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Postpartum Anxiety Is More Common than You Think

The year was 2005 and I was sitting in an exam room for my six week postpartum appointment after the birth of my first son Joseph. My body was on the mend from the life changing event that had occurred just six weeks prior. My entire world had changed, as it does for all new moms. I was starting-key word being starting-to to feel semi normal again. First, my OB nurse checked my physical healing and then moved on to my mental/emotional healing. She asked the standard questions and filled her duty of addressing any Postpartum Depression symptoms. “Do you want to hurt your baby?” “Do you shake your baby when he cries?” “Do you feel hopeless?" No, no and no were my answers to all of those questions. No, I did not want to put my baby in the microwave. The nurse went on to explain that there is help available for women experiencing Postpartum Depression. She also highlighted that Baby Blues are common after birth but you should not be crying every day past the two week mark- if you are then you should reach out for professional help.

Unfortunately, what my OB office failed to touch upon at my six week postpartum appointment was another emotional condition that was right below the surface, Postpartum Depression’s cousin- Postpartum Anxiety Disorder (PPA). The latter, regrettably, extended for over a year after the birth of my son. If I had been asked any questions about PPA symptoms, my answers I’m sure would have been yes, yes and yes! It wasn’t until many, many years later after becoming a Certified Sleep Consultant that I realized what I had unnecessarily experienced and that was Postpartum Anxiety Disorder.

In working with sleep deprived new moms, the topic of PPA shows up time and time again. We are sensitive to and can pick up on the symptoms of moms experiencing PPA because it is like a cloak that they can't shake off. Even among our Sleep Consultant colleagues, who have recently given birth and who are very educated on this topic and symptoms, PPA is prevalent.

So what is PPA and what are its symptoms? According to the American Pregnancy Association, PPA affects about 10 percent of new moms, and unlike Postpartum Depression which can cause mothers to experience extreme sadness or even disinterest in their newborn, Postpartum Anxiety symptoms manifest themselves mainly in the form of worry.

  • Your thoughts race and you are unable to turn off your mind.

  • You are unable to just sit down and relax. You feel the need to always be doing something whether washing baby's clothes, bottles, cleaning and checking on your baby.

  • You are have an overwhelming feeling of worry that something bad is going to happen.

  • You have worries about your baby’s safety. You are also afraid of things in your house that could potentially cause harm, like kitchen knives or stairs, and you avoid them like the plague.

  • You may feel an obsessive 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 and 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.

  • You know something is wrong. You may not know you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but you know the way you are feeling is NOT right. You think you’ve “gone crazy.”

  • You are afraid that this is your new reality and that you’ve lost the “old you” forever.

  • You are afraid that if you reach out for help people will judge you or that your baby will be taken away.

For me, I distinctly remember an overwhelming fear that our 205 lb. flat screen TV (which I could not physically move myself) would magically fall off the entertainment center and crush Joseph. We didn’t go in the living room to avoid that “hazard”. I was hypersensitive to keeping my baby safe from EVERYTHING. My mind never stopped, I could not relax and I never stopped moving, thinking or cleaning. When I was standing, I was always swaying back and forth.

For Tara, “...the worry was all consuming. I would worry Drake wouldn’t wake up, he would be taken away from me, our house would be broken into. I could not sleep at all , even when he was sleeping. I had to always be doing something cleaning, laundry, I could never sit unless I was rocking. Panic attacks would occur at night. My husband would open the bedroom door while I was laying in bed and it would scare me into panic. When I would take a shower or try to sleep I always thought I heard my son crying."

For many of our clients, their PPA is exacerbated by their chronic sleep deprivation. During our Consultations the anxiety is almost palpable for our clients and then a week later it is as if we are talking to a different, more relaxed person. When the sleep of their baby is improved and in turn, therefore, their sleep is improved-no longer fragmented-their anxiety is so much more manageable. We have literally witnessed a change occur in women who are diagnosed with PPA and then get adequate sleep.

We want all moms to be aware and know that if you are suffering from PPA, quality of life and enjoyment of motherhood can be improved. Identifying the signs and symptoms is the first step and then getting the help you need is step two. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above we urge you to reach out to your OB/GYN or your family doctor. We also know that there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and PPA that needs to be highlighted. We will continue to do our part to improve sleep for exhausted moms in an effort to improve mental health. There is no reason to suffer with this very common and treatable condition.

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