Whilst the challenges of managing a new baby is likely to bring some level of stress and anxiety from time to time, generally this will be transient and feelings will pass on their own with time. If however you have ongoing disturbing thoughts and/or feelings of worry and tension that are hard to live with and/or affect your ability to manage from day to day, then you may be experiencing postnatal anxiety.
Anxiety is the broad term used to refer to a range of conditions that have a number of common symptoms including:
- Feelings of fear and worry which begin to ‘take over’ your thinking
- Feeling irritable, restless, tense or constantly ‘on edge’
- Racing heart/strong palpitations – sometimes panic attacks
- Reoccurring worrying thoughts such as that you are not doing things right and/or that something terrible will happen
- Unable to sleep – even when you have the opportunity
- Avoiding situations for fear something bad will happen.
Many people with postnatal anxiety disorders often describe feeling like they are ‘going crazy’ or ‘losing their mind’ as racing thoughts keep coming back and causing them to feel the range of physical and emotional symptoms. This can be also exacerbated by a lack of sleep that can come not only with anxiety but also with a new baby.
In response to the feeling of losing control, you may find yourself wanting to make sure that everything is perfectly in order and under control for fear that you are not doing things ‘the right way’ or that ‘something bad’ will happen. For example, women experiencing postnatal anxiety may find themselves checking on the baby continually (even when asleep) for fear that they will stop breathing, or have visions of something terrible happening to the baby that would harm them.
My symptoms were so different to what I knew was normal. For one – I never felt like killing my baby – but I was constantly having visions of accidentally harming him – they filled my mind. I thought I was just being an over anxious mother and I never mentioned it to anyone. Also, my lack of connection with him was difficult to put into words for ages because I didn’t really know what it should feel like.
If you are experiencing a number of these symptoms then you are not alone. Anxiety is the most common type of mental health problem affecting one in four people in their lifetime – and even more likely to occur amongst women in the year following the birth of a baby. This is particularly the case if you have experienced anxiety in the past, although for some this may be the first time that you have experienced anxiety.
I struggled to get out of the house for fear someone would take my baby. Ridiculous to a normal person but in the state I was in I couldn’t tell anyone for fear they would think I was crazy! I think depression is talked a lot about but anxiety is just as bad.
It is also very common to experience postnatal anxiety and postnatal depression at the same time. In fact, in up to 50% of cases these two conditions co-occur.
I never got to the point of not being able to get out of bed. I remember times of sort of sitting on the couch watching TV and just feeling overwhelmed with grief. I just felt so sad and anxious about everything… I’d lie awake at night waiting for her to cry… the sleeplessness, the anxiety, not being able to watch the news because everything made me so sad.
Living with postnatal depression and anxiety
In this episode of our YouTube and podcast series, The Mum Drum, we speak with Renee and Stevie about the range of emotional challenges that they both experienced on their journey to motherhood, and how their friendship helped them through.
Getting anxiety under control can improve your quality of life and overall experience of parenthood with your new baby.