Supermom or is she?
Every mom wants to look like she’s supermom. She’s got this parenting thing figured out. However, the truth is that every mom has their moments of self doubt and anxiety. In fact, postpartum anxiety (or even anxiety during pregnancy) is very common.
Examples of anxious thoughts some women experience during pregnancy or during the postpartum period include:
- Extreme worry and fear that something bad is going to happen
- Extreme or obsessive worry about germs
- Fear that baby will stop breathing if mom falls asleep (despite no history or evidence that baby is experiencing any medical distress or trouble breathing)
- Fear that dad/grandma/aunt will drop baby if they hold her
- Worry or belief that she will do something to harm her baby (even though mom says she would never actually DO anything to harm her baby)
- Belief that she is a bad mom
Postpartum Anxiety Isn’t Always Obvious
Postpartum anxiety frequently looks like a new mom who seems to be handling everything perfectly- supermom- to the outside world she might look like she has everything under control but on the inside she’s worried if one hair of out of place or one tiny thing goes wrong crisis will ensue and it will be all her fault. Maybe an anxious mom is giving up sleep. Perhaps she’s stopped worrying about self care. Instead, an anxious mom might be focused on keeping everything running perfectly. She wants to maintain a sense of being in control. However, eventually this may become unsustainable.
Women who struggled with perfectionism or anxiety before having babies are probably more at risk of struggling with postpartum anxiety since so much about new motherhood is out of our control. Trying to get pregnant (or unplanned pregnancies), pregnancy itself and the postpartum period are all prime times for anxiety to surface. Women who face loss and fertility challenges are likely also at higher risk of experiencing anxiety. Often times in these cases, the whole experience of getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term is full of fear and worry from the start which doesn’t necessarily just go away by itself after a healthy baby is born.
Common Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety
Similar to postpartum depression, the symptoms of postpartum anxiety are extreme and usually don’t go away on their own. The anxious thoughts are typically irrational- meaning they aren’t based on any sound evidence or facts- but rather based on false beliefs or fears. Symptoms of postpartum anxiety often include sleep disruption (sleeping too much or not enough), poor appetite or overeating, extreme anger or irritability, constant worry and fear that something bad is going to happen, racing thoughts, inability to sit still and physical symptoms like nausea, dizziness or hot flashes.
According to Postpartum Support International, 10% of women experience postpartum anxiety.
I would hypothesize that the actual number is much higher, but that postpartum anxiety is vastly under reported and under identified by postpartum professionals responsible for recognizing and treating postpartum mental health conditions. Again, if supermom shows to their OBGYN or pediatrician’s office and appears to have it all together, it can be really hard to identify and intervene. The idea of admitting struggle and asking for help means having to give up a sense of control over themselves and depending on somebody else for help and that is terrifying to people who struggle with anxiety.
From a diagnostic perspective there is not a qualifier for postpartum onset of anxiety like there is for postpartum depression- so it may be diagnosed as “generalized anxiety disorder” or “adjustment disorder with anxiety”. There is also a lot of overlap of symptoms between postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety and it’s pretty common for women who experience postpartum depression to also experience postpartum anxiety and vice versa.
Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder
When the extreme anxious thoughts turn into behaviors, actions or rituals (like boiling clothes or bottles in addition to cleaning or sanitizing them using typical methods, washing hands with boiling water to prevent spread of germs, not being able to fall asleep due to intrusive thoughts or unrelenting worry)- this can also turn into or occur at the same time as postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder.
There is hope. Postpartum anxiety treatment is available.
Resources for Moms with Postpartum Anxiety
I want every woman experiencing unmanageable anxiety during pregnancy or the postpartum period to know that there is help available and recovery is possible. If you find yourself looking for help or support, or know someone who is, here are some places to start.
- Reach out to your OBGYN and ask for help with pregnancy or postpartum related anxiety
- Explore local resources on the Postpartum Support International website- online support groups and text and phone support available to help you find local resources
Begin Counseling as Postpartum Anxiety Treatment
If you are a new mom struggling with postpartum anxiety, you may want to consider individual therapy to help you cope with your anxious thoughts and enjoy this period of your life. I recommend choosing a counselor who has specific training addressing postpartum anxiety. If you’re local to Katy, TX, you can request a free consultation with me to see how I can help. In addition to working with moms in the West Houston area, I also offer remote, online counseling available to mom who live anywhere in the state of Texas.
Remember, free content on the internet is not a substitute for professional counseling. If you need professional help, please seek it.
Other Counseling Services in Katy, TX
You are a unique individual and sometimes you’re looking for counseling for multiple reasons. Or perhaps more than one person in your family would benefit from some support. In my West Houston counseling office or online, I offer mental health services for several different things. For instance, I also offer LGBTQ affirming counseling, Postpartum Depression treatment, general anxiety treatment, counseling for moms at any stage of parenting.