As an expecting parent you may have heard about the baby blues, the emotional roller coaster that comes in the immediate postpartum days. There has also been more talk lately about postpartum depression. Today, I want to shed light on something else. What if you aren’t feeling sad, but instead you are constantly on high alert, constantly worried that something bad will happen? Maybe your heart races, you feel dizzy or nauseous. Sleep disruption and loss of appetite. You can’t sit still as your mind races. You could be part of the 6% of pregnant parents or 10% of postpartum parents who suffer from anxiety. Some have anxiety alone and others have it paired with depression. This can occur during pregnancy, or even months after the birth of your child.
If you are expecting a child and wondering if you are at risk, risk factors include a family history of anxiety, previous depression or anxiety, or a thyroid imbalance. If you know you are at risk you can be proactive and join support groups early or have family or friends help out and keep watch for symptoms as they may notice before you do.
For some parents, in addition to generalized anxiety, they may have more specific forms such as Postpartum Panic Disorder. This is a form of anxiety where you may feel very nervous and have reoccurring panic attacks. When a panic attack is happening people may experience shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, claustrophobia, numbness and tingling of extremities. The attacks can come and go in waves and feel very scary but they can not hurt you. This is of course something to talk to your doctor about, and I highly recommend seeking out therapy for coping techniques and reduction of panic attacks.
Another form of postpartum anxiety is Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is estimated that 3%-5% of new parents will experience this. It includes repetitive and intrusive thoughts or visions that are very frightening and disturbing and come to mind randomly. Often parents don’t mention the thoughts that go along with this disorder because they fear judgement from others. Research has shown that these thoughts are anxious, not delusional and have a very low chance of being acted out.
The good news is that things do not have to stay this way. Your entire parenting experience doesn’t have to continue down a worried and anxious path. It is time to take it seriously and reach out for help. Locally, in Oregon we have WellMama. They offer support groups and a warm line where a trained professional will call you back. Therapy can also be extreamly helpful but be sure to go to someone who works with postpartum anxiety. Ann Tepperman, is someone in Lane County who has experience. To find groups in other areas of the US and Canada you can visit Postpartum Progress. If you are feeling overwhelmed you can send me an email with your location and I will help you find resources.
Just remember that these fearful thoughts, and even scary visions do not make you a bad parent and you won’t feel this way forever.