What is postpartum anxiety (perinatal anxiety)
Most people have heard of postpartum depression; depression that sets in after giving birth to a baby. What a lot of people don’t realize is that postpartum anxiety is as common and that some people can have both postpartum depression and anxiety at the same time. Another aspect of this we tend to overlook is that both of these can occur prepartum as well – any time after becoming pregnant. When we talk about the prepartum and postpartum periods as a whole, we call it perinatal, so that’s what I’m going to refer to it as for the rest of the post.
Perinatal anxiety can be scary and debilitating. It’s also really important to recognize if you or a loved one has it so that you can seek appropriate help. Perinatal anxiety can occur in any pregnant person or up to 1 year after giving birth, regardless of gender identity. It can occur in the partner of the pregnant person as well, regardless of the partner’s gender identity. Finally, it can also occur in adoptive parents. Regardless of whether or not you were pregnant (or if it was your partner) or your gender identity, it’s good to know the signs.
Signs of postpartum anxiety
- You (or your partner) is pregnant or recently gave birth – pretty much the qualifier to have perinatal anxiety as opposed to anxiety that occurs during any other time of life.
- Worry that something bad will happen to your baby – this is the most common anxious thought that people with perinatal anxiety have. The worry can be that someone else will harm the baby, you will harm the baby, an accident will happen and harm the baby, etc. Usually this leads to behaviours such as not letting anyone other than yourself hold your baby (or help with feeding, diaper changing, etc.).
- Feelings of worry, dread, or fear – Beyond the worry thoughts, these feelings can occur within your body. You may also just feel dread or impending doom that you can’t really put a finger on or shake.
- Feeling restless, tense, or on-edge – These can be physical feelings, behaviours such as pacing, or emotions such as irritability. It can become harder to concentrate, focus and sleep as well.
- Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, shaking, upset stomach, or sweating – When we feel anxious we often have physical sensations. Sometimes these can become full blown panic attacks, but often they are more internal and not visible to others.
Sometimes perinatal anxiety goes away on its own without any help. However, it’s important to get help because of the impact it has on your baby. Whether in the womb or a newborn, children are greatly affected by the emotions of their parents. If you are anxious, your child is much more likely to become anxious as both a child and an adult. Part of taking care of your baby is taking care of yourself.
Addressing postpartum anxiety
One thing you can do, even before you come to counselling is to ensure that you are engaging in the basics of perinatal self-care: Nutrition (eat 3 healthy meals per day), Exercise (daily if possible), Sleep and relaxation (proper sleep hygiene), Time for self (at least a few times each week), and Support (from friends and family).