We Need To Talk: Postpartum Anxiety

I have had anxiety issues for about six years now...or maybe I always had them, but they got bad enough to force me to deal with them six years ago. So going into my pregnancy, I was prepared to deal with anxiety. Well, I guess I should rephrase and say I was ready to be proactive and cross my fingers and hope that I wouldn't get anxiety.

The thing is, people talk a lot about postpartum depression, but not as much about postpartum anxiety. Anxiety is a tricky little sucker, so it's harder to nail down. Inevitably, it gets lumped in with postpartum depression, which I think is a disservice to anyone who suffers with it because they are really very different beasts.

Before I got pregnant I had been anxiety free for about a year. One glorious year where I had that formula down. Most of my issues with anxiety stemmed from the fact that I had been on hormonal birth control, which was causing me to have panic attacks. (Read about that experience by CLICKING HERE.) So, when I got pregnant, guess what? Panic attacks in the first trimester. This was largely because the hormones in the first trimester mimic those in birth control. Thank god that they went away around week 11, and I only had one full blown panic attack in the third trimester (at a concert because I thought I was dehydrated and then got panicked....)

While I was pregnant, I meditated daily and kept my exercise routine. This has been my classic formula for avoiding anxiety and it's served me pretty well. Postpartum I planned to encapsulate my placenta in order to keep a hormonal balance that would hopefully keep me level. (Read about my experience with placenta encapsulation by CLICKING HERE.) For the first six weeks, this worked beautifully.

And then, the moment when my daughter and I were alone for an afternoon and I thought to myself, "I am just gonna cuddle you all afternoon," BOOM. A panic attack came on, and that started the waves of panic that have been pretty enduring. The anxiety I have felt postpartum has been different than other anxiety I have had in the past.

My symptoms have included:
Feeling like I am going to faint
Overwhelmed "hot" feeling
Fear of being alone with my baby
Tingling in my feet and hands

The symptoms were so different than other ones I have experienced in the past that I went to my doctor to be sure that I wasn't deficient in any vitamins. I began having fears that I would faint and drop my baby. So we played a lot on the floor, and I made that doctor's appointment. A blood test and urine sample later, I was normal and guess what? It was just anxiety. Again. It's always the anxiety.

I was struck with an intense anger toward my panic that I have never really had before. Despite the fact that I hopped back on the exercise and meditation bandwagons, there were still days I couldn't seem to stave off the anxiety and it pissed me off big time. It was robbing me of precious moments with my daughter... moments that I would never get back.

I put myself right back in therapy as soon as the panic attacks began. I tried to tell myself to cry it out--maybe all I needed was a release of emotion. That did help to an extent, and I would say that if you are having anxiety, giving yourself permission to cry is important. But beyond meditating everyday, exercising 2-3 times a week, crying, and being easy on myself, I wasn't sure there was much else I could do.

After close consultation with my therapist and doctors, we're pretty sure a lot of the panic is simply hormonal. It's my body's reaction to all the stuff going on... but mostly the breastfeeding hormones. My doctor has suggested that if the anxiety gets to unmanageable levels, I should consider discontinuing breastfeeding. For many people who have really bad anxiety and/or depression, this is probably a good suggestion.

In my own situation, I have decided to keep up the breastfeeding because it's healthy and like the bonding aspect of it. Because I feel my anxiety peaks at the moderate level, I am able to manage it well. After all, I don't have to do it any of this again if I don't want to. My mantra, "I never have to do this again," really helps, and believe it or not, allows me to break away from my anxiety sooner and get back to enjoying my awesome baby.

There were times when the panic has been so bad that I have needed to call a friend or family member to come over and help me until I felt better again. Wow, that was a hard one for me. But the experience of reaching out is one that I find very valuable. I think that if we suffer alone, we suffer more, and so if you are having a lot of panic, I would encourage you to reach out often. If you don't have a strong support network, there are resources online as well as mommy groups.

I still have bad days as the hormones shift and morph and do their funky, rotten, no good hormone thing. I keep in mind that it is temporary and I reach out when I need to. If you are having postpartum panic or anxiety, it's important to know that you are not alone. In fact, my doctor told me recently that most women experience their first episodes with anxiety and depression postpartum. So it's bound to be more common than we think.

Have you had an experience with postpartum anxiety or depression? Please share your experience in the comments section below, and feel free to share what worked for you in recovery as well. Together we can hopefully help other women on their journeys through similar situations. 


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  2. I could have written this almost word for word. I have always had a panic disorder, but it was made much worse in my third pregnancy. I am still reeling from it. But, it is so encouraging to hear other women talk about it. I often blog about it as well to take away the stigma. Thank you for doing the same.