Signs of Postpartum Anxiety and How to Get Help

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Washington, DO, MPH
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Postpartum anxiety is excessive worrying after giving birth or adopting a baby. Without treatment, postpartum anxiety can make it hard for some new parents to care for their baby. However, help and treatment are available. There is no official entry for postpartum anxiety in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). However, the DSM-5 does define generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A 2015 analysis found that up to 10.8% of women experience GAD after giving birth.

This article defines postpartum anxiety and its common signs and symptoms. It also discusses causes, risk factors, and treatment, including ways to help you manage and recover from postpartum anxiety.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the term “women” to refer to people assigned female at birth.

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

What is postpartum anxiety?

The arrival of a new baby is usually an exciting time full of anticipation and change. However, for some parents, the period after childbirth or adoption can bring about constant worry or anxiety. While some anxiety during this time is expected, worrying that becomes excessive or debilitating may be a sign of postpartum anxiety.

In a 2016 study, researchers looked at 310 pregnant women in Canada. They found that more than 15% of participants experienced anxiety disorders during or after their pregnancy.

What are signs of postpartum anxiety?

Female couple with newborn baby feeding with bottle on floor
Tayutau/Getty Images

If you have postpartum anxiety, you may experience typical anxiety symptoms including:

  • constant worry
  • feeling tense or like something bad is going to happen
  • racing thoughts
  • appetite changes
  • trouble sitting still, relaxing, or sleeping
  • physical symptoms including dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea

Typical postpartum worry vs. postpartum anxiety

At times, it may be hard to distinguish between typical stress and worrying, or the “baby blues,” and anxiety. Here are some ways you can tell the difference.

Typical postpartum emotionsPostpartum anxiety
feeling concerned about the baby’s safety and healthexcessive worry or dread about the baby
feeling stress related to specific factors such as moneyfeeling generally overwhelmed or hopeless
crying easily or for no apparent reasonfrequent or constant crying
occasional mood swingsfrequent mood swings with changes in weight or appetite
occasional restlessnesschronic restlessness and sleep problems
worry that comes and goesworry that persists and interferes with daily life
sadness or feeling down sometimesthoughts of harming yourself or your baby
feelings that start a few days after giving birth or adopting and go away on their own after a week or twofeelings that start anywhere from 3 weeks to 1 year after giving birth or adopting and do not go away

Partners and spouses can also experience symptoms of postpartum anxiety.

Contact your OB-GYN or other healthcare professional if you think you may have symptoms of postpartum anxiety. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, call 911 or have someone take you to the nearest emergency room.

How can you find help for postpartum anxiety?

If you notice signs of postpartum anxiety, contact your OB-GYN, nurse midwife, or other healthcare professional about your symptoms. There are many effective treatments for postpartum anxiety.

Your doctor may also refer you to a mental health therapist or support group for help managing postpartum anxiety.

If someone you know is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, or at risk of suicide: 

  • Ask the question, “Are you considering suicide?” even if it is tough.
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number. 
  • Stay with them until emergency services arrive.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful items.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Call 988.
  • Chat with the lifeline.

This service is available 24-7.

What are treatments for postpartum anxiety?

Treatment for postpartum anxiety can include medication, psychotherapy, and other therapies to help manage symptoms.

Postpartum anxiety medications

For some people, medications can be helpful for postpartum anxiety. Your doctor may recommend an antidepressant or other drug used to treat mental health disorders such as anxiety. These include:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • selective norepinephrine inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • benzodiazepines

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

CBT involves working with a counselor or therapist to identify, understand, and change your thinking and behavioral patterns. Treatment may include:

  • reading about postpartum anxiety
  • keeping records between appointments
  • completing homework assignments
  • practicing treatment procedures

Support and self-care

There are many support groups for people with postpartum anxiety and depression. Having support from others who are going through similar experiences can help you feel less alone. It also allows you to share self-care and coping skills. These may include:

  • getting regular exercise
  • getting adequate rest
  • improving sleep habits
  • eating a well balanced diet
  • spending time with other new parents
  • asking for help from friends and family members
  • practicing relaxation techniques such as:
    • deep breathing
    • visualization
    • progressive muscle relaxation
  • reducing stress with yoga, meditation, or mindfulness

A 2017 article in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners cites evidence that mindfulness can be an effective non-medication treatment for anxiety during and after pregnancy.

What is the difference between postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression?

According to a 2016 study, more people experience postpartum anxiety than postpartum depression. However, postpartum anxiety appears to be diagnosed and treated less often than postpartum depression.

Postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression have some common symptoms including irritability, sleep disturbances, and appetite changes. However, they differ in important ways.

Postpartum anxiety is characterized by persistent and excessive worrying. Postpartum depression involves persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

Other symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • decreased energy or fatigue
  • feeling worthless, guilty, or hopeless
  • inability to stop crying
  • loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including sex
  • trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • appetite or weight changes
  • thoughts of harming the baby
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • physical symptoms such as:

Contact your OB-GYN, nurse midwife, or other healthcare professional if you experience signs of postpartum depression. Call 911 or seek emergency care if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

What causes postpartum anxiety?

Similar to postpartum depression, hormonal changes can lead to postpartum anxiety. These include hormonal changes after weaning the baby from breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

Certain stressors related to having a baby can also contribute to postpartum anxiety. These may include:

  • financial issues
  • concerns about the baby’s health
  • adjusting to new roles and responsibilities

What are risk factors for postpartum anxiety?

Certain factors can increase your risk for postpartum anxiety. These include:

  • history of anxiety or depression
  • preterm birth or negative childbirth experience
  • difficulties caring for the baby
  • excessive infant crying
  • low confidence in ability to care for the baby
  • low partner support
  • poor health

Other frequently asked questions

Here are some other questions people often ask about postpartum anxiety.

How long does postpartum anxiety last?

Postpartum anxiety does not have any specific time frame. Recovery time will vary depending on when you get treatment. Researchers estimate that postpartum anxiety occurs in up to 28% of women during the first 6 months after birth.

Can breastfeeding cause postpartum anxiety?

People who have a negative experience with breastfeeding or chestfeeding may be at increased risk for postpartum anxiety. Hormonal changes after weaning from breastfeeding can also contribute to postpartum anxiety.

Can my spouse or partner get postpartum anxiety?

Yes. A 2022 study found that more than 10% of partners showed anxiety and depressive symptoms during late pregnancy and one year postpartum.

Summary

Postpartum anxiety refers to persistent, excessive worry after childbirth or adoption. Symptoms include constant worry, feeling tense or like something bad is going to happen, and physical symptoms such as dizziness and nausea.

Hormonal changes and stressors related to having a newborn can lead to postpartum anxiety. People who have a history of anxiety or depression, negative childbirth experiences, or low partner support are also at increased risk.

Effective treatment for postpartum anxiety includes antidepressants and other medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, and stress reduction. Recovery time varies, but with treatment and support, it is possible to relieve symptoms and enjoy time with your new baby.

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Medical Reviewer: Nicole Washington, DO, MPH
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 1
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.