordan and Minikel (2019), research studies suggest that perinatal anxiety is more prevalent than depression. Also, studies have suggested that more women experience symptoms and have significant levels of anxiety during the post natal period, however they do not fully meet the criteria to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Therefore, the true numbers of anxiety in women during the postnatal period go under reported. Even though more women may experience postpartum anxiety, these women are not necessarily getting any type of treatment.
After giving birth to Nico, I experienced many symptoms related to anxiety. Typically, my amount of worry increased. I know had a little human to take care of, a human that was in no way able to take care of himself. I still worry. SIDS is a real fear. I find myself waking up at night to check on him, to make sure he is still breathing. I remember one night he actually slept for a few hours at a time, more than his regular 2 or 3 hours, I of course woke up to check on him. Yup, he was sound asleep.
I worry when he gets sick. I worry when he goes to day care if he will be okay. I worry if he is eating enough. And since I am a therapist, I worry if he is adjusting well so he doesn’t have a childhood anxiety disorder. I guess I have regular mommy worries. Everyone asked me if I was okay on his first day of day care, I had some worry, but I actually felt fine overall. I kinda just knew he would be fine. That was me managing my anxiety. I am able to put my irrational thinking patterns into focused rational thoughts.
I used to stay up all night because I knew he would wake up to eat. I already had trouble sleeping way before the thought of baby. Now I was being woken up from my sleep every 2-3 hours, it made it so much harder to sleep. So I did’t sleep. One night I think I stayed up until 6 am, and then I was finally able to go to sleep. The anxiety is real. If I was ever going to sleep again, I had to learn to be fine with baby sleeping in peace. I had to stop fearing those middle of the night wake ups and allow myself to just breathe and relax in the moment.
The symptoms of my anxiety would never be enough for a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, I know that. My anxiety was triggered by being a new mom, and the constant worry of having to take care of another human when I was previously only taking care of myself. Being a mom comes with more responsibility. That responsibility causes me to have a running list of tasks in my brain that cause anxiety. The anxiety is real, but lucky for me it is also manageable.
I know I am not the only mom who has experienced symptoms of postpartum anxiety. So if you are a new mom, or a seasoned mom, and just can’t shake those anxious thoughts, take a step back and just breathe, stop and think about the rational thoughts. Close the door for irrational thinking patterns, think about realistic scenarios, and always remember to take time for self care. As a mom you are the world to your child, take care of yourself and remember that self care is not selfish.