The baby blues and postpartum depression (PPD) are conditions most parents-to-be and new parents have heard about. This is good, considering that 50 to 85 percent of women experience some form of the baby blues and about 15 percent going on to develop postpartum depression. But what about postpartum anxiety?

When most people think of PPD, symptoms that typically spring to mind include crying all the time, not wanting to get out of bed, feeling disconnected from your baby and being unable to bond. These symptoms definitely occur to many women suffering from PPD, but they fail to take into account the other kind mood disturbances that many moms experience—those associated with anxiety.

Postpartum anxiety (PPA) symptoms have historically been ignored, but it is estimated that about the same number of women who develop depressive symptoms postpartum also show signs of anxiety.

Symptoms of PPA include constant worrying, racing thoughts that can’t be ignored, being unable to sleep or eat much, and not being able to sit still. Physical symptoms are common too, such as a racing heart, dizziness, or nausea. Some women experiencing PPA may also have panic attacks, which can be severe and make someone feel like they are dying.

Unfortunately, these kinds of symptoms have often been ignored by medical professionals, who have instead focused more on the depressive symptoms. The good news is that the tide seems to be turning as PPA has been getting more coverage in the media and in the medical field.

In fact, PPD has essentially become an outdated term as we recognize that this fails to take into account many postpartum mental health symptoms. Postpartum depression/anxiety, or PPD/A, is one way medical professionals are acknowledging this gap and changing the conversation.

It’s also important to note that not all of these symptoms wait to show up until after the baby is born—some women will experience them during the pregnancy as well. Therefore, it is even more accurate to group all of these complications under the term “perinatal mood disorders,” since this will capture depression and anxiety symptoms that manifest both before and after delivery.

The treatment for PPA is often the same as it is for PPD: getting good sleep, talk therapy, and medication, or a combination of all three. Women who’ve have anxiety before or have a family history of anxiety are at increased risk for PPA, so it is important that obstetric providers ask about this during pregnancy to make sure these high-risk women don’t fall through the cracks.

As with PPD, PPA can become a medical emergency if it becomes extreme and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby occur. If this happens, or if you feel that you are hearing voices, are unable to sleep at all, or feel like you can’t get your mind to stop racing, go to your nearest Emergency Department or call your doctor or midwife immediately to get the help you need as quickly as possible.

Takeaways

  • Postpartum anxiety (PPA) symptoms are just as common as postpartum depression symptoms in new moms
  • Women with a personal or family history of anxiety are at increased risk of developing PPA.
  • Anxiety symptoms can even start during the pregnancy.
  • Treatment is available and has shown to be safe and effective.

References

  1. Postpartum Support International.
  2. Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health. Postpartum psychiatric disorders.

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