Postpartum Anxiety

Approximately 5 to 10 percent of women will develop anxiety after giving birth to a child.  Anxiety can be experienced by itself, or it may be experienced along with Postpartum Depression.

Signs and symptoms of general Postpartum Anxiety include:

  • Disturbances in sleep and appetite
  • Worrying constantly
  • Fearing that something bad will happen
  • Physical symptoms such as nausea, racing heart, shortness of breath, or dizziness
  • Tension and feeling fidgety

In addition, there are several more specific types of Postpartum Anxiety: Postpartum Panic Disorder, Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Postpartum Panic Disorder

Postpartum Panic Disorder is associated with recurring panic attacks which are periods of intense anxiety, accompanied by physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, feelings of nausea or dizziness, heart palpitations, and numbness or tingling in the extremities.  The panic attacks, although short-lived and harmless, are extremely uncomfortable and many people with Panic Disorder begin to experience agoraphobia, which is an avoidance of things and places that might illicit anxiety.  For women during the postpartum period, this might mean that a woman might seek to avoid their baby or may wish to avoid exposing their baby to people or places that trigger their anxiety.

Postpartum OCD

Postpartum OCD is often accompanied by general anxiety, but is also characterized by obsessive and intrusive thoughts.  These thoughts are often quite frightening and disturbing.  Most women who experience these thoughts have no intention of acting on them.  The thoughts are rooted in anxiety, so women will take (often extreme) steps to avoid any situation or contact that might result in harm to their baby. 

Signs and symptoms of Postpartum OCD include:

  • Intrusive thoughts or obsessions, which are persistent, repetitive thoughts or images
  • Compulsions, which are actions and steps a mother may take to reduce her fears and anxieties
  • Feeling disturbed by the intrusive thoughts
  • Fear and avoidance of being left alone with the baby
  • Hypervigilance in caring for and protecting the baby

PTSD

It is estimated that about 10% of women will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after the birth of a child, which is usually due to an actual or perceived trauma during pregnancy or childbirth such as an unplanned or emergency C-section, a prolapsed cord, a significant medical complication due to pregnancy, or medical complication related to the baby, including the baby having to go to the NICU.  It is important to note that women who have experienced past trauma such as rape or physical abuse, are at a higher risk of experiencing PTSD postpartum. 

Signs and symptoms of Postpartum PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing past trauma
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Disturbance in sleep and appetite
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Avoidance of things that remind you of the traumatic event, including people, places, thoughts, and feelings
Return to Reproductive and Maternal Mental Health