Postpartum anxiety, new mom worries, and what’s the difference anyways?
Postpartum anxiety isn’t as common a subject as postpartum depression is (yet), but we’re finally starting to hear a little more about this other struggle many of us face as new moms. It’s an aspect of postpartum recovery that I feel has been largely swept under the rug.
I think one of the reasons it’s been so ignored for so long is that it’s perfectly NATURAL to have some worries as a first time mom, and therefore these fears are often brushed off as normal.
And, I’m sure some new mom worries are normal. We worry about if baby is getting enough food, if their poop should really be that color, if this is spit up – or is it reflux?! We worry about the dangers of vaccines, or about the dangers of exposing our baby to the un-vaccinated. We worry about safe sleep and we worry about creating bad habits if we hold them while they nap. These are normal things for a new mom to worry about, and I don’t think there’s too much to be done for these worries.
(Except perhaps to realize that babies are far more resilient little things than we think they are, and this stuff WILL be easier with the next one.)
But leaping out of bed from a dead sleep, throwing on the light and shaking your newborn baby awake? Probably NOT normal… and I did that at least 6 times. Maybe more.
My husband would get up, take my (now hysterically crying) babe, and I would sit back down on the bed – heart racing, convinced I could never sleep again. Because as soon as I fell asleep, that would be it. No one would be awake to make sure the baby was OK, and obviously, that would mean the baby wouldn’t be OK.
Now, in a way I was “lucky” – in that I’ve had severe anxiety my whole life, and I dealt with lots of anxiety in pregnancy as well. Dealing with it is something I have years of experience doing. And I do it pretty well, for the most part.
But, throwing a baby and all those hormones into the mix was certainly something that added a new dimension to my anxiety, and I can only imagine that for someone who HASN’T experienced anxiety before they were postpartum…
Well, you might feel like you’re losing it all together.
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How to tell the difference between normal new mom worries and postpartum anxiety
I’m no psychologist – remember that – but if you would describe your worry or fear as “paralyzing”, if it comes out of nowhere, if you can’t reason it away, if you feel more anxious than you’ve ever felt before, if you find yourself fixating on one (or more) aspects of life in a unhealthy way…
there’s a good chance you’re developing something more than new mom worries.
Other symptoms of postpartum anxiety can include:
- Trouble concentrating and remembering things
- Difficulties finishing everyday tasks
- Trouble making decisions
- Difficulty relaxing
- Insomnia (helllooooo insomnia!)
- Feelings of extreme uneasiness for prolonged periods of time
- Loss of appetite
- Possible suicidal thoughts
- Panic attacks
I didn’t sleep – I watched the baby sleep. And, like I mentioned, when I did doze off, I woke up suddenly – very aware that the baby wasn’t ok and frantic to make him ok.
Sleep deprivation only makes things worse.
Because I was sleep deprived, I convinced myself that the baby needed to learn to sleep properly – if there was any hope of my ever resting again. (This wasn’t really the problem. Sure, he didn’t sleep WELL, but even when he did sleep, I did not.) I fixated on his sleep to the point where it was the ONLY thing that mattered.
All other things came second to the baby’s sleep. We stayed home all the time. If he woke up early from a nap, I put him back to sleep. Even if it took an hour. Sometimes I spent 2-3 hours just putting the baby to sleep. It was the most important aspect of parenting, to me, and I couldn’t even explain the level of overwhelmed I got when I thought about him missing a nap.
Fortunately for me, I guess, I’ve had A LOT of experience dealing with anxiety and I function very well with it- much better than the average mom suddenly struck with anxiety postpartum for the first time in her life. I have spent HUNDREDS of hours in therapy, and I could recognize (although it did take a few months) that I was in an unhealthy place.
Things you can do at home to cope with postpartum anxiety (or even severe new mom worries)
I would suggest, if you are experiencing anything that seems like over-the-top emotions postpartum, that you talk to your doctor or see a therapist. This is serious stuff that you want to be on top of! Don’t let people tell you that it’s “normal”.
(I mean, some fear is normal, – where you’re sort of worried, maybe even uncomfortable worried… and then you go on with your day, and it doesn’t really affect you much. That is normal. OK?)
But, I also know how hard it can be to go rushing off to the therapist when you have a newborn at home, particularly if one of the things that causes anxiety is leaving the house / being separated from the baby.
Take these steps:
1 ) Enlist help
Talk to someone. Husband, mom, friend, neighbor down the hall. Have SOMEONE that knows you’re struggling – who can check in with you each day.
I know everything you’ve read (or been told) ’till now says “don’t tell someone with anxiety that there’s nothing to worry about, or that their fears are irrational, THAT doesn’t help!”
And I’ve never understood that. I mean sure, if someone makes fun of you – or brushes you off, that’s not helpful… but when someone who genuinely cares about my well being explains that my fears are irrational, it gives me hope. It gives me something to cling to. If there’s a chance my fears are irrational, there’s a chance I’m not certainly doomed.
I can hear over and over and over again that my fears are irrational, and it’s never too many times.
2) Get as much sleep as you can
Believe me I know that this is hard, even that it might seem downright impossible.
IF you CAN, get some sleep. It will help.
3) Consider supplements
There ARE supplements you can safely take while nursing. Vitamin B is really good for anxiety, as is magnesium, and I took a homeopathic specifically for anxiety. Do your research, and talk to your doctor about what you an safely take.
Related: Natural Supplements for Anxiety
4) Avoid sugar, alcohol, (and caffeine maybe – but I know you need it)
These things absolutely contribute to anxiety. There is no doubt that some of the root causes of anxiety can be diet related – because they are hormone related, and diet affects our hormones. And what just happened to you?
Hormone waterfall. That’s what.
So in this particular case – postpartum anxiety – I am more confident than ever that diet could be a factor in helping to heal your anxiety.
5) Do not feed the fears
This is one of the most important tips you will EVER get for dealing with anxiety. Any anxiety, but also postpartum anxiety.
Do not google dread diseases that you believe your baby has, do not watch sad movies or read sad books. Don’t allow social media and all the gofundmes out there into your head.
I go into far more detail with this subject here – Do Not Feed The Fears. Read that, and heed it.
6) Focus on the moment
When panic about the future or the what-ifs start to take over, take a few deep breaths and focus on what’s happening RIGHT NOW.
RIGHT NOW, the baby is sleeping peacefully, and it’s fine if you want to watch him sleep – or hold him. RIGHT NOW, you are safe at home and everything is ok.
Calm yourself down, turn on the TV or pick up the phone and talk to someone about THEIR day. Get out of your own head.
7) Actively choose to enjoy your baby despite your anxiety or worries
One of the most devastating things to me, when I first realized that I was living in an unhealthy state of anxiety, was that I wasn’t fully enjoying this little person… because when ever I looked at him, anxiety would strike.
The most important thing I could do was choose to enjoy him. Instead of letting my worries run away into the future, I could actively play with my babe (even tho I FELT like laying down and crying). I could take pictures of him and text them to his dad. I could make him giggle. If I just couldn’t get the anxiety out of my head, we could go over to my mom + dad’s place and I could watch THEM enjoy him.
As time goes on, I’m creating memories of these joys rather than memories of sitting down on the couch and dissolving into fear-tears.
BUT, when fear tears DO happen, just let them happen. Then dry your eyes and ditch the guilt. This isn’t you being a bad mom, this is you being a struggling mom – and that’s ok!
You can deal with basic new mom worries these same ways
New mom worries might not be as serious as full-blown postpartum anxiety, but they’re a real thing and living with all that fear can really put a damper on what should be a FREAKING FANTASTIC time in your life.
It’s hard to enjoy your baby when every time you turn around you’re gripped by a new worry. Stay on top of these worries by actively NOT feeding the fears, and making sure you replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.
Most importantly, I have found the only thing that can truly bring me peace is to turn to Jesus, who understands all our fears.
Keep an eye on your new mom worries. If they become something that you CAN’T move away from, if the worries start to take over your life, mention it to your doctor!