Postpartum Anxiety

So. Much. Anxiety.

Who knew? You were expecting maybe some baby blues, a low mood.
You’d heard about that.
But no one told you about the extraordinary anxiety you could experience in the postpartum period.

You can’t believe what you’re thinking.

Is the baby breathing? I’d better go check. Wait, let me check again.
Is the baby getting enough milk? Maybe I’m not doing this breastfeeding thing right.
Is the baby safe? Maybe I’m not being careful enough.
What if I do something wrong; will my baby get sick?

You might even be having thoughts that scare you:

Maybe I will harm the baby.
Maybe I want to harm the baby.
Maybe I will act in an irrational way.
What kind of person am I to think this?
If others knew I was thinking this, they’d be horrified.
I must be a bad mom

postpartum anxiety

Our society could do a WAY better job educating moms about not only postpartum depression, but postpartum anxiety as well. In our experience, it’s actually more common than postpartum depression. If you had known this, that might have helped, right?

The fact is, most women experience anxiety in the postpartum period. It’s incredibly common. And 30% have obsessional or intrusive thoughts. The anxiety can be severe, unrelenting, and all-consuming:

  • It can make you question your very sanity and sense of who you are.
  • You can feel like you’re going crazy, yet you’re afraid to let your guard down enough to seek the help you need.
  • You’re afraid to let others know what’s going on inside your head. You’re afraid of being judged.
  • You don’t want to show others that you “don’t have it all together” as a mom.

Postpartum anxiety often takes the form of hypervigilance about the well being of the baby. The mom might become intensely preoccupied with the wellness of the baby and become consumed with worries and fears that are hard to stop. She might check the baby’s breathing repetitively or try to do everything perfectly.

She might be anxious about a number of stressors:

  • Returning to work
  • How well she’ll sleep
  • How well she’ll function
  • Whether she’s a good enough mom
  • Whether she’s bonding with the baby
  • Breastfeeding
  • Quitting breastfeeding
  • Relationship issues
postpartum anxiety

Postpartum OCD

Some moms experience postpartum OCD, and get thoughts in their head that they experience as intrusive or unwanted. These thoughts can be scary or seem violent. The mom may also get scary or violent intrusive images. They may worry about harm coming to the baby…harm they fear they will themselves cause. They may fear they will stab or throw the baby.

And then they wonder what kind of mom they are for thinking such a thing.

The mom may then engage in compulsions to decrease her anxiety, such as reassuring herself that things will be okay, avoiding contact with the baby, distracting herself, hiding feared objects, or checking on things repeatedly. She can doubt her sanity and feel very, very alone with her thoughts, which she views as unique and unacceptable.

But these scary thoughts aren’t unique or unacceptable. If you were to examine the content of the thinking of one mom versus another, it would be the same. It’s just that some moms can let go of these thoughts more readily than others. The degree to which we can do that is on a continuum, just like our height is on a continuum.

The thoughts mean nothing more than we’re having anxiety. What they don’t mean is that we’re a bad mom. They actually mean the exact opposite: We’re a good mom trying really hard to protect our child in a hypervigilant way.

Counseling for postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD can help you:

  • Realize you’re a good mom who is just experiencing symptoms of anxiety
  • Put your symptoms in a perspective that makes sense to you
  • Help you let go of the shame you’re experiencing about having so much anxiety
  • Learn coping strategies that will reduce your anxiety

At Life Counseling Institute, our therapists are trained in forms of therapy known to be effective in treating postpartum issues and anxiety, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

With the help of a caring therapist who knows the steps you need to take to get well, your postpartum anxiety really can get better, and you can move forward more confidently as the mom you always envisioned you would be.

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