The Difference Between Postpartum Anxiety and Postpartum Depression—And When to Seek Help

Life as a parent will inevitably include some worry. This is never more apparent than in the first few weeks of motherhood, especially for first time moms. It would be impossible to list all the concerns that cross a new mom’s mind, but if you’re worried if your baby is eating enough, sleeping enough, is dressed appropriately for the weather, or is crying too much (or even too little), you’re not alone.

Maybe before you became a mom you thought you’d be an easy, breezy, go-with-the-flow type of mom, only to discover that isn’t the reality of mom life for you.

And worrying as a new mom is totally normal. But when does the level of worry or anxiety become an issue?

You’ve probably heard of Postpartum Depression (PPD), but you may be less familiar with a related disorder, Postpartum Anxiety (PPA). CDC research found that about one in eight women experiences the symptoms of PPD, and a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that PPA may be even more prevalent. Since so many women experience PPA and PPD, it can be challenging to know if you’re experiencing standard new mom emotions (often referred to as Baby Blues), or if you should seek professional help for PPA, PPD, or potentially both.

 

Since so many women experience PPA and PPD, it can be challenging to know if you’re experiencing standard new mom emotions (often referred to as Baby Blues), or if you you should seek professional help for PPA, PPD, or potentially both.

 

Before we go into the details, understand that the way you are feeling is not your fault and does not mean you are not a good mom. It also absolutely does not mean that you don’t love your baby or being a mom. Baby Blues, PPA, and PPD can happen to anyone and should not make you feel less deserving of happiness. Experiencing these emotions can be overwhelming and isolating, but know that you are not alone.

 

Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, please seek help from your healthcare provider or reach out to a close friend or loved one. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of hurting your baby, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-TALK.

 

Normal Anxiety and Baby Blues Versus Postpartum Anxiety and Depression

As moms recover from childbirth, bring home a new baby, and deal with fluctuating hormones, it can be confusing trying to decipher the line between a healthy emotional response and more worrisome behavior. There is a difference between normal worry and mood fluctuations (Baby Blues) and more severe PPA or PPD that require help.

 

Experiencing these emotions can be overwhelming and isolating, but know that you are not alone.

 

The Baby Blues is incredibly common. According to March of Dimes, Baby Blues affects around 80 percent of new mothers. This can be in reaction to hormone fluctuation, sleep deprivation, and the lifestyle changes that occur with a new baby. Symptoms of the Baby Blues may include exhaustion, crying, sadness, feeling anxious, or feeling irritable. The major difference between Baby Blues and PPA or PPD is the severity and intensity, as well as the duration. Baby Blues tend to last between two days and two weeks after birth and usually go away on their own.

 

 

If after two weeks postpartum you are still feeling sad and anxious, it may be more than the typical Baby Blues. And while the Baby Blues include feelings of sadness, it isn’t as intense and potentially as debilitating as PPA or PPD. With PPA and PPD, the feelings and symptoms stick around and will not go away on their own.

While PPA and PPD can manifest in similar ways, the main difference is that PPA is characterized by intense levels of worry and PPD is overwhelming sadness and possible thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby.

 

While PPA and PPD can manifest in similar ways, the main difference is that PPA is characterized by intense levels of worry and PPD is overwhelming sadness and possible thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby.

 

Taking a closer look, symptoms of PPA include but are not limited to: constant or near-constant worry, feelings that something bad is going to happen, inability to sit still, sleep disruption, racing thoughts, fatigue, and physical symptoms such as dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea.

And symptoms of PPD include but are not limited to: having gloomy, irritable, agitated, and/or raged mood, struggles with guilt, shame, and hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, appetite disturbances, loss of interest, joy, or pleasure in things you used to enjoy, suicidal thoughts, or possible thoughts or plans of harming yourself and/or your child.

It’s not uncommon for women with PPD to also suffer from PPA. The most common peak time for women to experience a perinatal mood disorder is around three months after giving birth, though it can happen at any time.

 

When You Should Seek Help

Motherhood is overwhelming, and it can be easy to push aside your own feelings and worries to deal with those of your child. However, it’s incredibly important that you take care of yourself so you can take the best care of your child.

Jackie Shapin, an LA-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders, recommended women keep an open dialogue with their partners and family members. Those closest to you may observe or notice symptoms that you might overlook. “As a partner, communicate and check-in with one another,” Shapin said. She also shared that sleep is extremely important, and lack of sleep can cause many symptoms of mood disorders. Partners should focus on helping the new mom get as much sleep as possible given the circumstances.

If you think you may be experiencing a mood disorder, Shapin said to consider the severity and intensity of what you’re feeling emotionally and physically. Are these feelings keeping you from enjoying your life and your family? Are you unable to do things you enjoy because of an ongoing and intense level of worry? If you’re answering yes to these, it’s best to seek help. Think about how intense these feelings are, how often they occur, and how long they last.

 

Are these feelings keeping you from enjoying your life and your family? Are you unable to do things you enjoy because of an ongoing and intense level of worry? If you’re answering yes to these, it’s best to seek help.

 

Women may try to rationalize the symptoms and deny getting themselves help. Some may push it off as something to deal with later or expect the feelings to eventually go away on their own. It is better to err on the side of caution and seek help. If you think you may be experiencing PPA or PPD, speak with your OBGYN about how you are feeling. They can help to assess the situation and can refer you to a therapist that specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

 

Types of Treatment for PPA and PPD

There is a wide variety of treatment options for women experiencing PPA and PPD. The best course of action will depend on the individual and the severity. Treatment may include individual or group therapy and/or medication.

It’s important to remember to take care of yourself so you can enjoy life with your family and can take the best care of your baby. Remember that if you are experiencing Baby Blues, PPA, or PPD, you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s not uncommon to struggle as a new mom and you deserve the necessary help to get through it.

 

Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety please seek help from your healthcare provider or reach out to a close friend or loved one. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of hurting your baby, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-TALK.

 

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