What is Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)


By: Dr. Nazeli Gevorgyan - December 22, 2023 - 8 Minute Read

What is Postpartum Anxiety | The Milky Box

Being a mother is truly a remarkable journey filled with many emotions. It's a beautiful experience to care for a newborn and watch them grow, but it can also be incredibly challenging, especially when you're dealing with postpartum anxiety. This added layer of worry can make every moment feel overwhelming.


In this article, we'll take a closer look at this period following childbirth and how postpartum anxiety can impact new parents.

What is Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)?  

Having a baby comes with natural worries, but postpartum anxiety takes it to another level. It can occur at any time within the first year after childbirth. New mothers face anxiety disorders more frequently than the general population, with a prevalence between 6.1% and 27.9% in the first 6 months after giving birth.


PPA is intense and uncontrollable, filling your thoughts all day and night. Your worrying persists and affects your ability to calm down. People with this condition typically feel constantly nervous, have irrational fears, or worry excessively about unlikely events.


Here are some examples of postpartum anxiety:


● Checking the baby’s crib every few minutes to ensure they’re breathing, even during naps.


● Constantly picturing worst-case scenarios, like the baby slipping during a bath.


● Losing sleep over worries that using the baby swing could somehow lead to harm.

Examples of Postpartum Anxiety | The Milky Box

What Causes Postpartum Anxiety?

PPA may occur from a significant drop in hormone levels after delivery, sleep deprivation due to constant newborn care, and a strong sense of responsibility for the baby. Challenges in breastfeeding or financial worries can add to the anxiety. 


Certain factors, such as anxiety before or during pregnancy, previous pregnancy loss or child loss, a health condition in the baby, lack of a supportive partner, young age, and much more, can increase the risk of PPA. 

Causes of Postpartum Anxiety | The Milky Box

What are the Most Common Postpartum Anxiety Symptoms?

PPA can present itself with various signs and symptoms. Physically, you might experience difficulty sleeping, an increased heart rate, nausea, and loss of appetite. Emotionally, it might show restlessness, irritability, racing thoughts, and persistent fears. 


Additionally, you may find yourself avoiding certain activities or checking things repeatedly. These symptoms may be present throughout the day or only at specific times, day or night.

Common Postpartum Anxiety Symptoms | The Milky Box

Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression, or Postpartum Anxiety?

New moms often experience the “baby blues,” a brief phase of worry, mood swings, irritability, disrupted sleep, and sadness linked to a decrease in hormones after childbirth. These symptoms are typically mild and ease within a few weeks.


Postpartum depression (PPD), occurring within the first 12 months after childbirth, brings more intense and persistent symptoms. Many of them, such as difficulty sleeping and relaxing, excessive worry, loss of appetite, and restlessness, often overlap in both PPD and PPA.


Postpartum depression may make you feel very sad, often cry, and doubt your ability to care for yourself and your baby. It can be hard to find joy in parenthood, and distressing thoughts about harming yourself or the baby, as well as of death, can occur.


Postpartum anxiety is more about persistent worrying, not sadness.

Levels of Postpartum | The Milky Box

How Does Postpartum Anxiety Affect New Moms?

Postpartum anxiety is linked to low self-confidence, difficulties bonding with the baby, a higher chance of postpartum depression, less breastfeeding, increased risk of infant abuse, delayed social skills, and a greater likelihood of anxiety in kids.

How is Postpartum Anxiety Diagnosed? 

To diagnose PPA, healthcare providers rely on conversations and questionnaires during appointments to understand and evaluate your symptoms. You should be open and honest for an accurate diagnosis and effective support.

What's the Treatment for Postpartum Anxiety?

Your doctor will suggest the best treatment plan depending on your symptoms, health history, and whether you’re breastfeeding. Simple changes in the daily routine or talking to a counselor can help in mild cases. Effective therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are known for treating anxiety disorders. There are other non-medication options. In more severe cases, medications can be helpful.


Now, let’s explore the treatment of PPA in more detail.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Postpartum Anxiety

For mild to moderate PPA, the go-to treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s a short-term, effective, often one-to-one approach (usually 12–16 sessions) that targets unhelpful feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. 


Through CBT, you can identify triggers for anxiety, avoid them, and develop alternative ways of thinking and reacting. Sessions typically involve a Q&A format to enhance stress and anxiety response. In some cases, sessions may include your partner to improve communication and support.


Getting affordable care and finding a therapist who knows a lot about postpartum anxiety can be a challenge in this situation.

Non-Medicated Treatments for Postpartum Anxiety

Transitioning from CBT, let’s explore other effective approaches that also don’t involve medications.


Mindfulness is purposefully focusing on the present without judgment. Research supports widely known interventions, like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for the management of postpartum anxiety. MBSR combines meditation, body awareness, yoga, and reflection, while MBCT involves CBT and mindfulness meditation.


A systematic review of studies found these effective non-medication interventions against anxiety: yoga, music therapy, partner-performed massage, and CBT during pregnancy; aromatherapy and hydrotherapy during labor; kangaroo care with music therapy and massage postpartum.


In three trials, using lavender oil or bitter orange for aromatherapy significantly improved mood and reduced anxiety.


Here are more recommendations for non-medicated management of PPA:


● Seek help from family or friends with housework or babysitting, and consider joining a support group for new parents to share feelings and find understanding.


● Prioritize self-care through daily walks, yoga, and breathing exercises.


● Maintain a healthy diet and aim for as much sleep as possible, even by taking turns with your partner.

Medications for Postpartum Anxiety

SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are widely used for moderate to severe postpartum anxiety, elevating serotonin levels in the brain. Your doctor will assess the risks and benefits before prescribing anxiety medication. Tapering is recommended to avoid withdrawal symptoms when stopping these medications. 


In addition to SSRIs, there are alternative medication options for managing postpartum anxiety. 

Treatment of Postpartum Anxiety | The Milky Box

Should You Take Medications When Breastfeeding?

Certain medications can be transferred through breast milk; while some are considered safe during lactation, others may not be suitable. If breastfeeding, inform your healthcare provider to discuss the pros and cons of medication for PPA.


Here’s interesting information about breastfeeding. Research indicates that women who breastfeed are less likely to experience postpartum depression, possibly because of the positive effects of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin on mental health.

How Long Does Postpartum Anxiety Last?

PPA varies for each person and doesn’t typically fade away on its own. The best way to recover is to seek help from your healthcare provider promptly. Don’t let worries about judgment stop you from reaching out for support. 

Overcoming Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum anxiety is a common and challenging experience for new parents. Both moms and dads can go through it. Supporting each other and openly communicating can make a significant difference. 


Remember, seeking help is a strength, not a weakness. Celebrate small victories together, with The Milky Box, we are ready to support you.  

References

1. Ali, E. (2018) ‘Women’s experiences with postpartum anxiety disorders: a narrative literature review’, International Journal of Women’s Health, 10, p. 237. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S158621.


2. Domínguez-Solís, E., Lima-Serrano, M. and Lima-Rodríguez, J. S. (2021) ‘Non-pharmacological interventions to reduce anxiety in pregnancy, labour and postpartum: A systematic review’, Midwifery, 102. doi: 10.1016/J.MIDW.2021.103126.


3. Mikšić, Š. et al. (2020) ‘Positive Effect of Breastfeeding on Child Development, Anxiety, and Postpartum Depression’, International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(8). doi: 10.3390/IJERPH17082725.


4. Radoš, S. N., Tadinac, M. and Herman, R. (2018) ‘Anxiety During Pregnancy and Postpartum: Course, Predictors and Comorbidity with Postpartum Depression’, Acta Clinica Croatica, 57(1), p. 39. doi: 10.20471/ACC.2018.57.01.05.


5. Postpartum Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22693-postpartum-anxiety


6. Postpartum anxiety is invisible, but common and treatable - Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/postpartum-anxiety-an-invisible-disorder-that-can-affect-new-mothers-202107302558.


7. Symptoms - Postnatal depression - NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/symptoms/


8. Symptoms - Postnatal depression - NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/symptoms/


9. The Baby Blues | American Pregnancy Association. Available at: https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/first-year-of-life/baby-blues/


10. Postpartum depression - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617

Disclaimer:


Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.


Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.


Nazeli Gevorgyan is a medical doctor from Armenia, and is a researcher in the fields of Obstetrics and Gynecology, among others. Dr. Nazeli is passionate with providing women and parents with reliable and high-quality information on healthy options for infant nutrition, breastfeeding, infant formula, and food. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, traveling, and pottery. 

Leave a Comment:

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Name:

Email:

Comment:

Read Next:


Reviewed by Suzanne Renee',

Infant Nutrition Expert

Suzanne Renee' is an accomplished professional with extensive expertise in the area of infant nutrition, dedicated to promoting the health and wellbeing of children. She started this journey as a foster parent.


Suzanne has emerged as a strong proponent of the European baby formula and has become a full-time writer on the subject. 


In her free time, she enjoys camping, hiking, and going to church.