Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment for Perinatal and Postpartum Anxiety

One of the benefits of writing a blog is that it provides the opportunity for the mind to wander. We focus a lot on mindfulness and paying attention moment by moment, however that is not to discount those times where we daydream or just let our thoughts drift to whatever happens to show up.

In this moment my mind has wandered to the fact that I am 28 weeks pregnant. So many things come to mind including logistics planning (I need a crib and perhaps some diapers or clothes for this baby), body changes (Ligament aches, Muscle cramps, etc.), and curiosity (Who will this person be? What kind of parent will I be?).

While pregnancy can be a time filled with joy and anticipation, it can also be an invitation for worry, fear, and discomfort.

According to Postpartum Support International, a resource for perinatal and postpartum mood disorders, approximately 10% of postpartum women will develop anxiety. Sometimes this is anxiety all on its own and for some it teams up with depression. Symptoms may include constant worry, sleep and appetite shifts, and a feeling of dread. Other issues that can arise postpartum include:

Postpartum OCD:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by intrusive thoughts that are persistent and upsetting, usually in conjunction with compulsions or the need to engage in something (activity or thought) over and over in an effort to reduce ones anxiety created by the intrusive thoughts. Obsessive thoughts may target safety of the infant, germ contamination or being left alone with your newborn. Compulsions may include excessive hand washing, repetitive checking on your infant, or developing rituals around cleanliness.

Postpartum Panic:

Panic Disorder involves the sudden onset of uncomfortable physical sensations such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart rate increase, nausea, hot or cold flashes, tingling sensations, and cognitive changes such as the thought that you might be going crazy or losing control.

Right at the time when you want to feel the most deeply connected with your child, you might feel distant or unable to bond with your infant. Understandably, this can generate secondary feelings of guilt, shame, and loss.

Coping Ahead and Strategies for Perinatal/Postpartum Anxiety:

Sometimes just knowing the facts can be helpful in coping ahead.

The hormone component cannot be underestimated. I wont go into an in-depth medical lesson here but lets just say that things happen. Progesterone, estrogen, oxytocin, prolactin, thyroid, and cortisol. All of these hormones interact, increase, and then shift or suddenly decrease throughout pregnancy and childbirth and this can leave us feeling off balance.

High levels of anxiety that persist may be helped through the use of medications. We often work with medical doctors who can consult on which medications are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for postpartum anxiety is highly effective in normalizing and treating symptoms while promoting acceptance and skillful behaviors/thoughts in the wake of this major transition.

Treatment includes attention to those worried thought patterns. Do you obsess about parenting perfectly? If we monitored your thought process would we conclude that you catastrophize most situations, begin every thought with a should, or what if yourself into a panic? There are certainly many good reasons to feel anxious with a newborn and we try to develop a compassionate acceptance to these feelings of anxiety, while also learning to identify our less helpful and less accurate predictions and fears.

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed sounds about right. We reinforce the value of mindfulness and self-care and most definitely the need for support. When were anxious we tend to start taking shorter, more rapid breaths originating from our chest rather than our belly. Just learning and practicing a calming breath, with a focus on exhaling can improve physical symptoms of anxiety. Structure and realistic scheduling can go a long way to improve other common challenges such as sleep deprivation and dehydration.

Although your new baby will require time and energy, it is also important to make time for you. Garnering support and asking for help can alleviate feelings of isolation and make more room for developing the connection so many of us desire when we think of motherhood.

So as I progress through this pregnancy, so much of what I teach and practice with new moms is becoming more relevant and personal. Im trying to remain mindful of those anxiety-producing thoughts and to create space to wonder if they are accurate or just unhelpful. Only twelve weeks to go.

If you're looking for expert and compassionate therapists in the Denver, Colorado, area, please contact CBT Denver online or call our office at 303-355-5133to schedule your appointment.