Most people have heard of PPD, or postpartum depression, but few have heard of postpartum anxiety. This little known diagnosis deserves more attention.
Every mother experiences some anxiety, especially if it is their first baby. However, it can escalate out of control. You may not even be able to function. Unfortunately, only 20% of doctors screen for this kind of anxiety.
Much of this is brought on by hormonal changes in your body after delivery. If for whatever reason you breastfeed, there is a huge drop in your hormones in an outrageously quick pace.
You are most vulnerable if:
- You have a history of anxiety
- You are a perfectionist who feeds into the “supermom” myth
- If you have had miscarraiges in the past
- If you are have had a high risk pregnancy
There are risks for both you and your baby. For you, there is an increased risk of postpartum depression and a possible vulnerability to PTSD. The risks for your baby are even greater. Babies with mothers who have postpartum anxiety may have more difficulty in new situations and behavioral and emotional problems in their preschool years. It can also lead to babies having a “difficult” temperament and making them difficult to soothe. Research has shown that at even at the age of fifteen there were problems such as attention span and impulsivity.
If you believe that you have anxiety that is more than what the average mother would experience and have a history that has been described above, please see your obstetrician. There is hope and different treatment options.
One possible option is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on your thoughts and moods by changing how you think so that it will change how you feel. There are many benefits. If you are breastfeeding, you won’t have to expose your child to the medication in your system. The techniques your therapist will teach you will help you with your anxiety now and in the future. Best of all, there is less of a chance of a relapse of your symptoms with CBT than with medications. However, you must be willing to invest a lot of time and effort into it, and the exposure based techniques can possibly increase your anxiety for a short period. There is also the possibility of it being difficult to find a certified trained CBT therapist.
On the other hand, you may need medications (either alone or in combination with therapy). There are antidepressants that treat other problems (in this case anxiety), but they can cause increased feelings of anxiousness in the first 2-4 weeks, so it is important to utilize relaxation techniques during this period. There are also anti-anxiety medications that will deal with your physical symptoms of anxiety. It may be a difficult decision for you, especially if you are nursing, but when the anxiety is severe enough the benefits can outweigh the risks, like if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or your child.
When talking to your doctor about medication, there are certain questions you should ask. They include:
- What are the risks to myself and my baby?
- Are there any other treatment options?
- What are the risks to myself or my child if my anxiety is left untreated?
- Do I need to see a specialist such as a psychiatrist about medications?
Remember that you are not alone, and help is out there. Don’t suffer in silence for both you and your child’s sake.