SELF – Postpartum Anxiety May Be More Common Than Postpartum Depression—What You Need to Know

Anxiety is a part of life, and for new moms postpartum anxiety can be prickly new ‘friend’: there to remind you of all your new responsibilities and orient you towards your new role in caring for your baby; but also there keeping you awake and causing you angst that isn’t always productive. So much is different when you embark on this exciting and demanding new phase of life that it’s sometimes tough to know what is normal, and what isn’t.

SELF asked me to weigh in how to judge the difference, and what you can do as a new mom if you your anxiety is tipping out of balance. I as very pleased to help out.

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While there are no concrete numbers on how many women suffer from postpartum anxiety, anxiety itself is very common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an estimated 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, and only about one-third of them receive treatment. If you suffer from anxiety before pregnancy, you are at an increased risk for developing PPA, but it can affect any mother. “For some women who may be more sensitive or have a history of anxiety, the postpartum period can trigger more problematic anxiety,” Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, tells SELF.

While some anxiety as a new mother is normal, Clark says that women who suffer from PPA have anxiety that spreads beyond normal new parent worries (keeping your baby safe, fed, and clean) and into more disturbing and uncomfortable fears. “Some women have obsessive worries about the health and safety of the baby, fears about care-taking and parenting, or panic about how all these new experiences feel,” she says. “The worry is significant and distressing and gets in the way of being able to carry out life.” Women who suffer from PPA may be irritable, moody, have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, are edgy, and may even suffer from stomach distress as a result.

If you suspect that your anxiety is actually PPA, Clark says it’s important to recognize that you’re not alone and it doesn’t make you a bad mom. “Postpartum anxiety can be an understandable reaction to the extraordinary changes in your life, and it means you care deeply,” she says. The first step toward recovery is recognizing that you suffer from anxiety, which can help you feel more in control. “Leaning on your support system to get more sleep is probably the most effective thing you can do as well,” she says. “Sleep is a critical necessity to life, and more especially when facing change and adjustment.”

And, if that doesn’t help, it may be time to seek out guidance from a professional (Clark suggests asking your doctor or your child’s pediatrician for a recommendation). Just know this: People may brush off your concerns as a normal part of being a new mom, so it’s up to you to advocate for yourself. “Find someone who will hear you,” Birndorf says. “You know when something is not right.” Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that works to change negative patterns of thought, can be helpful in teaching you how to mentally reframe your irrational worries into rational ones, Clark says, and medication can also be effective.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD