Most women who’ve had children are familiar with Post Natal Depression but perhaps not with Post Natal Anxiety. The majority of us were probably screened for it at some point during and immediately after our pregnancies and with good reason.
It’s estimated that 1 in 7 women experience postnatal depression, which may develop between one month and up to one year after birth.
Post Natal Depression Vs. Post Natal Anxiety
There has been a huge push in the last decade to further understand and de-stigmatise PND. Having a tough time after the birth of a baby is probably as old as childbirth itself but until recently, it was something that women were encouraged to ‘keep under wraps’ and not share.
Thankfully times have changed and as PND has become better understood. Mothers have begun to understand that there is absolutely no shame in seeking help to restore balance and mental wellness after birth.
While PND has received plenty of coverage, Post Natal Anxiety isn’t as well publicised and often falls under the PND umbrella. While it is not uncommon to experience both PND and Post Natal Anxiety symptoms, they are in fact two completely different conditions.
Post Natal Anxiety
Post Natal Anxiety, like PND can be difficult to extrapolate from the usual feelings of anxiety that most new mothers experience. Much like with the ‘baby blues’, some level of anxiousness is considered normal for new mothers. You’ve just given birth after all! Changes in your hormones levels, the sudden realisation that you’re responsible for a tiny new human and the physical and mental recovery from birth all take their toll.
If however, your anxiety levels are remaining high over the weeks and months after birth and you’re starting to feel as if you’re spending more time feeling anxious than you are feeling ‘normal’, then it may be time to seek some help.
The symptoms of anxiety may not be completely obvious and everyone’s experience varies, but BeyondBlue has compiled the following list of signs that you may be experiencing anxiety.
- anxiety or fear that interrupts your thoughts and interferes with daily tasks
- panic attacks — outbursts of extreme fear and panic that are overwhelming and feel difficult to bring under control
- anxiety and worries that keep coming into your mind and are difficult to stop or control
- constantly feeling irritable, restless or on edge
- having tense muscles, a tight chest and heart palpitations
- finding it difficult to relax and/or taking a long time to fall asleep at night
- anxiety or fear that stops you going out with your baby
- anxiety or fear that leads you to check on your baby constantly
How does Post Natal Anxiety differ from PND?
While some women experience both anxiety and PND at the same time, other women may experience Post Natal Anxiety on its own. Post Natal Anxiety differs from PND in that it is characterised by intense, unremitting worry. The not-for-profit Postpartum Progress uses the following to describe PPA:
- Your thoughts are racing. You can’t quiet your mind. You can’t settle down. You can’t relax.
- You feel like you have to be doing something at all times. Cleaning bottles. Cleaning baby clothes. Cleaning the house. Doing work. Entertaining the baby. Checking on the baby.
- You are worried. Really worried. All. The. Time. Am I doing this right? Will my husband come home from his trip? Will the baby wake up? Is the baby eating enough? Is there something wrong with my baby that I’m missing? No matter what anyone says to reassure you, it doesn’t help.
- You may feel the need to check things constantly. Did I lock the door? Did I lock the car? Did I turn off the oven? Is the baby breathing?
- You may be having physical symptoms like stomach cramps or headaches, shakiness or nausea. You might even have panic attacks.
- You feel like a captive animal, pacing back and forth in a cage. Restless. On edge.
- You can’t eat. You have no appetite.
- You’re having trouble sleeping. You are so, so tired, but you can’t sleep.
- You feel a sense of dread, like something terrible is going to happen.
What is noticeable is the nervous energy that underlies the majority of the symptoms. This is generally different to PND where energy levels are often extremely low and even getting out of bed is difficult. Post Natal Anxiety on the other hand may have you feeling like you can’t wind down, ever.
It’s also important to note that Post Natal Anxiety can be used as an umbrella term with different anxiety disorders nestled beneath. These can include conditions like panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Treating Post Natal Anxiety
The good news is that Post Natal Anxiety can be treated effectively with the right support. The first step is realising that perhaps something isn’t quite right and seeking help from your midwife, Obstetrician, GP or Early Childhood/Community Nurse. These people can all offer advice on treatment and the next steps towards feeling like yourself again.
Common treatments for anxiety include different forms of therapy with a psychologist, lifestyle changes and in some cases, medication. The best course of treatment is different for each person which is why it is important to work out a treatment plan with an experienced professional.
If you or someone you know feels as if they may need extra support, BeyondBlue offers support and resources both online and over the phone 24/7 on 1300 22 4636. PANDA or Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia also offer advice and support and have a direct phone line staffed by professionals and available Mon-Fri 10am-5pm.
If, at any time, you feel you need to speak with someone urgently or are having thoughts or feelings that are scaring you, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year or your nearest emergency room for immediate help and support.