What Does Postpartum Anxiety Feel Like? When Does It Start?! 10 Signs To Watch For

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Yes, postpartum anxiety is real… and even quite common. Here’s what to look out for.  

Becoming a new parent is a life-altering experience. There are countless new challenges as you navigate caring for a vulnerable baby and adjusting to having added one of the most important people to your life. Parenthood is such a high-stakes endeavor. It’s understandable that the early days, months and years can be such an overwhelming time. This phase of life is the perfect breeding ground for perfectionism, self-doubt, stress, and anxiety. 

While the world often celebrates the arrival of a newborn, many new parents may find themselves grappling with a less-discussed experience: postpartum anxiety. 

In all likelihood, you’ve heard of postpartum depression however you may wonder about postpartum anxiety: is postpartum anxiety real, what does it feel like, when does it start, and do I have it? 

If you’ve noticed yourself asking any of those questions, use this blog post as a starting point as you learn what postpartum anxiety is, why it happens, how to differentiate it from postpartum depression, signs to look for, and how to get support. Our aim is to provide guidance for new parents and help them understand that they’re not alone in their journey.

What is postpartum anxiety?

Let’s start by demystifying postpartum anxiety (PPA). PPA is a condition that affects many new parents in the months following the birth of their child. It involves excessive worry, fear, intrusive thoughts, and nervousness about various aspects of parenthood, often with a heightened focus on the well-being of the baby. 

While it’s entirely natural to feel some degree of anxiety as a new parent, postpartum anxiety is characterized by the intensity and persistence of these feelings, which can be overwhelming and disruptive. 

If not recognized and treated, PPA can disrupt how you live your life and have a negative effect on things like your relationships, work, responsibilities, and lifestyle. 

10 Signs Of PPA You Shouldn’t Ignore

What does postpartum anxiety feel like? Recognizing the signs and symptoms is crucial for seeking support and treatment. Here are some common indicators:

  1. Excessive Worry: 

New parents with PPA may experience overwhelming worry or fear about their baby’s health, safety, or well-being. This worry can become all-consuming and may lead to constant checking on the baby. 

  1. Racing Thoughts: 

A hallmark of PPA is the presence of racing thoughts, which are intrusive and feel uncontrollable. These thoughts often revolve around potential dangers or worst-case scenarios, even if they’re unlikely to occur. You may be constantly on-guard while picturing bad things happening or imagining the worst. 

  1. Restlessness: 

Feeling constantly on-edge, restless, or unable to relax even when there’s no immediate threat is a big indicator that you’re suffering from anxiety beyond the “normal” or expected threshold. 

  1. Physical Symptoms: 

Physical manifestations of anxiety, such as shortness of breath, an upset stomach, trembling, sweating, nausea, or a racing heart are often red flags indicating postpartum anxiety.

  1. Trouble Sleeping: 

A really common sign of PPA is when you have regular disruptions with your sleep schedule beyond waking with your baby. Do you regularly experience insomnia where you have a hard time falling or staying asleep? Do you wake up not feeling rested? That’s a big indicator. This differs from other issues surrounding sleep in parenthood which are related to the baby waking for feeding or crying. If you’re not sleeping even when your baby is, that’s something to look into. 

  1. Irritability: 

Unlike symptoms like feeling physically queasy, having racing thoughts, or experiencing insomnia, feeling easily irritated is a less-understood and therefore often missed symptom of PPA. If you feel reactive, ragey, or are constantly snapping, that could be a sign that your nervous system is overstimulated thanks to PPA. 

  1. Avoidance Behaviours: 

Some parents avoid situations that create anxiety, such as leaving the house, driving with the baby in the car, bath time, or not letting others be around the baby.

  1. Fear of Being Alone with the Baby: 

Some new parents may experience an intense fear of being alone with their baby. This fear can lead to avoidance of caregiving responsibilities like diaper changes, bath time, bonding or play time. Usually this stems from repeated intrusive thoughts, imposter syndrome, or self-doubt when it comes to believing in your ability to properly care for your infant.

  1. Perfectionism: 

Striving for perfection in parenting, coupled with the constant need for control or certainty, is common among individuals with postpartum anxiety. If this is your experience, you may feel overwhelmed by the fear of making a mistake or not being a “good enough” mom/dad. Perfectionism is often overlooked or mistaken for a good thing because it can seem as though you just want a high level of care and quality for your family. 

  1. Difficulty Concentrating: 

New parents with postpartum anxiety may struggle to concentrate, which can affect their daily functioning. This could affect your ability to work, complete necessary tasks, or remember important responsibilities.

What’s The Difference Between Postpartum Anxiety And Postpartum Depression? 

Postpartum anxiety is often confused with postpartum depression (PPD), as both conditions share some similarities. However, they have distinct characteristics. 

Postpartum anxiety primarily centers on excessive worry, overstimulation, anticipating something going wrong, and fear related to the baby’s well-being. 

Postpartum depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, depleted energy, hopelessness, and lack of interest in activities. While postpartum anxiety involves racing or intrusive thoughts, postpartum depression is marked by persistent negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness. 

If you’re not sure if you’re suffering from PPA, PPD, or both, consider the main idea that separates the two mental health issues: depression can seems like it exists in the past (i.e. regret) while anxiety tends to exists in the future (i.e. worrying that something you do today will negatively impact life down the road).

Getting support

If you suspect that you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety, it’s essential to seek help and support. You’re not alone in this experience and for that reason, many resources are available to support you. Reach out to trusted family and friends to create a supportive network. Prioritize self-care by ensuring adequate rest, maintaining a balanced diet, keeping active, and making sure all your needs are regularly being met as best as they can be. 

Additionally, we have an entire team of therapists who are here to support your mental health needs and honour your individual experience. Get in touch to find that perfect-fit therapist and get professional support and guidance to make your parenthood experience one that feels comfortable, secure, and even enjoyable!  

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About The perinatal collective

Welcome! So glad you're here. 

We're a team of mental health therapists across Canada with advanced education and experience in perinatal mental health, meaning you don't have to cross your fingers and hope that we understand how hard this stage can be.

We understand the nuances of the early stages of parenthood: how typical counselling strategies may not be relevant to parents with young kids, and how mental health challenges look different during this time.  

From deciding to have children, to navigating your journey through fertility, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, relationship changes, parenting, career demands and beyond, parenthood can be full with challenges.

Our goal is to help you manage the peaks and valleys of the entire journey, while staying connected to yourself, and feeling whole, along the way.