Not Just PPD: Post-Partum Anxiety the other Post-Partum Concern for New Mothers

Having a baby for the first, second, third, or more times can be very exciting. However, the prospect of having a new baby can be quite emotional and overwhelming.  Many of the emotions new mothers experience can reflect more than simple “baby blues.” An estimated 1 in 4 women experience Post-Partum Depression (PPD) which can result in having:

  • Negative feelings such as depression, irritability, and helplessness

  • Hostility towards your baby and a sense of disconnection

  • Low self-worth

  • Fatigue and a lack of motivation

  • Changes in your appetite

  • Low sex drive

  • Thoughts of self-harm towards yourself or your baby

Many new mothers are aware of the “baby blues” and PPD. Many OBGYN’s warn new mothers about the signs of PPD. Rapid hormone shifts often contribute to PPD, but sometimes, post-partum emotions do not feel quite like depression, but there may be intense worry, and overwhelming sense of dread, panic, and anxiety. What these symptoms may point to is Post-Partum Anxiety (PPA). Post-Partum Anxiety affects about 10% of new mothers and can appear during pregnancy until up to a year after giving birth. One may experience the following symptoms with PPA:

  • Changes in sleep and eating

  • Dizziness or light headedness

  • Hot flashes

  • Rapid Heartbeat

  • Nausea

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Intense worry

  • Panic attacks 

  • Sense of Dread or feeling extremely overwhelmed

There is a very fine line between the worry that a new parent experiences and the overwhelming worry and dread that may accompany PPA. Symptoms may point towards PPA when the feeling of dread intensifies with everyday situations like driving with your baby or caring for your baby during typical situations like nursing or diaper changes.    

Women with histories of depression, previous anxiety challenges, obsessive-compulsive disorder, certain PMS symptoms, or fetal loss may be at higher risk for PPA.  For nursing mothers, intense anxiety, agitation, or sadness may be related to the milk let down, which is called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER). The negative feelings with D-MER that may occur typically do not last more than a few minutes, so any continued sense of dread, worry, or sadness may point towards PPD or PPA.  

If the experience of anxiety from PPA becomes disruptive, it is important to seek help. If left untreated, PPA can lead to long term anxiety and other mental health issues. Talking with your OBGYN, your child’s pediatrician, or a counselor may offer insight and relief. Sometimes putting a name to the feeling is the first step in making strides towards healing.   

Tanisha Johnson