The Other Postpartum Condition No One Talks About

The Other Postpartum Condition No One Talks About

Celebrity moms from Chrissy Teigen to Gwyneth Paltrow have spoken openly about their struggles with postpartum depression. But there’s another condition that affects new moms that hasn’t gotten the press it deserves—postpartum anxiety.

Having new-mom jitters is normal, and it’s completely natural to have some anxious thoughts when bringing a new baby home. Does that cry mean they’re sick, or is it just a dirty diaper? Am I doing this wrong? Should I check again to make sure the baby is still breathing?

In some women, however, these fearful thoughts become unrelenting and eventually interfere with the ability to enjoy motherhood. And the condition is more common than you might think.

In a study of 4,451 postpartum women, 18% reported having symptoms of postpartum anxiety. Other studies have found that up to 28% of women experience anxiety within the first 6 months of their baby’s life. That’s over 1 in 4 women!

Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum anxiety disorder can show up in a variety of ways, and in some women, it may start during pregnancy. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Constant anxious thoughts and worries
  • Fear that something bad will happen
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Forgetfulness
  • Having trouble relaxing

In addition, postpartum anxiety may be associated with some physical issues, such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling shaky or jittery
  • Muscle tension
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hyperventilation
  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach

If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, it could be a sign of a disorder that needs investigating.

Other Forms of Postpartum Anxiety

Generalized postpartum anxiety is the most common form of the condition, but there are other specific types of anxiety that can affect postpartum women.

  • Postpartum panic disorder is when a new mom feels anxious and has recurring panic attacks. During a panic attack, feelings of intense fear and worry escalate and lead to overwhelming physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and more. Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly but can linger long after the initial stressful situation has passed. A study in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health found that 11% of women who were 4-7 months postpartum reported having a panic attack in the previous month.
  • Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is another type of this condition that can strike new mothers. Postpartum OCD is associated with repetitive, intrusive thoughts and compulsions that are performed in an effort to reduce those obsessive, fearful thoughts. For new moms, compulsions may include repetitively checking if the baby is breathing, cleaning constantly to rid the baby’s room of germs, and more. A 2013 study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine found that rates of postpartum OCD are much higher than previously thought. In this study, 11% of women had symptoms of OCD at 2 weeks postpartum, and almost half of them were still struggling 6 months later. And at the 6-month mark, an additional 5.4% of postpartum women had developed new symptoms.
  • Postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another type of anxiety that affects approximately 9% of women. It is more common in women who perceived their childbirth experience as traumatic, according to research. These women may avoid places and things that remind them of the childbirth process and may have nightmares or flashbacks about their delivery.

Postpartum Anxiety and the Brain

Having postpartum anxiety does not mean you’re a bad mom. It isn’t your fault. Brain imaging studies show that there are biological brain-based reasons for the way you’re feeling. Here’s what brain scans using a technology called SPECT have found about the various types of postpartum anxiety.

  • Postpartum anxiety and panic disorder commonly involve heightened activity in a number of areas of the brain, including the basal ganglia, amygdala and hippocampus, insular cortex, and parts of the prefrontal cortex.
  • Postpartum OCD is generally related to increased activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus. This region is known as the brain’s gear shifter and when activity is too high, it causes you to get stuck on worries and negative thoughts.
  • Postpartum PTSD is associated with increased activity in the limbic system, basal ganglia, and anterior cingulate gyrus.

Hope for New Moms

As you’ve seen, the number of women struggling with various forms of postpartum anxiety is significant, and those numbers could be even higher because many women suffer in silence and don’t seek help for their symptoms. This is a mistake because postpartum anxiety can affect your ability to bond with your baby and can get in the way of your parenting.

Because of this, it’s vitally important that you have an open and honest discussion about any symptoms you’re experiencing with your healthcare provider. With the proper treatment, you can optimize your brain health to heal the underlying brain issues so you can start feeling better about yourself and your little bundle of joy.

At Amen Clinics, when we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to identify various types of postpartum anxiety. Importantly, we believe in using the least toxic, most effective forms of treatment that work for moms who may be breastfeeding.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already visited Amen Clinics and enhanced their brain health, overcome their symptoms, and learned how to feel better fast, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

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