As a new mom, are you filled with constant worry? Do you expect the worst to happen, only to find out that things turned out better than you anticipated? But your feeling of dread doesn’t stop. Well, read on
Priya, one of my closest friends, was a perpetually anxious soul as a new mommy. She would constantly worry that something would happen to her baby when she was away. She would panic when separated from her baby -- even if it was for just a couple of minutes. She gave up her high-flying job because she couldn’t bear the thought of staying away from her baby for a whole day. Even simple tasks like using the restroom or going to the gym downstairs became a nightmare for her. Once I ran into her at the gym. Before starting her exercise, she fished out her mobile and made a video call to her husband, demanding that he show her the baby. Then within five minutes, she wound up and rushed home. It took a while for her to realize that she was experiencing postpartum anxiety (PPA).
Now, we have all heard of postpartum depression (PPD). But did you know that PPA is more common and equally draining? Let’s find out how to identify PPA and what you can do to help yourself or your loved ones manage PPA.
Some amount of worry and resentment post your baby's arrival is normal. A whopping 80% of new, first-time moms experience postpartum blues. While postpartum blues usually ease off in a few weeks, both PPA and PPD often require treatment. So, here are some signs to watch out for:
Some of the above signs, like disturbed sleep and forgetfulness, are totally normal. Every new mom loses her sleep and can get forgetful too, mainly because of the sudden increase in new responsibilities. But unreasonable and out-of-control worry -- the most common sign of PPA -- can be debilitating. PPA often manifests in the form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This can take many forms. For example, repeated scary-cum-negative thoughts about your baby’s well-being, a strong urge to hold your baby at all times to protect her, repeated actions to ensure your baby’s safety, like constant cleaning, repeated sterilizing of your baby’s feeding bottles, and so on.
PPA is most known to occur within the first year of birth, often within four to six weeks of having a baby and sometimes before the baby’s birth too. However, studies indicate that mothers can develop PPA much later in life too. And how long does PPA last? Well, that depends on a number of factors -- the degree of anxiety, the support you are receiving, the home environment, and so on.
Being a new mom is overwhelming and since the hormones are also creating havoc in the body, anxiety can hit any new mom. But there are some factors that increase the risk of PPA:
It’s possible to have both PPA and PPD and both of them share some symptoms like loss of appetite and disturbed sleep. But they are also quite different from each other.
Motherhood is tough, especially when you are new to it. And PPA can be crushing. So, it is extremely important that you seek help from a mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. Therapy and medication can help you in a big way. Apart from professional help, here are some tips to speed up your recovery:
Take time off: Feeding, sterilizing, changing diapers, rocking your baby to sleep --- it can become a vicious cycle. Whether it is PPA or just postpartum blues, take some conscious time off to be away from your baby. For instance, just about two weeks after my daughter was born, I went back to writing. Not for the pay, but for just a tiny break from this new world that was confronting me!
Exercise: Even if the anxiety is making it really hard to move away from your baby, force yourself to go on a quick jog or short, easy trip to the gym.
Meet other moms: Make it a point to meet other moms in your apartment or community. Talking about your fears can do wonders. If you can’t or don’t want to leave your baby, just put your baby in her stroller or strap your baby to yourself in a baby carrier and go for a quick walk. And when you see other moms, even if she is not your friend, feel free to approach her. Most moms love company!
Join online forums: Online groups can offer tremendous support. One of the biggest challenges I faced right after delivery was breastfeeding my baby. I had the lactation consultant come home many times, which helped me, but what helped the most was an online breastfeeding support group that I joined. Just reading through the various concerns and queries of other parents made me realize that everyone faces feeding challenges (yes, this was news to me!). And some of them face humongous challenges and yet overcome them. Reading their experiences will help you put things in perspective and also inspire you in many ways!
Get plenty of rest: Sleep whenever you get a chance! This can’t be stressed enough. Research has shown that deep sleep is a natural way to reduce anxiety.
Eat healthy: Have a balanced diet. Be extra vigilant about taking in protein-rich foods since they help your brain release the feel-good hormone.
Arrange for help: Don’t think you can manage everything alone. I thought so. Though I had a lot of help, I wondered aloud to my husband and mother before my baby arrived, “Why should it be so difficult? Not too much to do in the initial months, right?” I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a lot of work and remember, you are still recovering. (Even if you have had a normal delivery, there’s quite a bit of pain.) If your family can’t help, hire external help. This is one investment that is absolutely necessary!
Do what you enjoy: Spend at least a few minutes every day doing what you love. Music? Baking? Reading? Hand over your baby to your family and relax.
These steps can help ease your anxiety a little. But we can’t stress enough the importance of seeking professional help. Reach out to your family doctor, who can help connect you to a mental health expert. Your therapist can then decide if you need medication or if your anxiety can be managed with therapy, meditation, and other relaxation techniques. Don’t delay and don’t hesitate. Here’s wishing you a stress-free pregnancy and postpartum period!
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