3 Ways New Moms Can Deal With Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

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How To Reduce Anxiety During Pregnancy & Postpartum Depression
Self, Health And Wellness

If you're going through a pregnancy or are already postpartum, there's a chance that you've experienced or are currently going through some form of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.

In order to understand how to deal with anxiety during or following your pregnancy, you must learn to recognize the signs of postpartum depression.

RELATED: 7 Things Women With Postpartum Depression Need You To Know

What is postpartum depression and how can you tell if you're experiencing it or if it's just a simple case of the "postpartum blues"?

Studies suggest that an estimated 6 percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of new moms experience some form of anxiety. Keep in mind that prenatal and postpartum anxiety are likely underreported, as are many other mental health disorders. Recognizing postpartum depression symptoms should be an important part of your postpartum care.

Despite its prevalence, postpartum anxiety is not officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Associations diagnostic manual. Instead, it is considered a subcategory of perinatal mood disorders. Both postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are classified as separate disorders. However, anxiety is listed as a symptom.

Women with depression, anxiety, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder prior to or during pregnancy stages are at an increased risk for experiencing postpartum psychiatric disorders like postpartum psychosis.

The process of trying to conceive and fear of miscarriage, particularly if you have experienced a previous loss, can cause or exacerbate pre-existing anxiety. Couple that with hormonal fluctuations and being inundated with advice from seemingly everyone you encounter, it’s surprising that anxiety during pregnancy is not more prevalent.

It is natural to feel anxious and worried during pregnancy and in the postpartum period that follows, but postpartum anxiety is much more intense and persistent than typical new parent concerns.

But how can you tell the difference?

Normal worries tend to dissipate after the problem has been solved. For example, nursing mothers may worry about whether their child is getting enough milk. When evidence proves healthy weight gain consistent with sufficient feeding, that worry resolves. With anxiety, the thought will persist regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Like generalized anxiety, anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period may present differently for each individual.

To know how to reduce anxiety during the stages of pregnancy, there are 3 core areas you need to be aware of:

  • Body: Anxiety may present itself as physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, upset stomach, tightness in the chest or throat, shallow breathing, loss of appetite, and difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Mind: You may find yourself imaging the worst-case scenario or experience racing thoughts about your future. These thoughts are obsessive in nature with logical thought offering little to no relief.
  • Actions and behaviors: Anxiety during pregnancy or in the weeks or months that follow may cause you to avoid certain situations, activities, places or people as a way of feeling in control. You may also seek constant reassurance from others, check things repeatedly, and are overly cautious and vigilant of danger.

RELATED: 5 Truths About The Crushing Darkness Of Postpartum Depression

Other possible signs include irritability, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness.

Perinatal mental health conditions such as anxiety are proven to have adverse consequences on both the mother and child, making effective and timely treatment critical. While there are medications available when necessary for pregnant or nursing mothers, non-medication options for treatment include:

Cognitive behavior therapy aims to identify negative thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and employ strategies to challenge and overcome the ones that are not.

Nutritional supplements research indicates that increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids and riboflavin (vitamin B-2) can have a positive effect on combatting anxiety in pregnancy and postpartum.

Mind-body practices such as meditation, yoga, massage or acupuncture can help with anxiety relief.

Lifestyle changes may include increased exercise, dietary changes or less screen time.

So knowing the signs of depression during or after your pregnancy, when should you seek treatment?

It’s important to know that everyone experiences anxiety differently. If you are experiencing even a few of these symptoms, it is important to reach out for help. Expectant and new moms need time for self-care, sleep, exercise and if needed, therapy.

RELATED: My Postpartum Depression Turned Me Into A Woman I Didn't Know

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Dr. Beata Lewis, MD and Kaylee Rutchik LCSW, and Chava Quist DACM specialize in women’s health and can work with you to create an individualized treatment plan based on your needs. For more of her content on motherhood and mental health, visit her on Facebook.