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Is Postpartum Anxiety Medication Right For You?

stressed out cartoon woman holding baby

The birth of a baby is usually a time of great excitement and joy for the entire family. But childbirth can trigger powerful emotions, including symptoms of postpartum anxiety and depression, in some new mothers. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 8 women experience postpartum depression and anxiety symptoms. Yet, there continues to be a stigma attached to any new mother who is not blissfully happy with an adorable baby in her arms. 

Organizations like Postpartum Support International are increasing awareness about postpartum anxiety disorders. They provide training to healthcare professionals and offer support and resources to women who develop postpartum anxiety and depression. 

Please continue reading to learn more about postpartum anxiety and depression. If you have recently given birth and are struggling with these emotions, this article will help you understand when to seek help and whether anxiety medication is right for you. 

What are baby blues, postpartum depression, and postpartum anxiety?

A few different terms are used to describe perinatal mood disorders, i.e., the emotions and symptoms some new mothers experience in the period following childbirth. Perinatal refers to the period immediately before or after birth.

Baby Blues

This term refers to symptoms of anxiety, mood swings, tearfulness, crying spells, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, appetite changes, and sleep difficulties. These symptoms usually begin 2-3 days after delivery and can last for 2-3 weeks. They can be attributed to the hormonal changes that occur after childbirth.

Postpartum Depression 

This is a more severe and longer-lasting condition than the baby blues. It can interfere with your ability to care for your baby and perform activities of daily living. The symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD) can develop in late pregnancy, in the first few weeks after giving birth, or even a year after childbirth. Therefore, a more appropriate term is perinatal depression (depression around the time of childbirth). 

In terms of symptoms of postpartum depression, there can include mood swings, depressed mood, crying spells, difficulty bonding with the baby, loss of appetite, insomnia, withdrawal from family and friends, reduced interest in previously enjoyable activities, fatigue, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness in the postpartum period.  There may be thoughts of harming yourself or the baby in severe cases.

Postpartum Anxiety

Unlike postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is less well known. Postpartum anxiety symptoms include uncontrollable, consuming, racing, overwhelming, irrational, disruptive, and intrusive thoughts. Women with postpartum anxiety disorder typically tend to have severe worry about their baby’s and their own health. There can be an intense fear or excessive worry about something bad happening to the baby, themselves, or their partner. Perinatal anxiety can also result in excessively blaming oneself if something goes wrong. New moms with postpartum anxiety frequently experience physical symptoms like extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat. 

In addition to the above, there are some less common perinatal mental health conditions such as postpartum OCD (postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder), panic attacks, eating disorders, and postpartum psychosis (confusion, hallucinations, paranoia). 

Is it normal to have anxiety after having a baby?

After 40 weeks of intense anticipation, doctors’ appointments, and sonograms, when a perfectly healthy and adorable baby finally arrives, the joy can quickly become replaced by worry and anxiety. Is the color of her poop normal? Am I feeding her enough? What if she falls off the changing table? These thoughts are common among new parents. But for some new moms, these worries can become overwhelming and all-consuming.

Similar to the baby blues and postpartum depression, developing postpartum anxiety is related to hormonal changes in the postpartum period. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women has postpartum anxiety, so it is quite common. 

While some worrying about your new baby is normal, you should have postpartum anxiety medically reviewed and seek treatment if the anxiety is severe enough to affect your ability to take care of your baby and yourself. 

How long does anxiety last after having a baby?

Everyone experiences a mental health condition like postpartum anxiety disorder differently. It is impossible to predict how long it will last in a particular person. A personal or family history of depression and anxiety, comorbid depression, and the presence of real stressors (related to health or finances, for example) can make the symptoms of postpartum anxiety more severe or long-lasting. A history of pregnancy loss (previous miscarriage or stillbirth in a previous pregnancy) is associated with an increased risk of postpartum anxiety. Postpartum anxiety symptoms can develop much later when weaning your baby from breastfeeding, again fueled by hormonal changes.

Is postpartum anxiety curable?

There are several effective treatment options for postpartum anxiety. In general, these treatments are similar to those offered for generalized anxiety disorder and other types of anxiety disorders.  Standard treatment modalities used include talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy. Stress reduction methods and relaxation techniques like meditation, mindfulness, massage, and yoga are also helpful in managing symptoms in women dealing with postpartum anxiety. 

Do antidepressants help PPD?

Antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can effectively treat depression by regulating the mood-stabilizing chemicals in the brain. Medications like benzodiazepines can help to reduce anxiety. However, these medications are used for moderate to severe postpartum depression and anxiety cases because of concerns about side effects and patient safety. 

You should know that almost all psychiatric medications are secreted into breast milk. Therefore, pregnant women and new mothers need to discuss the risks and benefits of medication treatment for depression and anxiety with their doctor. The decision to use antidepressants or anxiety medications for your postpartum anxiety and depression will depend on the severity of your mental health condition, your response to other safer treatment options such as psychotherapy, and your coexisting medical conditions.


Are there any non-medication methods to decrease postpartum anxiety?

You can try cuddling your baby as this releases oxytocin, a hormone that can lower anxiety levels. Also, try to get as much sleep and rest as possible but don't forget to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine- it’s a powerful way to manage anxiety. Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can also help. Lastly, spending time with other new moms (even online) can help you realize you’re not the only one struggling with these emotions. 

When to ask for help?

When you are a new mom, you can feel very pressured to do it all by yourself. But as the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. You should know that postpartum anxiety is quite common and will pass over time. However, you should seek professional help from a mental health care provider if:

  • You find it hard to bond with your baby, care for your baby, or perform daily tasks.
  • You have worsening symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression.
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

References

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/index.htm
  3. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/postpartum-depression/what-is-postpartum-depression
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/postpartum-anxiety-an-invisible-disorder-that-can-affect-new-mothers-202107302558